A musician's musician

THOSE WERE THE DAYS Uma Shankar Mishra with Ravi Shankar

THOSE WERE THE DAYS Uma Shankar Mishra with Ravi Shankar  

IN MEMORIAM Rich tributes were paid to the late sitar maestro Uma Shankar Mishra in New Delhi the other day. KULDEEP KUMAR

I t was a celebration of life over death. When students and admirers of sitar maestro Uma Shankar Mishra gathered last Friday at Triveni Kala Sangam to commemorate his 80th birthday, it was a truly poignant moment as the renowned musician had breathed his last a little over a month ago on September 22.

The evening began with a slide show offering a glimpse into various facets of the maestro's life. A video recording of Mishra playing raga Maru Bihag and two audio recordings of Darbari Kanhda and Miyan Ki Malhar provided proof of his tremendous mastery over his instrument. Mishra's senior disciple Suneera Kasliwal, professor at the Delhi University's Music Faculty and the moving spirit behind organising the birthday celebrations, made an emotion-filled speech throwing light on different aspects of his personality while another disciple Supriya Shah, who teaches at the Music Faculty of the Banaras Hindu Universtiy, read out a brief account of her guru's life.

Mishra was born on November 11, 1931 in Bihar's Madhubani region in a family of musicians. At an early age, he was initiated into the complex and demanding art form by his father Hari Prasad Mishra who paid special attention to grooming him in the dhrupad style. After his father's demise, he was formally accepted as a disciple by Ravi Shankar who was, at that time, the newest star in the world of Indian classical music. Ravi Shankar not only imparted him sound training in the Maihar style fashioned by Alauddin Khan but was so pleased with his felicity that he encouraged Mishra to play with him in public concerts—an honour that not many of his disciples have been fortunate enough to receive. It is said that Ravi Shankar was especially pleased with the deftness with which Mishra used his left hand to pluck strings.

Over the years, Mishra evolved his individual style while remaining true to his family tradition of dhrupad and the Senia style of Maihar learnt from Ravi Shankar. He was invited to all major music conferences in the country and abroad and was highly respected for his integrity, both as a human being as well as an artiste. He extensively toured the United States, Europe and the Far East and also visited Pakistan and Nepal to enthral music lovers of these countries. When he performed in the US in 1979, New York Times commented: “Uma Shankar Mishra performed three evening ragas, all were dazzling and quite distinctive. The performance was unquestionably full of excitement.” In 1991-92, he was honoured by the Sangeet Natak Akademi with its prestigious award.

Rich tributes

Sitar maestro Debu Chaudhuri, well-known vocalists Ghulam Sadiq Khan and Krishna Bisht, and Punjabi Academy vice-chairman Anita Singh paid rich tributes to Mishra and fondly recollected their close interactions with him. Many others, including his senior students, who had known him well, also spoke about his simplicity, great musicianship and love for his disciples.

“He was a musician's musician,” says Basudev Chatterji, chairman of the Indian Council of Historical Research and professor at the Delhi University's History Department. Chatterji became Mishra's gandaband disciple way back in 1972. “It was Begum Akhtar who suggested to my sister Anjali Banerjee (a well-known singer who learnt from her) that I should learn from him. My guruji had a unique way of looking at a raga and explaining its nuances,” he recalls.

No wonder that Mishra, like his guru Ravi Shankar, created several news ragas such as Vibhavari, Mayawanti, Sankalp Bhairav and Sanjog. He presented Vibhavari at the Mehfil programme of All India Radio. It's heartening to note that his son Madan Shankar Mishra and disciples such as Rash Behari Dutta, Suneera Kasliwal, Supriya Shah and Meera Prasad are carrying forward his legacy.

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