INTERVIEW Pandit Nayan Ghosh, adept at both the tabla and the sitar, on his eclectic approach. ANJANA RAJAN
Pandit Nayan Ghosh represents a rare kind of musician in today’s market-driven times. He began his career at the age of four. Yet his guru and father, late tabla maestro Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, deliberately kept him out of the whirlwind of constant performance, stressing on practice and accumulation of knowledge. Currently heading the Mumbai institution Sangit Mahabharati founded by his father, Pandit Nayan will be in New Delhi this weekend for a tabla recital at Kala Vihar’s annual festival. He will be performing with his son, Ishaan, with whom, he says, “it is a case of history repeating itself. He also took to music exceptionally early in life and I have been giving him restrained exposure, so that his pursuit of academics and music study are priority at this point of time.”
Equally at home with the tabla, the sitar and vocal music, the stalwart says, “I am conceptualising an album project wherein I would be incorporating all the three elements of my music which I suppose, will be something unique.” Excerpts from an interview with the artist:
On his legacy and training
I was extremely fortunate that I happened to be the inheritor of such a learned and rich family legacy. Music was therefore as natural as breathing for me since early childhood. I don’t remember when actually I started to sing and play tabla. I was 4 when my elder uncle Pannalal Ghosh, the bansuri legend, passed away. I only have faint memories of him. My father, Pandit Nikhil Ghosh, I would say, was not just a tabla maestro but a complete musician, soaked in music and aesthetics, a complete artiste at heart, and yet very disciplined, a discipline he acquired through years of rigorous riyaaz, physical exercise and spirituality. I received all-round training from him in vocal music, tabla and later sitar too. This happened through seena-ba-seena taleem (face-to-face rigorous training for hours), or even ishaare-ka-taleem (training through subtle hints) — while travelling, or on the seashore or in the mountains or woods during vacations and concert tours, and even on stage! I was lucky to imbibe a massive repertoire in all three subjects. I benefitted most by his aesthetical priorities in my understanding of music along with complete authenticity of musical material and sound grammar and technique. These have been my greatest wealth.
In addition, I received some guidance from his guru, Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa, popularly known as the Mt. Everest of Tabla, who lived almost a decade in our home. Although I played small concerts and radio broadcasts since childhood, it was around the age of 11-12 when Khansahab made me practise along with him, 4 hours in the morning and 4 hours at night, every day for a few years. Of course, these 8 hours were during vacations, otherwise around 3-4 hours on school days. That’s when I learnt what is haddi-tod (bone-breaking) riyaaz. This contributed immensely in shaping me with impeccable techniques, execution skills and consistent tonal quality.
When I was 12, I learnt a few authentic Dhrupad compositions, including that of Miyan Tansen, from Minocher Homji, a disciple of Pandit Bhatkhande and India’s first female music director, popularly known as Saraswati Devi, from the silent films and talkies era. Around the time I was 14, I received some taleem in the detailed been-ang alaap of the mainstream Senia gharana from Kumar Bahadur Birendra Kishore Roy Choudhury, the last ruler of Gouripur State, a very learned musician — Dhrupadiya, beenkar, sursringar and rabab player — who had also guided such greats as Pandit Radhika Mohan Moitra and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee.
Much later, my father’s earliest guru, Gurudev Gyan Prakash Ghosh, often stayed at our home. I received quite a few tabla and vocal compositions from him too and was always inspired by his profound thoughts and genius. I was also fortunate to received rare vocal bandishes from my father’s friends Ustad Latafat Hussain Khan of the Agra gharana and Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain Khan, the eldest son of Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan of Rampur-Saheswan gharana; and compositions from Ustad Iqbal Ali Khan when I was around 20, and he was 95. He was the last representative of the oldest vocal gharana, the Lucknow Qawwal-Bacchey gharana, and the son of the legendary Ustad Khurshed Ali Khan, the court musician of Nawab Wajid Ali Shah.
However, all in all, the main body of my grooming was my father’s rigorous and detailed guidance with additional inputs by all the above greats, which were specially arranged by my father.
On Sangit Mahabharati and the role of institutions in propagating classical traditions
Institutionalised training helps in acquainting students with the classical arts. Since not everybody studying classical music takes to a performing career, institutionalised training helps in bringing out a good number of refined listeners, amateur performers and serious students of music, people with a much finer sense of distinction and sensibility. But my father felt that a step more could be achieved through Sangit Mahabharati. When the West produces world-class musicians essentially shaped by conservatories or institutions, then why not give further thought to structuring teaching methods and curriculum and get quality performers and teachers? He designed and implemented his ideas, and eventually they bore fruit. The fact however is, that you get one among many with the combination of talent, perseverance, dedication, commitment, family support and above all a willingness to take the risk of launching into a musician’s career at all costs. Risk and uncertainty are the first steps one has to accept to take up a challenging classical music career. Yes, SMB has delved into serious music education (both curriculum-based training and for career-makers in music in the guru-shishya-parampara method), research, preservation and propagation of our great traditions. The Oxford Encyclopaedia of the Music of India is a proof of our research and documentation efforts of full 50 years. It was conceived, conceptualised and steered to a great extent by my father and subsequently after his demise, by Dr. Devdas Pillai, along with with consistent support from numerous scholars in India and abroad.
Not on the publicity bandwagon
First I think it is not in my inherent ‘sanskaar’ to hanker for publicity and attention. It also feels ridiculous that after devoting 40 years to performing and promoting our classical art traditions across the globe, one has to establish and justify his credentials to get recognition. However, the work goes on regardless and I feel answerable only to my art and tradition, which is my very existence. The discerning art lovers will always appreciate those who have made it to the top with talent, knowledge and sheer hard work. After all, in the life of an artiste, the focus should always be on the pursuit of excellence in his chosen art. This brings to my mind such people as Pannalal Ghosh, Amir Khan, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ali Akbar Khan, who completely surrendered themselves to their art and are not remembered by the award they received or not, but for their synonymity with their art. The world and time take care of them to ensure their place in history.
Second, yes, my father took great care about restrained exposure in childhood. He believed that musically equipping oneself and grooming oneself into a dignified and refined musician were the absolute first requirements for a great tradition to continue. Setting worthy examples and enriching us with profound values were of greater importance to him.
Sitar was part of my family tradition. My grandfather Akshay Kumar Ghosh was a learned sitaria of the Senia gharana. Both my father and uncle Pannalal Ghosh initially did receive training in sitar from him. Out of curiosity, I took to sitar casually when I was around 12 years of age in 1968. Here I would like to add that I was fortunate to witness electrifying performances by Ustad Vilayat Khan and was also inspired by the great music of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee at that time. By 16 I gave my first solo sitar concert and at 18 I was touring the world with my father and brother performing sitar. The in-depth training in tabla, sitar and vocal music from my father continued throughout till he passed away in 1995. It may be hard for people to imagine that being a tabla maestro how he could give me such extensive training in sitar. He was in fact a treasure-house of many sitar compositions and methods of alaapchari and raagdari . An interesting example to highlight his sitar knowledge — even when he took a nap with his back towards me, and I would be practising sitar, he could precisely rectify my stroke technique with his eyes shut and ensure ease in technical execution. Now, since the last two decades I have received guidance in rare ragas and exquisite instrumental compositions from sarod maestro Pandit Buddhadev Dasgupta.
Equal proficiency in two instruments — challenging or helpful?
It wasn’t challenging. Rather it was complementary. As time passed by, I felt I needed both tabla and sitar, to attain a sense of musical fulfilment and completeness. There is no doubt that melodic training is absolutely essential for percussionists and vice-versa. I used the melodic musicality from my vocal and sitar training to enrich my tabla and take it beyond mere percussion into the realm of musical experience, while in sitar, to maintain the sitar purity, I tried not to succumb to pre-planned tihais , chakradars and laykaaris , which I could have easily done with my tabla background. For me, bringing forth the spirit of the raga in all its glory is more important in my sitar performances. At the end of the day, I would like to be regarded as an ‘authentic’ tabla player and an ‘authentic’ sitar player.
Kala Vihar’s 54th Vaarshikotsav
November 25-26, India Habitat Centre, New Delhi. Day 1 — Seminar on “Natwari and Kathak” Amaltas hall, 7 p.m.. Day 2 — Tabla Jugalbandi (Pandit Nayan Ghosh and Ishaan Ghosh); Natwari Kathak (disciples of Guru Manjusree Chatterjee); Bharatanatyam.(Malavika Sarukkai)