It is encouraging to note that the North Indian semi-classical vocal genres, like the Thumri, Chaiti, Kajri, Jhula, Dadra, Hori and others, are claiming the richly deserved limelight. One hears of the era when such songs were sung at the end of a Khayal recital, something like a postscript, to please that section of the audience that were not connoisseurs. No one would deign to make a career of it. One doesn’t know what brought about the mind shift, but one will remain eternally thankful for the change agents. The lyrics of many thumris are thought provoking and contain deeply spiritual messages that are beyond the scope of common love songs. For example the words of a popular thumri go like this: “Thare rahiyo Banke yaar…Gagari main dhari awoon, chunri pahir awoon, kari awoon solha singar….” Here, the lady wants to unite with Banke Bihari, and is telling Him to wait for her till she unloads the gagari (water pitcher) that she is carrying. The gagari is nothing but a symbolic representation of her worldly responsibilities and obligations.

There was a solo recital of semi-classical songs by Rashmi Agarwal recently at India Habitat Centre. She started with the Khambaj thumri quoted above. The song generated expectations of subtle evocations of the sringar rasa. There was an imperceptible caressing of each note as she progressed in an unhurried manner.

Time no bar

Nowadays, we hear artistes complaining of lack of time as an excuse for their helter-skelter performance. They should listen to the old 78 rpm records of stalwarts, where a complete performance is packed within a span of three-and-a-half minutes. The unhurried style of Agarwal reminded one of them.

Her next item was a dadra. “…Maine lakhon ke bol sahe….” Dadra requires a mastery over the rhythm that is deceptively easy. The tala has only six beats. But to keep it from becoming boring and predictable, one has to fence with the tabla player with all concentration. Her song contained interesting rhythmic variations that were pleasant to hear. The mood changed with her next item, a Bhojpuri number “Biran bhaiya aile….” It spoke of a young girl’s yearning to stay with her husband instead of going to her father’s house. She then presented a ghazal composed by Zauk. In this rendition, one could find the echoes of the voice quality of her guru, Vidushi Shanti Hiranand.

Her concluding two items were Sufiana kalams. The first was a composition by Hazrat Amir Khusrau, “Mohe apnehi rang mein….” And the last song was the well-known “Mast Qalandar” which was an audience call-out. She was accompanied on the harmonium by B.K. Nizami, and on the tabla by Abhijit Aich.