Pandit Arun Debnath is far removed from the glitter and the competition of the performing art world.
The meaning of the word kalakar (artist) is `kal ka aakar jo kar sakte hain' — one who creates the shape of tomorrow Pandit Arun Debnath
`I devoted the last 40-odd years to others, due to the compulsions of teaching or earning a living. But I had set a target that after a point, my music would be only for the One who is unseen,' says Pandit Arun Debnath. The result of that decision is, the veteran Hindustani vocalist finds himself at peace in his flat near Malviya Nagar, where white is the predominant colour and the noises of the street do not seem to penetrate."I do my riyaaz in this room, and she does hers in that one," he smiles, referring to his wife Sanghamitra, his disciple of many decades, who gave up her job as the Vice Principal of a reputed public school to put all her energies into music.
Having spent some five years in Newcastle helping to set up the project Gurukul in which Western classical musicians were trained in Hindustani music, the vocalist points out that though his own forte is singing, he can train instrumentalists too. "My father Atul Debnath could play a large number of instruments. I can teach any instrument." What inspires and interests him is the essence of music, he says, adding he does not take complete beginners. Taking the example of Sanghamitra, he says, "I taught her only four ragas. But she was able to expand to all the other ragas thereafter."Comparing his personality to the raga Bihag, Pandit Debnath says he cannot stay in one place for too long a time. "I have been in Delhi now for 15 years, and I begin to wonder if it is time to move on." That may make him sound mercurial. What is unchanging however, is his pursuit of "pure music," — music for its own sake. "I trained under Amir Khan Saheb for two years and eight months. During that time I learnt thousands of sargams. I loved his note patterns and that is why I learnt from him. He gave me so much love, but that (discipleship) I retain in my heart. I was not a ganda-bandh disciple. If you don't have a thread to show that you were under a particular guru, the world will not believe you."Pandit Debnath, who started his training at the age of three-and-a-half under his father Pandit Atul Debnath of Kolkata, does not seem bitter as the words might imply. He is simply being matter-of-fact. One wonders, though, in this day and age, when art is accepted as a treasure of humankind, why artists have to either declare they are not after money, or go to the other extreme of being overly commercial. Why can't artists expect a decent monetary return for the work they are cut out for, instead of either wasting energy on an unrelated but salaried job, or being resigned to penury? The vocalist prefers to look inwards rather than chastise society. "The meaning of the word kalakar (artist) is `kal ka aakar jo kar sakte hain' — one who creates the shape of tomorrow. Such a person has self-confidence. And such a person knows that it is not necessary to ask for one's needs to be fulfilled. They will be taken care of. But most of today's artists go for quick fame, they want to be surrounded by pretty girls, they don't have atma vishwas. So they are in a hurry."