In the ongoing series on accompanists, meet Mandakini and Jitendra Swain.
Maybe this is what parampara is all about. Tradition is not so much about singing the same way as your elders but about passing it on almost imperceptibly. Just as Mandakini Swain's toddler sits in her lap when she is trying to practise her Hindustani vocal music, sometimes singing along, sometimes insisting she play with him, Mandakini remembers learning vocal music from her father, A. Maheshwar Rao, since her early childhood in Cuttack, Orissa. "I have been learning ever since I got admitted to school," she recalls. Later she went to Pune and learnt under eminent vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe. "Then I got married and came to Delhi. Since 2000 I have been training under Bhaiyyaji (well-known vocalist Madhup Mudgal, Principal of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya). These days my father is here, and I continue my practice with him too." Mandakini's father was the first in his family to take up music as a profession, but not the first musician. "My father initially learnt vocal music under my nanaji (maternal grandfather). I was also tutored by my nanaji for some time. My uncle also is a violinist." Marriage did not mean a break from the stream of music, since Mandakini married tabla, pakhawaj and khol player Jitendra Swain. "His main instrument is the tabla. On the tabla, he mostly accompanies instrumental concerts, and on the pakhawaj, many Odissi dancers," says Mandakini, adding, "It was Bhaiyya who suggested he take up the pakhawaj too. He had never played for dance before. In Orissa, we all sing, but it is another thing to accompany dance. People were encouraging though."Jitendra, who teaches at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, is a disciple of Gopinath Bahera and Harmohan Khuntia. He later came under the tutelage of Pandit Vinod Pathak. Currently, he is also guided by Pandit Suresh Talwalkar whenever the opportunity arises.Mandakini has sung for recorded soundtracks of Madhavi Mudgal and recently sang live for her when the eminent Odissi dancer teamed up with Kathak dancer Prerna Shrimali and Bharatanatyam dancer Rama Vaidyanathan to present a thematic programme on the occasion of Mayadhar Mansingh's centenary. She also sings for Kathak exponent Manjushree Chatterjee, besides students of Prerna and Madhavi, including Odissi dancer Reela Hota and others. An aspiring soloist, Mandakini also teaches in a public school of the Capital. It is when accompanying Odissi dancers that she and Jitendra end up on the same panel together. Spouses in the same profession have certain blessings and certain disadvantages. "We may fight over the cooking, or over housework," says Mandakini with disarming honesty. "But on stage he is all cooperation, and so am I." How's that for the fruit of a family tree!