INTERVIEW Keeping his father's legacy alive comes naturally to Hindustani vocalist Pt. Rajshekhar Mansur
P andit Rajshekhar Mansur, a Hindustani vocalist and son of the legendary Pt. Mallikarjuna Mansur, recently performed at the SDM College, Ujire, as part of the SPIC MACAY Mangalore Chapter.
Sitting in the audience were two students, GAUTAMI and MANJARI JOSHI. It was their first brush with Hindustani music and it transported them to another realm. The awe-struck youngsters interviewed the vocalist, who is one of the torch-bearers of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. Excerpts:
You are the son of a great musician. Tell us a little about your childhood…
My childhood was a happy one, full of pranks, mischief and fun. And of course, there was music. My father's riyaz (practice) was our wake-up call and our lullaby. I grew up listening to his voice.
But you started learning music only when you were around 16 or 17…
Yes, that was formally. Those who are not born into a musical family have to start learning early. But for me, it was different. Our home resonated with music all the time. I learnt by listening and unconsciously absorbed it.
Your father Pt. Mallikarjuna Mansur learnt initially from Pt. Neelkanth Buwa of the Gwalior gharana. He later shifted to the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. Why?
For 14 years, he learnt from Pt. Neelkanth Buwa. When Pt. Buwa grew old and couldn't spend long hours with him, my father sought out another guru. He got lucky and began his tutelage under Ustad Manji Khan, son of Ustad Alladiya Khan, the creator of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana.
So your style is a mixture of the Gwalior and Jaipur-Atrauli gharanas…
No, no! I won't call it a mixture. Actually, in my singing, the Gwalior gayaki fuses with the Jaipur-Atrauli style. And here, it is important to understand the subtle difference between fusion and mixture. You can say that the Jaipur-Atrauli style gained a new dimension.
What are the features of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana?
The main feature of Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki is that we do not compartmentalise the ashta angas of khayal. There are eight angas while presenting a raga such as alaap, bol, boltan and taan. We do not split them.
That is, we don't start with an alaap, and go on to a bandish.. the ashta angas are woven into a tightly knit form in our presentation. What Jaipur-Atrauli singers do is paint a comprehensive picture of raga. Sometimes, it is difficult for the listeners to take this. One need not understand music. Don't try to understand music, feel it.
Dharwad has given to the field of music several legends. What is so special about this region?
It is famously said that if you throw a stone over the city of Dharwad, it will either fall on a writer or on a musician. I guess it is the ambience. Those days, the Maharaja of Mysore used to invite musicians from the North. The great singers had to travel through Dharwad, which was a stop-over destination. The musicians would stay with a patron and sometimes perform. Whenever they stayed back, they taught music. And soon, there were many great singers from Dharwad who started making a mark. Perhaps that is one of the main reasons about Dharwad's musical heritage.
So, was it your father's dream to mould you into a musician?
No! Believe it or not, but he wanted me to be an engineer or a doctor. As a musician, he had faced lot of difficulties in his younger days. He didn't want his son to face a similar situation. He told me, ‘Paet ke liye kuch profession karo, passion ke liye agar chahe tho gaana gao. ' (Take up a job to feed yourself, you can pursue music as a passion.)
You were an English professor for 35 years with the Karnatak University. How did you balance your profession and passion?
Whatever I do, I do with passion. I love both music and literature. I believe that if you have commitment, you can do justice to both passions.
Where does this commitment in music take you?
When you worship, you see the raga revealing itself. I sing for myself and for my own upliftment. I was asked to sing in a government function at Shravanabelagola a few years ago. When my time came, it was midnight. The audience comprised only of three people, one in charge of the chairs and the other two mike operators. All the officers had disappeared. I didn't bother, but sangFor every singer, the raga that he knows is like a treasure.
My shishyas are my children. What is there if they are not born to me! But, they are born to me in music. It is not a question of achieving anything. I am getting joy, a joy which cannot be earned by one lakh or two lakh rupees. It is not a joy that can't be bought in market. I want to transfer this joy to my shishyas.
What are your future plans?
Continue teaching and performing. I want to teach more and more students and ensure my gharana is kept alive through them.
As a teacher, it is my responsibility to show my students the right path in their musical journey. Here, I would like to make a plea to the younger generation never to forget our roots, be it in religion, culture or the arts. It is our heritage and we have to be proud of it and strive to keep it alive.