INTERVIEW Money, equipment and editing facilities have changed mind-sets and taken away the necessary inwardness and honesty required for musicians, says santoor exponent Tarun Bhattacharya C.S. SARVAMANGALA
Tarun Bhattacharya, the only santoor exponent of the Maihar gharana has a fine understanding of his instrument, the hundred- stringed lute or the Shatatantri-veena of ancient times, indigenous to the Kashmiri landscape as a folk instrument. His dynamism coupled with discretion enables him to achieve his objective of making music interesting and engaging within the classical frame. His rare achievement lies in exploiting a mechanically unique percussive-melodic instrument to create melodic continuity comparable to the sarod or sitar, simultaneously highlighting the staccato idiom for vibrant tantrakaari .
A wide concertscape including duets with different versions of the santoor - the Iranian santoor, the Chinese Yangqin, and the hammered dulcimer, a large body of recordings and numerous credits including the pre-Grammy nomination in 1997 and top-10 acclaim for his CD ‘Kirvani’, remain subordinate to the profound artiste’s world of meditative music.
At the behest of his guru Pt. Ravi Shankar came about the felicitous music-bells communion — Tarun’s santoor music for his wife Sanchita Bhattacharya’s Odissi performances. The Tarun-Sanchita-Pravin Godkhindi trio made an extensive tour overseas with their ‘Music- Meets- Bells’ montage.
Excerpts from a conversation:
What made you take up the santoor, not sitar or sarod? Tell us about your gurus and your learning process.
My father was a sitar-player, a disciple of the revered Radhika Mohan Moitra. He ran a music school at home where several students would always be engaged in practice. Listening to his jugalbandi with Pt. Dulal Roy on the santoor, I was drawn to it. I learnt the techniques of santoor from Dulal Kaka but I was rooted in the sitar-sarod gharana. I was exposed to the alaap- jod- jhala and expression of raga on the sitar. Further learning continued with Pt. Ravi Shankar, which explains my style of presentation in the sarod-sitar idiom.
Santoor and its playing has evolved in leaps at your hands. Have you restructured your instrument and what are the specific techniques that you employ? I introduced mankas or fine tuners for the sake of perfect tuning. I replaced the existing strings with guitar strings to achieve deeper sound and the lower octave and used thicker strings for effective meends . I have evolved krintans , ekarataans and bol-taans on the santoor to enhance melodic flow. Restructuring in terms of size and shape has further refined the tuning quality and richness of tone. Tuning with a full knowledge of the operational nuances is essential for successful playing of any instrument, more so with the elaborate shatatantri-veena . Coming to my playing, I employ trilling to generate subtle atomized lingering sound. Jhala is a major component in instrumental presentation and there are several types of jhala. The sitar-sarod jhala that I execute is played at a certain laya . To attain this speed I use my left hand for chikari and my right hand plays the raagaanga in jhala. Then again, I change into the more powerful right hand for execution of high-speed jhala. I aim at music presentation that makes listening interesting and sustains audience, but certainly within the grammar and grandeur of Indian classical music.
Your jugalbandi with Pt. Nayan Ghosh at the Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal last year opened up a new kind of listening experience. The strings seemed to bend and dance to your will when you played Charukeshi raaga at Bangalore recently. The bol taans , lilting gamaks, tantakaari and the gayaki on the santoor were amazing. How do you explain your kind of dynamic dexterity?
During our time there was a very special atmosphere for constant practice. My home also accommodated a music school with 300 students. But the young generation now finds itself amidst 300 television channels but not one dedicated exclusively for classical music. Calcutta of my days had few cinema halls, two recording companies and one TV Station and All India Radio and no computer and mobile phones. Money, equipment and editing facilities have changed mind-sets and taken away the necessary inwardness and honesty.
Do you engage different techniques while you execute the raagdaari and the layakaari components in a raaga ?
Not really, techniques are the same, whether it is alap - jod-jhala or gatkaari . In layakaari, I use gentle strokes and use microbeats by further dividing beats and play with those microspaces. A raaga combines in itself a mystic element, a mathematical portion, an emotional aspect, an intellectual exploration, an abstract flow and so on.
Do you think an instrumentalist’s exploration is guided by the techniques available at hand or does one bend the techniques and stretch them to execute ideas or is it a simultaneous negotiation?
On deciding what melody, what kind of music you want to produce, choose the techniques out of your khajana to bring out that sentiment. Even in tihayis, whatever the taal, I consider the musical aspect and plan accordingly. Sheer mechanical division doesn’t help. …music is not computers… it reflects the inner being… sound of silence is best suited at times. Whether it is writing, painting or music, we choose what the context demands.
Extending the earlier thought, what is the nature of the interface between the conscious and the unconscious in music-playing, whether a phrase or ragaanga taan or todas-tihayis …..?
Sometimes tihayis come, short ones come just like that… good talim endows artistes with a lot of assets. But long tihayis have to be planned. In Indian classical music nothing is fixed, and there is no notation in that sense.
Tell us about your santoor ashram in rural Bengal.
It’s located on the outskirts of the city. Not many of my students live there because there isn’t enough infrastructure. But about 35 students come to learn at this centre. Several of them are serious music-learners and seven to eight of them have been performing in India and abroad. A couple of them are radio-artists. I foresee a stable future for the santoor and I believe that planning with the future in mind is necessary. We not only have to make students realise their musical goals but also help them succeed in their musical career with concert opportunities and net-working. The gap between practice and performance has to be bridged and I believe stage-talim is also talim.
Sheer mechanical division doesn’t help. …music is not computers… it reflects the inner being… sound of silence is best suited at times