TRIBUTE Lalitha Ubhayker, who passed away recently, was a rare music patron. She was deeply interested in the art and her concerns were genuine VYASAMURTHY KATTI
It was in 1993. I had just then made Bangalore my home and was on the lookout for emotional anchoring. I went to the two-day Devnandan Ubhayekar Yuva Sangeet Utsav, enthused to find young artists from all over the country performing. It was here that I had my first opportunity to meet Lalitha Ubhaykar. After this first meeting, in these 20 years or so, she was always there as a moral force.
Lalitha Ubhyaker was a woman of extraordinary vision. In memory of her son, who had an unfortunate early death, she organised a music festival for young artistes from all over the country. In fact, many of these artistes who started out at the Devnandan Ubhayker Festival went on to become stars of the Indian music scene -- Ustad Rashid Khan, Gundecha Brothers, Kaushiki Chakraborthy, Sanjeev Abhyankar, to name a few. For Lalithaji bringing to fore talented youngsters was not just her mission, she was also committed to make sure the gurus who worked tirelessly got their due credit. She made sure that she invited worthy and lesser-known artistes, irrespective of where they lived. It due course, to my immense satisfaction, and also to that of my Guruji, Pt. Ramacharya Bagewadi, Lalithaji asked me to perform for the festival. For a young artiste, it was indeed an honour to perform in an event that was so special and genuine.
Lalithaji herself was a well known musician having trained under Pt. Ramrao Naik. She was among his senior-most disciples. Her taleem, though was deeply rooted in Agra gharana gayaki, one could find traces of the singing style of Roshanara Begum, an exponent of Kirana Gharana, especially in her taans. She was very well known as a vocalist, performing widely all over India, and even several European countries. Being a recognised performer herself, she was also a very able organiser. Apart from the Yuva Utsav, she also organised private baithaks at her residence. She invited great artists like Pt. Ravi Shankar and Dagar Bandhu to perform in Bangalore for the first time, at these baithaks. Her taste for the traditional classical music extended to dhrupad-dhamar genres as well. She brought many well known dhrupad singers and beenkars to perform at these events. As she also appreciated the semi-classical music like thumri, tappa and dadra, she invited singers who performed these forms. Though she held traditional gayaki in highest regard and felt the importance of the traditional training or taleem, she had an ear for all kinds of music. Smriti-Nandan, her brainchild, was born out of this innate desire to promote various Indian art forms.
Her love of music was not dry and intellectual. She respected the views of her audience and made sure that no sentiments were hurt. During one of the Yuva Utsavs, an artiste from the North was to perform in the morning session, followed by another. Lailthaji discerned during the rehearsal realised that a Bhairavi tappa was planned in the middle of the concert, much against the practises in these parts. In the North, Bhairavi could be sung as a morning raga, but she was able to convince him to render tappa in a different raga. Lalithaji also composed music and sang verses from Ramayana, and had also presented the same in a novel manner, by having Ragamala paintings exhibited in the background. Many young and talented artists of both classical and non-classical genres have found a guardian and mentor in her, who not only recognised their talent, but also encouraged them to perform. Even in her old age and illness, she worked with the same commitment and belief. Each time I paid a visit to her, she would, with great concern, enquire about the happenings in the musical world. She was a rare art patron for these times, her generosity was rare. A few months ago, she came for my vocal performance, and was so appreciative of my performance. She walked up to me affectionately blessed me and expressed her wish to host my concert at Smriti-Nandan. Unfortunately, it was not to be so.
With the passing away of Lalitha Ubhayker, I feel it is the end of an era. An era in which patrons are not heartless-faceless corporates, but someone who believed in sitting in the very first row, attentively absorbing every note. For her, music was a way of life.
(Vyasamurthy Katti is among the leading harmonium players and has rendered support to some of the top musicians of the country.)
Though she held traditional gayaki in highest regard and felt the importance of the traditional training or taleem, she had an ear for all kinds of music