Vidushi Shruti Sadolikar Katkar, Vice Chancellor of the prestigious Bhatkhande University of Music in Lucknow, is very much a scholar musician. Earlier Professor of Music at Mumbai University, Shruti has headed the Lucknow University since 2009, and is at the start of another five year term, which is quite unprecedented. Founded in 1926 by the famous Bhatkhande as the Marris College, the institution was renamed Bhatkhande Institute of Music in 1966, and deemed a University of Music in 2000.
Recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi award, amongst others, the Pandita has an enviable musical pedigree, having learnt from several stalwarts including the grandson of Ustad Alladiya Khan (the founder of the Jaipur Attrauli gharana), Ustad Azizudin Khan, from whom she continued to learn till his death in 2011. A “no nonsense”, highly practical, very articulate, and of course extremely fine singer, Shruti spoke extensively of her love for scholarship in music.
Tell us about your background
I was born in a small princely state of Kurundavar, my “nanihal” (mother's home). The great Ustad Rehmet Khan (Gwalior gayaki) used to stay in a house opposite where I was born, and I believe has done extensive riyaaz there. But I have lived all my life in Mumbai – am a pucca Mumbaikar!
Tell us about your scholarly inclinations; how do you come to be a scholar musician?
My father, Pandit Wamanrao Sadolikar, was not only a great musician but also a very scholarly man, who had an extensive library on all kinds of books, on jyotish (astrology), physics, maths etc and was a voracious reader. He was also a great linguist who spoke read and wrote 8-9 languages . We used to get several newspapers every day in different languages. In fact, he taught me how to read and write Urdu.
My feeling for lyrics and the written word was developed due to my father’s training in languages, and the reverence in the household for the written word. In fact, the realisation that there is so much knowledge in the world, and your own tiny place against a much vaster arena was developed at a very young age. You know how much you know in comparison to others and that keeps you very grounded. I started to sing from a young age, and people would come, and say “she can sing well, can become a heroine”….. but my father would always just say, “no, no she doesn’t know much, she has a long way to go!” This attitude has kept my feet on the ground through out my life.
My mother too was a graduate – in 1940 that was very rare amongst girls. She was the 1st girl to attend school in 1925 in Kurundavar. She insisted that I could be both a scholar and a musician. Just because I had not practised for a few days, did not mean that I could not perform! She used to say, 'it’s your voice, at your command! You can’t say you need practice to sing in front of someone.' She gave me the confidence to feel there was nothing I could not do. Both my parents never glamourised my singing.
Tell us about your gurus
My father remained my main Guru till he died. He was a “gandaband” shishya of Ustad Bhurji Khan. I then also learnt from Ustad Azzizuddin Khan, son of Ustad Bhurji Khan. He lived in Kolhapur. I used to go there to learn too and he came to Mumbai many times. When I moved to Lucknow he was quite upset as he thought my learning would reduce. He thought he would not be able to visit my home there as it was far. Truly, all my Gurus had no doubt at all about my receptivity and were so giving of knowledge, totally confident I would imbibe correctly and in totality. I have indeed been so lucky.
My father was so open – when someone objected to my singing “laavani” as I represented the great Jaipur gharana, he retorted, “So what, Usme bhi raga hai, taal hai, who bhi sangeet hai. Kis aadhar pe keh sakte ho ki sirf jo hum gaate hain, wohi asli sangeet hai?” – let her see singing a laavani is difficult, its not easy.”
You sing thumri very well too...
Actually, I have never formally learnt thumri! Ustad Gullubhai Jasdanwalah, who was my Guru from 1968 onwards till he died in 1990, was famous as a Guru of rare and complex ragas. He was a “kothewallah gawaiya.” It was very unusual that he agreed to teach me. He refused to teach many big artists! Though I never formally learnt how to sing a thumri, I imbibed the spirit and subtle flavour of thumri by listening to great thumri and by being taught old thumris by my Guru. I think temperamentally, I am also inclined towards thumris, and I have been lucky to hear wonderful rare thumris of Kesarbai. Shanti bhai Gajjar, from Mumbai, had a huge collection of private recordings of Kesarbaiji which included thumris which she did not sing so much in public. He was fond of me, and would call me over to listen to his rare old spool recordings; this was when I was a young performer, and very receptive. Shri Babu bhai Raja also had a big collection of her thumris that I used to hear.
My guru gave me so, so much. I remember when he would go to his farm in Panvel, he would frequently remember an old bandish he wanted me to learn; he would then and there scribble the words on whatever scrap of paper that was to hand, to remind himself, and then would call me – in those days it was a trunk call and say, “ye likhlo, aake sikhaoonga” (write this down now, I will return and teach it to you.) I remember when the first time the trunk call came, I was scared, and wondered what was wrong!
I started learning from him when he was quite old and he used to lament that I should have come to him 25 years ago when he could have given me so much more. (I was not even born then!)” Inshallah! agle janam mein sikhayenge” (If God wills, I will teach you in my next life), he said.
Are institutions like the Bhatkhande University useful for professional musicians?
Absolutely. The study of musical theory is very important, perhaps as much as the practice. Awadh was the centre of music 200 years ago, yet it is today in Maharashtra, Karnataka that music has flourished, because there was no scholarship, no analysis of what you performed there. Maharashtra on the other hand developed a tradition of intense scrutiny, codification – this is necessary. Gandharva Mahavidyala has done so much to spread classical music. Pandit D V Paluskar and Pandit Bhatkhande realised the importance of formal written training in music.
Music and scholarship have to go hand in hand. One can’t practise 24 hours. In fact, I am not in favour of teaching the same raga on and on and expanding all aspects of a raga to my students. I give the shape of the raga, teach a few days and then let the students try themselves.
I feel it’s important for the students to arrange concerts also – from conducting auditions, working out who accompanies the main artist, formulating the concert format to arranging the sound system, announcing, inviting the audience…they must learn and experience all of that.
“Shastra ke aadhar se apna music batana aage zamane ki zaroorat hai (in a future age, being able to authoritatively, with the basis of the written word, explain your music will be very necessary).” My mother used to always say this, and I agree.