A rasika’s delight

Gwalior gharana maestro Sharad Sathe is all set to conclude the first year of the First Edition Art’s quarterly Secret Masters Sessions

Great musicians aren’t made in a vacuum. For a musician to be inspired and to keep growing, few things are more important than a solid peer community. This is especially true of an art form like Hindustani music. Creativity in this art form means to add value to musical information culled from the vast body of work already extant in the tradition, and deliver it within parameters of well-defined aesthetic values. So why is it that the mention of ‘classical’ music immediately leads to a clutch of ‘big’ names being dropped everywhere?

There is little doubt that some of today’s pre-eminent classical musicians have achieved stupendous heights in their chosen disciplines. But how about their peers, without whose existence in their immediate surroundings, our famous names would never have been propelled to such heights? There are many musicians in Mumbai and its surrounding areas who have spent entire lifetimes dedicated to the study and practice of Hindustani raga music, to emerge as true masters of one aspect or another of this complex and diverse art form. However, contemporary Indian society’s obsession with celebrity relegates them to the margins as promoters and corporate sponsors prefer to please the market.

Maestros: The Secret Masters Sessions have so far featured (from left) Jayashree Patnekar, Narayanrao Bodas and Arun Kashalkar. Sharad Sathe will close the first year of the series with his concert on Sunday.

Maestros: The Secret Masters Sessions have so far featured (from left) Jayashree Patnekar, Narayanrao Bodas and Arun Kashalkar. Sharad Sathe will close the first year of the series with his concert on Sunday.  


“As avid Hindustani classical concert goers for decades in Kolkata and then Mumbai we were among those who were disappointed by the clear decline in the quality of concert music,” says Devina Dutt, an arts writer, and founder of First Edition Arts, speaking for herself and her partner and colleague, Pepe Gomes, a musician and filmmaker. A resident of Mumbai since 1991, Dutt has had the opportunity to closely observe the Hindustani music scene in the city for over two decades. Starved of the kind of concerts they like to hear, the duo decided to curate performances that placed the musician at the centre in an ecosystem that was nurturing and inclusive.

Hidden figures

The resultant series, Secret Masters Sessions in Mumbai, has set the stage for the re-emergence of honest, bold music-making and some respite for the rasika from the formulaic, risk-averse, and frequently incompetent McDonald’s of classical music that has ravaged the ears of the discerning while simultaneously giving goosebumps to the philistine for some years now. “The term ‘secret’, in this case, is a metaphor for the lack of visibility, or invisibility, rather, of these musicians who were deprived of a steady presence on the concert platform throughout the best years of their performing careers. It is not to be taken literally, as some friends have, from time to time,” says Dutt. Unsurprisingly, some stakeholders in the music scene, especially those invested in maintaining the status quo, have questioned the branding of these concerts and called it an attempt to build up and mystify the featured musicians.

A rasika’s delight

The quarterly concerts, three of which have concluded, offer an opportunity to experience mature, reasoned and thoroughly churned musical ideas, delivered by seasoned artistes with integrity. The first three ‘secret’ masters featured in the series have been Arun Kashalkar, Narayanrao Bodas and Jayashree Patnekar. The opportunity to hear them live in a well-produced concert with good sound reinforcement is an opportunity of a lifetime. The fourth maestro will be Sharad Sathe, 85, who closes the first year of the series with an upcoming concert. The octogenarian has been audible over the years, especially over All India Radio. However, despite quitting his day job in his 50s, Sathe has had few opportunities commensurate with his merit.

Music lover and regular concert goer Zarir Khariwala offers perspective on the Secret Masters Sessions. “Every work of music has a prana, where the heart of the moment lies, and Arun Kashalkar delights in revealing this to the listener, with impeccable timing,” he says. “It is due to FEA’s efforts that I came to hear and know this neglected master. We have collectively turned them into troglodytes.” Dutt is of the opinion that it is in the interest of Hindustani classical music to have these more complex and distinctive musicians influence the listening culture of the day. “It is a travesty that their knowledge and artistry is not more widely known,” she says outlining her motivation to start the series. “Because if it was, it would give the whole system a lift.”

A rasika’s delight

The musical styles within the khayal genre showcased at the Secret Masters Sessions is an astute representation of the gharana gayakis that have had significance in Mumbai for much of the latter half of the 20th century. Kashalkar, 74, studied the Balkrishnabua Ichalkaranjikar branch of the Gwalior gayaki under the celebrated guru Gajanan Joshi for well over a decade. He then commenced his studies in the Agra gharana style under the guidance of the recently deceased master Shrikrishna ‘Babanrao’ Haldankar. Kashalkar’s style is an aesthetically coherent blend of the Gwalior and Agra gayakis, but he admittedly leans, in a broad sense, towards the Agra aesthetic.

The second master, Bodas, began his musical studies with his father Laxman Shripad Bodas, a direct disciple of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar of the Gwalior gharana. As an individual artiste, Bodas’s style is an eclectic mix of myriad influences acquired over the years spent in Karachi and Mumbai. He’s also deeply influenced by the Agra gayaki, the nuances of which he acquired from Prahlad Ganu, a disciple of a revered ustad of that gharana, Khadim Hussain Khan.

And then there’s the music of Patnekar, 73, another product of the crossing of gharana boundaries that naturally happened in a large cosmopolitan space like Mumbai. She trained for five years in the Kirana gharana under K.D. Gavkar, a direct disciple of Abdul Karim Khan. And then at the age of 21, became a pupil of Gajanan Joshi (like Kashalkar), the Gwalior stalwart who had immense knowledge of other gharana gayakis as well. Joshi trained Patnekar in both Gwalior and Jaipur styles. She acquired further expertise in the Jaipur gayaki from Nivruttibua Sarnaik and Ratnakar Pai, both elder statesmen of this branch of musical knowledge.

A fitting end

To conclude the first year of the series, FEA bring to Mumbai the much-loved Sathe who looks and sounds two decades younger. He’s a unique representative of the Gwalior gharana, and a disciple of D.V. Paluskar, B.R. Deodhar, and Sharadchandra Arolkar. Stylistically, Sathe is an interesting mix of Paluskar and Arolkar, while drawing a wide range of content from Deodhar’s immense collection of material. “Deodharbua was known to the world as Professor Deodhar,” says Sathe. “Because the depth of his knowledge was matched by its breadth, and he was very open to ideas, being a musicologist rather than a full-time performer; he was a master assimilator”.

Sathe’s sur lagaav (manner of articulating notes, or sound itself), especially in the recordings from his heyday, are an instant throwback to the 78 rpm (analogue LP) records of Paluskar that I grew up hearing. Even the development of his vilambit khayal using behlavas (fluid sequences of glissandi synchronised with the underlying rhythmic structure) blend gently and seamlessly into the sthayi (initial melodic line) of a composition. This ironing out of the creases of the more traditional gayaki, described by Sathe as “Gwaliori Gwalior”, as opposed to “Maharashtra Gwalior”, makes Paluskar’s music, as well as Sathe’s, much more accessible to a new listener. The rhythmic play with the words of the bandish and the vigorous gamak taans are, of course, right out of his guru, Arolkar’s playbook. And they help Sathe’s music retain a traditional flavour.

As FEA celebrates the conclusion of Secret Masters Sessions’ first year, music lovers are in for a treat if the recent recordings of maestro Sathe are any indicator of his form.

Secret Masters Sessions featuring Sharad Sathe on March 26 at 9.30 a.m. at Ravindra Natya Mandir Mini Auditorium.

Why you should pay for quality journalism - Click to know more

Related Topics
Recommended for you
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor

Printable version | Mar 24, 2020 1:50:41 PM |

Next Story