Interview Music

Perfect rhythmic foil to music legends

Pt. Shankar Ghosh   | Photo Credit: Krishnaraj Iyengar

While his crisp ‘theka’ outline was a perfect match to the deeply meditative renditions of the sarod ace Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, listeners were enthralled by the resonant parans in the old Punjab style during his solos that spanned hours. Connoisseurs still remember his accompaniment to greats such as Pt. Ravi Shankar, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Pt. Nikhil Banerjee, Pt. Omkarnath Thakur, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Pt. Buddhadev Dasgupta.

His vast repertoire of Purab and Punjab gharanas has been inherited by his disciples in India and abroad. Soft-spoken and articulate, the late Pt. Shankar Ghosh (1935-2016) was a maestro in his own right. In an interview just before his passing, he spoke about his student days, the speciality of his masters, etc. “I was the apple of Guruji Gyan Babu’s eye. I used to live in his house in Calcutta. He would call me after dinner, around midnight, dictate compositions, which I would write with great enthusiasm,” he reminisced, referring to the legendary Pt. Gyan Prakash Ghosh.

Also having taken taleem from the towering Ustad Firoz Khan of the Punjab tradition, who happened to be one of Gyan Babu’s gurus along with the Farukhabad doyen Khalifa Masit Khan, Pt. Ghosh was one of the last musicians s in recent times to have been in his presence and be able to describe his genius. Although Khansaheb’s contribution to the gharana is unparalleled with the most phenomenal compositions in the old robust style, very little is known about him.

Learning years

Pt Ghosh recalled his taleem days with the maestro thus: “Firoz Khansaheb was a direct disciple of the Punjab gharana patriarch, Miyan Faqir Bakhsh. Bearing the strong influence of pakhawaj, his style was robust and weighty, at the same time, he even played the softer do ungli ka baaj (two-finger style) of the Delhi Gharana with intricate qaidas.” . When the Lahore-based Firoz Khansaheb made Calcutta his home, many were fortunate to have train under him. His ‘baaj’ being rendered by Gyan Babu’s disciples even today.

“Firoz Khansaheb was a task master, who would beat us when we erred. I still remember he wore a lungi like a truck driver and had a formidable personality,” laughed Pt. Ghosh. During the Bengal riots, according to Panditji, Firoz Khansaheb was locked-up in a room to be protected from the mobs. But he drummed on the door, drawing the attention of rioters, who broke in and stabbed him to death.

About the enigmatic maestro’s ‘old Punjab’ style, Panditji felt that the tradition started by Lala Bhavanidas, a pakhawaj and tabla maestro, bears heavy pakhawaj influences. Powerful syllables such as ‘ghedaan’ and ‘dhadaan,’ he believed, belonged to the Punjab Gharana. “It is interesting to note that through the ages, Punjab exponents were greatly influenced by the Delhi-style through maestros, as early as Shitab Khan and Bugra Khan; hence we find a lot of Delhi material in their solos. Today, Punjab Gharana is played in both India and Pakistan,” he explained.

Remembering his ‘sangat’ days with great masters, his stint with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, was the most memorable. “We have shared great times together. I remember the first time he invited me to play was at very short notice for a concert in Ahmedabad.” Tabla, ‘the world’s most fabulous drum’ he believed, had changed a lot over the years, and would change for the better if proper taleem was imparted. What did Shankarda think of fusion? He remembered his concert with iconic drummer Micky Hart of the rock band, Grateful Dead, in San Francisco for a 10,000-plus audience in 1962.When asked about the future of tabla, “Pakhawaj again!” he smiled. “I try to teach the way I was taught. Dedication, passion and relentless effort is the mantra to succeed,” he said.

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Printable version | Feb 27, 2021 10:50:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/a-talk-with-tabla-maestro-pt-shankar-ghosh/article17844948.ece

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