Raag Taal Gharana Music

Anupama Bhagwat: Women need equal opportunity in music

Sitar artiste Anupama Bhagwat

Sitar artiste Anupama Bhagwat   | Photo Credit: the hindu

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Anupama Bhagwat firmly believes that hard work and perseverance will fetch recognition

I have heard Anupama Bhagwat’s music with growing interest. One of the most acclaimed disciples of Pt. Bimalendu Mukherjee, her recitals are hailed for innate sense of musicality and the distinct sound of her sitar. Having performed at many prestigious music festivals in the country and abroad to popular as well as critical acclaim, Bhagwat has created a niche for herself in a domain that is known to be the preserve of male musicians. Excerpts from an interview ahead of her performance in Mumbai:

Your guru, Pt. Bimalendu Mukherjee was a virtuoso musician who created amazing disciples including his son, Pt. Budhaditya Mukherjee. Yet so little is heard or written about him. Why do you think that's the case?

My guru was a multifaceted personality and music was his greatest passion. He was a geologist by profession, who contributed immensely towards the growth and development of the Bhilai Steel Plant and its surroundings. His teaching style was unconventional. He would help students to create their individual styles. His teachings became our way of life. He made Bhilai known to the world by inviting many top musicians. Guruji was much sought after by students of music from all over the world. People came to from Japan, Europe, Sri Lanka, America and many other countries to learn. He may not have been considered a prolific performer, but he dedicated his time to research and developing new instruments.

String instruments are considered the domain of the male musicians. Your take...

Historically, our society has always placed people into categories and hierarchies, and the music world is no exception. Previously there was this tendency of placing vocal music above instrumental, but this is slowly changing. The fact remains that instrumental music came into the mainstream of performances not too long ago, as recently as hundred years or so. And to make it a less competitive world, few musicians actually taught women, who were told that it required immense physical stamina. But fortunately there were some open-minded musicians, who did break these norms, and the music world has surely benefited. The perception is changing, but we have a long way to go. All-woman music festivals are organised to bring more women musicians to the fore, but I am not sure this will help. I feel that in music as in any other endeavour, we should just be given equal opportunity, i.e. be measured on acumen, proficiency and talent and not just gender. I get to hear often statements like... “For a woman you are very good.” I try to ignore such back-handed compliments. I firmly believe that hard work and perseverance will not go unnoticed, and the music speaks for itself.

The duration of a concert is shrinking. Does this impact the quality of the music presented?

A busy lifestyle leads to low attention span. Here again, I would like to quote my Guruji, who firmly believed that a tradition should evolve and flow like a river . And at the beginning of this millennium, he asked his students: “What should 21st century music be like?” The challenge is how we can contemplate and practise our music, while staying true to the art form. I feel the responsibility on the musicians is much higher now, with the shortened duration of concert performances. My constant endeavour is to internalise and dwell in the depths of raga/music and see how I present it in a way that the audience is riveted.

Could you tell me how you plan a concert or play a raga?

I don’t know about others, but I think of a raga or music as another person, and I try to have a conversation. We can think of how to begin the conversation, but then we let the chemistry take care of how the dialogue progresses. Similarly, I would think of different ways to traverse within a raga or a couple of ragas. But on the day of the actual performance, it's left to the moment to take me through the journey. I was taught that music happens through a subconscious state of mind. And the challenge for every musician is how efficiently and quickly one can transition into a subconscious state from a conscious state while facing the audience. The ideal state is when one musical phrase harmoniously creates another, and the sequence is formed naturally. In that state, the music takes over — we are mere instruments in the hands of music.

Why did you choose to play the sitar?

I first started learning the violin as my father is a violinist. My uncle plays the sitar and when I was about nine years old, he just decided to gift me his sitar. And in that spontaneous gesture, I feel the sitar chose me. It is now an extended part of my being. To be able to traverse the raga while connecting with the audience is a beautiful journey in itself. For me, the sitar is the perfect instrument to actualise this experience.

(The writer teaches literary & cultural studies at FLAME University, Pune)

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 8:54:12 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/anupama-bhagwat-women-need-equal-opportunity-in-music/article30105621.ece

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