Ashwini Bhide Deshpande: Nurturing the covalent bonds of music

Sharing her musical wealth: Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande in performance at the BVB festival with Dr. Vinay Mishra on harmonium and Pt. Vinay Lele on tabla and her disciples Shweta and Shivani on the pair of taanpuras   | Photo Credit: Sushil Kumar Verma

The versatile vocalist, creative composer, erudite scholar with a doctorate in Biochemistry, Vidushi Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande is not just one of the most authentic representatives of the Jaipur Khayal Gayaki tradition of Hindustani classical music but also the most unassuming one at that. Talking to her is always an enriching experience. This time she started with enthusiastically sharing her latest musical experience when one met her at the IIC hostel room, where she stayed to perform in the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan Sangeet Samaroh.

But she has yet to get over the excitement of participation in “Anand Parv”, which focused on the “Swar-Chintan” (the introspection on swaras) of Jaipur Gayaki. The unique two-day festival was held at Kolhapur on the 25th Punyatithi (death anniversary) of Late Anandrao Limaye, a direct disciple of Ud. Alladiya Khan.

Ashwini described the festival that deliberated upon the specific ragas and bandishes (compositions) of Jaipur Gharana as a rare opportunity for serious students of music and jigyasu rasik, the inquisitive aficionados of classical music. “Representatives of nearly all the branches of Jaipur Gharana were given a couple of ragas to speak about and present authentic compositions of the Gharana in that raga where self composed compositions were not permitted.”

When one asked her what did she mean by different branches of the gharana, Ashwini explained branches of Jaipur Gharana spread far and wide through the shishya parampara of gurus like Alladiya Khan, Mansur, Ratnakar Pai, etc, who all belong to the same gharana but left their own signature on the gayaki. “Ëven I belong to the 5th sequential chain from Alladiya Khan coming through Mogubai Kurdikar, Kishori Amonkar and my mother and guru Manik Bhide . Gharana is the same but the musical journey through all these links kept evolving. Moghubai was different from Alladiya Khan, Kishori was different from Moghubai. The same is true about my mother (who trained under Kishori ji) and me.This evolving difference is both, welcome and inevitable for the growth of the gayaki.”

She described Anand Parv as a “no nonsense festival”. “No chief guest, no phool-mala, the invited vocalists were not expected to sing unnecessarily, apart from elaborating the raga-roop and the sthayee-antara of the composition. Instead, they were welcomed to speak more about their thoughts and experience about the raga. I for instance was given ragas Godhani and Multani Dhanashri. So I had to demonstrate what is Godhani and how is Multani Dhanashri different from Dhanashri, singing both, just to make my point.”

Even the ragas of the Gharana, she underlines, were as rare as Kundavati, Khat-Todi, Adambari-Kedar, Nat-Narayan, Purva, Pat-Bihag, Shivmat Bhairav, Khambhavati, Rayasa Kanada, Jayant Kanda. Senior representatives of the Gharana such as Ulhas Kashalkar, Arun Dravid, Shruti Sadolikar, Alka Deo Marulkar, Shaunak Abhisheki and Raghunandan Panshikar shared a wealth of knowledge about the ragas prevalent in different tributaries of Guru Shishya Parampara of this gharana.”

Volunteer of music

Rare honour Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande being presented with Sangeet Shikhar Samaan by Justice R.C. Lahoti and Ashok Pradhan, Director Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Delhi Kendra. Senior artists Pt. Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and Raja Reddy and Uma Vasudevan were also present

Rare honour Dr. Ashwini Bhide Deshpande being presented with Sangeet Shikhar Samaan by Justice R.C. Lahoti and Ashok Pradhan, Director Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, Delhi Kendra. Senior artists Pt. Tejendra Narayan Majumdar and Raja Reddy and Uma Vasudevan were also present  

“It was heartening to see so many musicians of the Gharana sharing their thoughts during the festival where every participant and member of the audience had to pay a token money to register themselves for boarding, lodging and food to stay there and attend all the sessions of this enriching endeavour which was not just an entertainment.”

At the festival in Delhi, Ashwini was awarded the prestigious BVB Sangeet Shikhar Samman.

She hesitantly confessed, “People ask, ‘You must be feeling happy for your effort is being appreciated and recognised’. It is true but at the same time I feel awkward, because by temperament I am simple karyakarta, a volunteer of music. The idea is deep rooted in me – working tirelessly without any expectations like a true volunteer, is in my blood. I believe that working in any sphere of knowledge is never enough. I want to work like a volunteer all my life in this field and contribute as much as possible.”

Awards, she says, intimidate her. “They give a feeling that you have passed the fulfilling stage of working hard and the time has come to just sit back and receive awards! It feels like a hindrance, because I love working. You must have heard of Marie Curie. When she received the Nobel Prize, people started inviting her to facilitate and she said,‘why are people wasting my time that I should devote to my work.’ Please don’t take me otherwise but I can understand her feeling because I have translated her biography, ‘Madame Curie’, into Marathi.”

Ashwini says the English translation of the French book, written by Curie’s daughter Eve, came in her hand when she was a student and it left a deep impression on her. “The book was not about just science but also about a mother and daughter relationship and many more moral values, that deeply touched me. I did return the torn book that I had borrowed from a library but its impact remained. After 25 years, while I was visiting my daughter in the US, I once again came across that book and I realised, my fascination for the book has not a bit diminshed. I started translating it in Marathi just for my own pleasure. Gradually, it became a big book of nearly 500 pages. When my family members read it they suggested to get it published. The biggest problem was to find the copyright holder because the book was published in 1937. The only thing I could find out after great effort, was that its royalty goes to the UNICEF. Ultimately, the UNICEF people gave me the contact of whom to approach for the purpose and at long last it got published.”

Noble approach

She says there were many aspects of Curie’s life that attracted her. “She was awarded the Nobel Prize for discovering radium and polonium. Radium was a new element and was going to be beneficial for the treatment of cancer. Many people wanted it but she only knew the formula to use it. Her well wishers suggested that she should patent her findings , but she outrightly refused to do so, saying she has not created it, how can she patent it in her name? Her daughter Irene Curie did the same, when 35 years later she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry she refused to take the patent.

Ashwini holds a similar view on musical compositions. She doesn’t approve of musicians putting their name to their creations. “Once I have composed it, it is a public property. Anybody and everybody can sing it. She went further to say if connoisseurs recognise it as mine, that is more than enough for me!”

Talking about her versatility, Ashwini, who once explained rendition of a raga through theories of architecture, says she delves deep into whatever comes to her. “It is in my temperament and it is not restricted to music or literature alone. Any classy thing attracts me. It is, in fact, a constant process of learning. I want to go to the root and explore things. I will not be satisfied by just seeing the Eiffel Tower, I would like to know about its history, its architecture, everything in great detail. I have got it in my blood. My father had a scientific bent of mind and my mother has an artistic temperament. I am a blend of both.”

The curious musician

Ashwini explains this with the help of Bhakharwadi, a savoury item from Gujarat that she loves to share with her guests.

“One can easily get it in the market, but I’m not satisfied with it. I would like to know what are the ingredients, find out the recipe and then think how could I improve upon it. I tried cooking it myself just because I liked it. The Bhakarwadi you get in market is quite hard but I turned it into a delicious item!”

Ashwini says that she shares these everyday experiences because she feels that our classical music needs to be taken with a bit more earnestness. This earnest temperament is mirrored in not just her richly layered, finely focused and delicately nuanced voice but also in her highly articulated approach to raga rendition. Her well conceived performances are embellished with a touch of striking resonance and clarity, uncanny sense of proportion, impeccable diction, design and delivery. No wonder her music is an emotional experience for her mesmerised audience comprising both, the discerning and the lay listeners.

Arresting beauty and grace

Kamani auditorium was filled to capacity and Ashwini was glowing in her aesthetically draped Manipuri Moonga-silk sari. The opening aalap in Abhogi though made one a bit apprehensive about the choice of the main raga just after her receiving the Bhavan’s Sangeet Shikhar Samman. The pentatonic Abhogi one felt was good enough for the second raga and did not justify for the main raga at least on this evening.

But the secret was disclosed by the content of the bandish, which was in praise of the guru, who had groomed Ashwini as the deserving receiver of the prestigious award. The self-composed bandish set to slow Jhaptal went “Hum bhaye badar, Guru tum sagar/ Tero hi jal bhar barsat door des…..” that meant ¨Oh Guru, I am merely a cloud and you are the ocean. It’s just your grace/water that I rain far and wide…”. Only an humble disciple like Ashwini could have thought of offering such gratitude to the Guru on this day!

The clear awareness of the design of raga’ larger empire in which she filled the boltaans and aakar taans of varied patterns even though the raga comprised just five notes; was a rich reminder of the art’s true success. The composition as Guru-Vandana was sung with disturbing power and appeal. The Chhota Khayal “Rasa barsat….” set to Drut Ek-tala literally translated itself into the Rasa-Varsha, the rain of blissful sentiments.

Bihagda, the favourite raga of her gharana next, came as an exemplary stamp of Jaipur Gayaki before she concluded with a Bhairavi Bhajan in Dadra style. The multi-hued repertoire, meticulous flair and aesthetic poise made it a performance of arresting beauty and grace.

‘She knows what to leave

Dr. Vinay Mishra has accompanied the topmost vocalists of nearly every gharana on harmonium but he puts Ashwini in a different league. “I have never come across an artiste like Ashwini tai. She is a rare combination of intellect, talent and sensitivity. She is a perfect combination of academics, artistic talent, performing brilliance and balanced personality. I would not categorise her as versatile artiste because there are many who can sing well or play a number of instruments or compose or teach well. No doubt, she she has got all this but in one quality she can leave all of them far behind, that is the decision making talent of what to leave,” says Mishra.

Ashwini was a senior scientist at Bhabha Research Institute Mumbai and was doing very well. She had earned a name as a classical vocalist too. She was at that time doing very well and made a niche for herself in both the fields. If she wanted, she could have easily continued like that, but she decided to leave her career in the field of science and chose music. “A brilliant person will do well in every field but to choose what to leave, is a very difficult thing. Very few can take this decision. She is capable of doing that, this is why I put her above the versatile,” adds Mishra.

Ashwini goes into minutest details. If she has to perform at a concert she will think of the festival that has just past by or is due in near future, or which is the season and would take care to choose the raga or bandish (composition) accordingly. She would even think which raga she performed last time in that city and would not repeat it. “Often she takes new ragas also as a challenge. Like a raga composed by Pt. Ravi Shankar, will obviously not have a vocal composition. In that case, she will compose the bada and chhota khayal herself and present it with utmost competence.”

At the Sangeet Samaroh organised by BVB, she picked up a bandish about the greatness of Guru, because the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan is a real Guru-Dham. She always chooses her compositions with care and the literary contents of her compositions are always remarkable.

She appreciates other art forms also and respects not just the seniors but also junior artistes. “If she sees a ray of talent in youngsters, she would devote time to cultivate and guide them. She always gives respect to her co-artistes. Not just on concert scene but also would care for him or her on a humanitarian ground. She would inquire about their family and would always be ready to help if the situation arises. This is perhaps the greatest secret of her success as a favourite artiste of one and all,” sums up Mishra.

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Printable version | Jul 26, 2021 12:53:01 AM |

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