High strung on gayaki


When violinist Dr. N. Rajam began playing raag Bageshri Kanada at Bandra's Balgandharva Rangmandir last week, there was pin-drop silence. For the next 45 minutes, the audience heard her with studied concentration, occasionally uttering a 'wah' and clapping after tabla exponent Yogesh Samsi's passages.

Next, a short Banarasi thumri in Khamaj was followed by a soulful Bhairavi. Needless to say, a rousing standing ovation was given. Once again, the 'singing violin', as the instrumentalist is often called, had stirred hearts.

Rajam was performing at Khiraj, a concert held in memory of late sitar maestro Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, where she was given the Jafferkhani Samman award. In her typically modest manner, she said, "The presenter said many good things about me, though I don't know whether I deserve that praise." Khan's son Zunain Halim Khan began the evening with raags Champakali and Hameer.

At 81, Rajam continues to delight audiences with her sheer artistry and command. Steeped in the Hindustani 'gayaki ang', she creates magic with every phrase. Like the tone of her instrument, there's a distinct warmth in her persona. I met her as she entered the premises, and she immediately said, "It's been such a long time. How have you been?"

I first heard Rajam perform when I was a month short of my 14th birthday, at a day-long festival in New Delhi in 1977. I don't remember what raag she played but I do recollect I was thrilled to see the audience’s reaction. More important, the music moved me, and I always looked forward to her concerts.

Over the years, I have attended many. Two of my favourite ones were when she played raag Gorakh Kalyan with her daughter Sangeeta Shankar at the Nehru Centre in the late 1990s, and when she rendered raags Bairagi Bhairav and Devgiri Bilawal at the Pratah Swar morning concert four years ago.

The most memorable moment, of course, was interviewing her at her Thane residence around two decades ago. Ever hospitable, she offered me a glass of water before heading over to prepare hot dosas for us. Over fresh coffee, she said, "The interview will always happen. Hope you liked the dosa."

I regularly play Rajam's recordings. Last year, the two-volume Glittering Treasures, featuring tabla great Ustad Zakir Hussain, was made available on streaming platforms. The first part has an elaborate Bageshri Kanada, and the second has shorter pieces including the beautiful raag Nilambari, 'Janki Nath Sahaay' in Maanj Khamaj, 'Na Manoongi' in Khamaj and 'Payoji Maine' in Mishra Pahadi.

Besides her daughter, her grand-daughters Ragini and Nandini Shankar are carrying the tradition forward. Rajam’s next performance is along with her daughter Sangeeta at the St. Xavier's Indian Music Group Janfest on January 26.

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 2:56:26 PM |

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