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Pandit Ramakant Gundecha: Dhrupad loses its star

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Pandit Ramakant Gundecha paved the way for broadening the horizon of dhrupad by bringing in rich literary oeuvres of Hindi

The news came like a bolt from the blue! It was impossible to believe that a young, apparently fighting fit and dynamic person like Pandit Ramakant Gundecha, the younger of the world-renowned dhrupad maestros Gundecha Brothers, would close the flow of melody so abruptly while at the peak of creativity. “Unfortunately, this is true. I have just returned from Bhopal after attending the last rites,” said Pandit Uday Bhawalkar over the phone.

Once again, it is proved that life is stranger than fiction – so is death. Rabindranath Tagore, under the pseudonym ‘Bhanu Singha Thakur’- wrote in Maithili, ‘Maran re! tuhun mama Shyam samaan’ (O Death! You are like my Shyam); nobody knows when His hypnotic flute would lure one out of this mortal life and lead to the eternal one!

The lure this once caused massive cardiac arrest for a 56-year-old Ramakant, who, with his co-musician brothers were waiting for a Pune-bound train at Habibganj Station on Friday, the 8th November to be able to participate in a prestigious dhrupad concert on coming Sunday before heading for several other events – so meticulously planned by him for a hectic winter season.

The entire music fraternity knows that out of all the five Gundecha siblings, he was the most friendly, outgoing, articulate and meticulous planner – who zestfully handled all the correspondences and dialogues with organisations, listeners, members of the music fraternity and even social media. Umakant, the elder of this famous duo, openly and blindly relied on his younger brother’s managerial acumen. The trust paid its dividends and they rose to be the leading propagators of dhrupad.

Gundecha brothers

Gundecha brothers  

But it took a lot of struggling years to carve out a niche in the world of music where dhrupad was already on the decline; moreover, because they hailed from the family of a lawyer - based in Ujjain.

As a student of commerce in Madhav College, Ramakant, like his elder brother Umakant, was drawn towards music. Their father noticed the latent talent of his boys and encouraged them to pursue their passion and complete the degree course from the Madhav Sangeet Mahavidyalaya as well. Quite plausibly, this had initiated them to khayal.

“In those days, we were stationed in Ujjain,” reminisced Bhawalkar, “my elder sister, who inspired and initiated me to music, was the classmate of Umakant-bhai. When the Dhrupad Kendra in Bhopal was about to start, we chanced upon the advertisement. All three of us applied for the scholarship, sailed through the tests and joined the Kendra together in November 1981. Ours was the first batch of students. None of us hailed from any gharanedar musicians’ family. Under the strict mentorship of our Chhote Ustad, Fariduddin Dagar, we were trying our best to undo what we had learnt so far and also enthusiastically learnt the new lessons to imbibe the nuances of Dagar Gharana.”

Bhawalkar shared a very fond memory. “In 1982, during our holidays we were back home in Ujjain. One morning Ramakant-bhai came to our house brimming with a bright idea. He said, ‘As you know, our city has temples dedicated to each of the navagrahas – related to Som, Mangal, etc. Why don’t we go in the temple of Budh on Wednesdays, Guru on Thursdays and offer our music in each one of the temples every morning!’ We all jumped at the idea. Each day, around four in the morning, the three of us would mount a moped along with our tanpura, go to a temple and sing till the daybreak,” Bhawalkar took a deep breath. “That gratifying feeling has stayed with me, always,” he added softly.

Pandit Ritwik Sanyal, a much senior guru-bhai of Gundechas and Bhawalkar, saw them grow since their entry in Dhrupad Kendra. According to him, all the three youngsters were very sincerely dedicated to this demanding genre. “It was Ustad-ji who suggested jugalbandi for the Gundechas because they had a very strong familial bond. Umakant always relied heavily on Ramakant who was sharper and more confident. Their youngest brother Akhilesh came down to Benares to learn Pakhawaj from Pandit Shrikant Mishra. This further strengthened their team. Later Sangeeta, one of their two sisters, also pitched in handling the organisational works,” added Sanyal.

However, nothing comes from nothing. The ladder of worldwide success took its own price. After the five-year-long intense training at the Kendra, the brothers first got noticed at the Uttaradhikar Dance and Music Festival, Bhopal. They won the National Fellowship for the period of 1987-89. The Madhya Pradesh Government also extended their helping hands by absorbing them at the archival centre of the prestigious Bharat Bhavan.

Ramakant, who loved to interact with artists of all disciplines, actually paved the way for broadening the horizon of dhrupad by bringing in rich literary oeuvres of Hindi, penned by modern poets.

As a singing duo and also as Gurus, they tried out newer vistas and succeeded in evolving a typical Gundecha style with a different perception and colour – widely accepted by listeners. In 2004, they established their own Dhrupad Gurukul in the outskirts of Bhopal. Among their disciples, many are rearing to come up now – including a Pakistani exponent and Ramakant’s only son Anand Gundecha.

With the flow of felicitations and awards from different parts of India, they also received the Padmashri in 2012 and a heavy load of responsibilities as busy performers, gurus and institution heads. Frankly, the latter was Ramakant’s forte. Albeit cool and capable of handling the tensions involved, he fell prey to the silent killer that snatched him away – untimely, ruthlessly.

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Printable version | Dec 7, 2019 6:45:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/music/pandit-ramakant-gundecha-dhrupad-loses-its-star/article29973676.ece

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