Pandit Arvind Parikh on his guru Ustad Vilayat Khan

Ahead of Guru Purnima, Pandit Arvind Parikh talks about spreading the scent of his guru

July 11, 2019 02:38 pm | Updated July 12, 2019 05:45 pm IST

Master and the messenger: Ustad Vilayat Khan

Master and the messenger: Ustad Vilayat Khan

There is an old Urdu proverb, ‘Khushbu ko phailne ke liye chahiye hawa se dosti’ (to reach out, perfume needs to befriend the breeze). This is applicable in every walk of life; more so in the world of classical music which demands both ‘chilla’-like relentless riyaaz and publicity; albeit sadhana and publicity are strange bedfellows. But it is also true that the melodic essence of practice largely depends on the winds of admiration fanned by followers. Going by this one can state that if Ustad Vilayat Khan was melodic fragrance personified, the gentle breeze that carried this scent everywhere, during and beyond the legendary sitar maestro’s life, is Pandit Arvind Parikh.

Arvind Parikh

Arvind Parikh

“I met my ustad, Vilayat Khansaheb, when I was 17; and was intrigued to find that though he was a centenarian music-wise, age-wise he was only two months my senior,” Parikh reminisced fondly, “We, the Guru and the Shishya, grew up together. He treated me like his friend, secretary, confidante and disciple – all rolled in one. I used to help him organise his commitments and his finances, etc. Soon I realised that Khansaheb is a colossus. It is not easy to understand him as a human being and even more difficult to apprehend his musical mind. While grooming several brilliant disciples, I am still trying my best to unravel the mystery of his amazing musicianship.”

Parikh says many people have written many things about Khansaheb. Some are relevant, some not. “It pains me when fabricated topics are aired out of context despite the fact that I am ready to share first hand and truthful information regarding Khansaheb.”

To allay many such doubts, he wishes to let more and more people know about his unparalleled musical philosophy . “Fortunately, NCPA (Mumbai) had recorded his exhaustive, almost 30-hours long interview-based lecture-demonstration, between 1976 and 1979, when Khansaheb was scaling peaks of music. Shujaat (Khan), then in his teens, and I had actively participated in this archival work which has autobiographical contents. While defining Khansaheb’s place in the history of Hindustani classical music, it actually addresses posterity”.

He is happy that, for the benefit of music lovers, NCPA has come forward to screen the entire recording spread over ten sessions. The first part of this treasure will be unveiled by Ustad Zakir Hussain and Ustad Shujaat Khan on 28th July. “We are planning to screen this, one of the greatest riches of the Golden Era, in Kolkata and Delhi as well. My disciple Suvarna (lata Rao) is one of the main architects of this all,” informs Parikh with well-placed pride.

Third generation

For Suvarnalata Rao, Research Scientist and Programming Head (Indian music) with NCPA, “This is another lesson of Guru-Bhakti from Guruji who owns up a person intensely. It is natural for a devout disciple like Guruji to resent frivolous comments about his Ustad; but he also does not like any adverse comment against his disciples either. Irrespective of the social status of anyone of us, he is extremely protective; like a parent.”

Rao hails from a conservative family where learning violin continued with academics as a part of good grooming. “After handling an early marriage, motherhood, scientist husband’s foreign postings and my graduation in science and music, I was doing Masters (sitar) in SNDT University where Guruji was invited to give a lec-dem. This session was a revelation. His approach to every question was arranged step by step, logically. I went to learn from him but he would teach only in the late evenings due to his demanding commitments, frequent travels, his own taalim sessions with Khansaheb and music engagements. When satisfied that my husband would escort me back home, Guruji relented. Patient and organised to the fault, he liked and encouraged my ability to write notations and cataloguing.”

When Rao won the UGC fellowship and joined NCPA as research scholar, to help accommodate her work with music, Guruma (vocalist Kishori Parikh) started teaching her in the morning. Rao found Kishoriben’s music forthright, intuitive and emotional; her style of upaj more out of box unlike Arvindbhai’s mathematical and analytical approach which was comparatively easy to notate. She imbibed both the traits rationally, to suit her music and research work.

According to Rao, “Despite his analytical mind, Guruji has a mental block against everything that is ‘abstract’. Unfortunately, Indian classical music, due to lack of research, has ambiguous, grey areas. I strongly believe that fundamental research, like voice mapping etc., leads to applied music and helps bust myths. Guruji gives me a long rope to stay committed to research. In fact, he encourages women to enter the male bastion of instrumental music and related tasks.’

Fourth generation

Amruta Kulkarni is one such young sitar exponent. She hails from Sangli. When her teacher Ramesh Bhosale, a disciple of Arvindbhai, met an untimely death, Arvindbhai offered to support and teach all the students. Young teen Amruta became his gandabadhh shagird in 1992 and started commuting to Mumbai for lessons. It was at his place, where she met Vilayet Khansaheb.

“That was like a dream come true and a lesson too!” exclaimed Amruta, “Guruji understood that priorities change after marriage and children. Many times, when I was not in regular riyaz, he would start the taalim session with just the palta-playing. Knowing what's going wrong and why, he encourages developing strong traits of one’s personality while working on weaker points. The taalim sessions are always extremely enjoyable with anecdotes, special masala tea and music of course!

Parikh supports several students and needy musicians emotionally and financially. “He almost spoon-feeds us. For example, he composes paltas for every raga. Once he woke up in the middle of night thinking how to make us remember all the prakars of ragas effortlessly. He composed poems defining the features of each Prakar of Malhar, Sarang, Todi, etc. in the next few days and circulated amongst us. At 91, he is amazingly active on Youtube, Skype and Whatsapp only to be in touch with his disciples.’

Amruta, who assists Parkih in his organisational work, adds that the students come from different states, culture, backgrounds, speak different languages, have different personalities, but are bonded by the “strong force of their Guru’s magnanimity”. Their annual Guru Purnima congregation speaks volumes of this family feeling. The two-day event to be held in Mumbai this year on July 12-13 is eagerly awaited.

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