Friday Review

‘Maximum output from minimum space’

COMPLETE DEVOTION Pandit Sanjay Mukherjee  

Tabla maestro Pandit Sanjay Mukherjee’s ‘second innings’ sees him as the ‘musician of musicians’ in Bengal where tabla rules the roost. Several consecutive solo concerts at prestigious venues (including institutions like Shrutinandan and Bickram Ghosh Academy) recently proved that his name is enough now to attract erudite musicians along with the entire tabla fraternity of Kolkata, irrespective of their gharanas, primarily because he does not repeat himself. So vast is his repertoire; and more importantly his method of treating rarely explored complex talas with ‘padhant’ (recitation of the compositions) and their ‘nikas’ (execution) is matchless.

Earlier a young Sanjay Mukherjee had entered the living rooms of every music-lover and reigned for decades as the most sought after tabla accompanist on the small screen. According to an oft-repeated proverb a musician’s art acquires ‘shabaab’ (transcendent beauty) after he is well-past his prime. In the case of Mukherjee, he allowed this beauty to unveil itself at its charming best only after his retirement from the Doordarshan as its top-graded staff artiste in 2013. Free from the bindings of job-commitments, his art began scaling virgin peaks of aesthetic beauty of solo tabla concerts with telling effect.

How could an artiste of your calibre abstain so long from expressing freely?

We tend to forget that freedom is synonymous to responsibility. Well, I am not preaching anything. I am stating only what I learnt from life. I belong to a service-class Bhattacharya family. My father and his four brothers straddled jobs with music beautifully. They were so madly in love with music that three of them changed their surnames from Bhattacharya (generally being associated with priesthood) to Mukherjee only to be more acceptable as musicians!

I loved to beat up objects (petaanor shaukh); so my uncle initiated me to tabla early. My father was a disciple of Sangeetacharya Anath Nath Bose, a multifarious genius who mastered vocals and tabla (Banares Gharana). Once at our Shibpur (Howrah) residence, he saw me playing and exclaimed, ‘Give this boy to me.’ My taalim continued till one day he said, ‘I gave you all I have.’ By this time I had started accompanying eminent artistes at riyaz sessions and progressed up to small baithaks. After such recitals, I would walk back home in the dead of night. I never asked for remunerations; so didn’t get any! That is how my life’s journey, with a pair of tabla on my shoulders, began.

Guruji, the legendary Padma Bhushan Jnan Prakash Ghosh, advised me to go to his prime disciple Shankar Ghosh for further taalim. Shankar-da never stopped me from giving tabla lessons or accompanying musicians. In fact, he encouraged in his jovial manner by saying, ‘Regular exposures will make you famous, the way advertisements make certain products household names.’ How true was his prediction! (laughs heartily)

Shankar-da very methodically trained me till he decided to shift base to the US in 1969. After I won AIR contest and the President’s Award, I again went to Guruji. This time he relented and continued to guide me till his last days (1997). He understood my uncompromising nature. With his blessings, I joined the Doordarshan. Apart from financial support this also gave me ample time to be with Guruji, to learn-think-teach and do riyaaz. My wife and daughter are kathak dancers. My whole world revolves around tabla!

Your gurus hail from Banares and Farrukhabad Schools. How do you blend these styles?

I play both with due respect. Fortunately, Shankar-da too had trained with Anath Nath Bose and later with Guruji. I played vociferously earlier (chhure bajatam). It was Shankar-da who re-set my hand with a standing instruction of ‘maximum output from minimum space’; the fingers must not go beyond the face of tabla at any cost; the body down to the wrist has to be motionless like a rock, the face impassive; but the fingers need to spout vigour and emotions with supreme artistry. He encouraged high speed, a thing I loved the most.

But Guruji, while giving rarest of rare compositions that he had collected from ustads by offering princely sums as ‘nazrana’, asked me to slow down, to focus on bayan’s potentialities, and most importantly to master the art of padhant. He would say, ‘Nikas follows prakash. If you fail to enunciate the mnemonics correctly, you cannot execute a composition neatly. Bols like dha, gha are male and ta, na, tun are female. To recite put force on male mnemonics, use higher pitch for female ones and conjoin them with glides.’ I worked hard on all these aspects and realised that they infused a dramatic element in my style. (Recites one composition with amazingly well measured gamaks between some bols that gave the feel of bayan’s oscillating effect.)

What is more challenging, solo or accompaniment?

Tabla lahara consists of different features – a la vocal recital. Peshkar is like alaap, gat implies gamak, tukra is like murki and kaida entails vistar. Yet providing accompaniment, especially to vocalists, is much more demanding than playing solo. I never forget that I’m there to support another artiste whose mood rests on the rapport we build together. Classical vocalist’s temperament, his Gharana’s characteristics and treatment meted out to the chosen raga – all need to be taken into account. Agra and Kirana need totally different approach. Raga Darbari cannot be treated like Hamsadhwani. In comparison, instrumental and dance recitals offer a long rope. Fireworks inspire fireworks.

I never rehearse to churn out pre-meditated stuff. To understand the co-artiste better, I readily do music in the green rooms; but the so-called ‘light’ song, due to its pre-composed structure, needs fine tuning. I like Radhakanta Nandi’s style of treating songs; but modified to my taste. Now many follow my style sans proper training; although I am here to show the way!

You are a prolific composer of modern Bangla songs!

All my gurus were blessed with this gift. Anath Nath Bose was an eminent vocalist too, Shankar-da composed many songs and Guruji’s innumerable compositions are immortal! By the grace of Maa Kali, I composed the background score of several films and many popular singers have sung my songs. (Sings one mellifluously) My greatest achievement is the ‘respect’ bestowed on me by such eminent musicians.

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Printable version | Nov 26, 2021 1:06:17 PM |

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