‘One should not take liberty in the name of novelty’

In a freewheeling conversation, Vidushi Ashwini Bhide Deshpande tells Manjari Sinha what makes her performance an emotional experience.

November 11, 2016 05:56 pm | Updated December 02, 2016 02:53 pm IST - Delhi

SHOWING THE PATH Vidushi Ashwini Bhide Deshpande

SHOWING THE PATH Vidushi Ashwini Bhide Deshpande

A versatile vocalist, creative composer, generous guru and a sought after performing artiste, Vidushi Ashwini Bhide Deshpande is one of the most authentic representatives of the famous Atrauli Jaipur Khayal Gayaki tradition in the present generation of khayalias. Her delicately nuanced voice, uncanny sense of proportion, impeccable diction, design and delivery make her performance an emotional experience for her fascinated listeners, whether lay or discerning. What is the secret behind all this and much more... came through disclosed in an informal conversation.


At what age did you actually start learning music?

I was hardly 5 or 6 years old when I started my initial lessons in music under Guru Narayan Datar, who was a regular music teacher of my family where everybody was into music. My grandmother used to play dilruba, my aunt Sarla Bhide was a well-known vocalist, who unfortunately died very young, my father could play any instrument from violin and harmonium to tabla, but his favourite instrument was sitar. So there was a constant atmosphere of music at home and the riyaz was an unquestionable must. I was just 15 years old when I completed my ‘Sangeet Visharad’.

At what age or stage you were attracted towards the Jaipur gayaki?

Although the gayaki was always close and available to me because my mother was a vocalist of this famed gharana, it occurred to me quite late to become her disciple and take my taleem seriously. I was working as a full time research scholar at the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre, Mumbai at that time. I was fortunate that I was learning from my mother who would teach me after my regular working hours which were from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

My attraction towards the Jaipur gayaki also emerged at a time when we shifted from our ancestral home to the new place where Datar Guruji could not continue because it was far away. I gave myself a trial period of one year, to decide what I actually wanted to do in life. Once the doors of Jaipur gayaki opened to me, I never looked back.

When did you start public performances?

My first public performance came in the year 1977, when I received the president’s Gold medal for coming first in the All India AIR music competition. It was the same year when my mother was invited to perform at the Allahabad Music Conference and I provided her vocal support. The very next year the same organisers invited me to perform in that very conference as an upcoming vocalist. In those days Pandit Ramashreya Jha was the Head of the Music Department at the Allahabad University. I also met the Kashalkar family of Allahabad and Madhup (Mudgal) Bhaiya at their place, who invited me to participate in the Gandharva Jayanti Samaroh in Delhi. I was just 20 years old at that time, when I took off from this launch pad.

You are a reputed composer too. Who inspired your creativity as a composer?

I say this with pride that I was fortunate to be born at a time when there were Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini and Shankar Abhyankar who inspired me to compose. Earlier there were composers of Agra gharana like Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Ustad. Vilayat Hussain Khan, Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan. Then there were versatile composers like Pandit Ravi Shankar, who brought Carnatic ragas like Vachaspati that I sang in my recent concert at Delhi. When I heard raga Vachaspati in his record, I realised that I could work on this raga too. There was no question of getting traditional compositions in this raga, hence I had to compose on my own.

One has noticed a few unique things in your compositions. The first thing is that the lyrics of your Bada Khayal and Chhota Khayal have the same emotional theme, second you compose in many different talas and the third, and most importantly, there is no ‘mudra’ or pseudonym in the antara of your bandish, which is a common phenomenon elsewhere.

This comes as a part of my training. My guru Ratnakar Pai used to say no bandish tells you the tala. You can sing the same bandish in vilambit Ektala or Teentala. It not even tells the pace or the tempo. You may sing a slow paced bandish in a fast or drut laya and vice versa. It’s not necessary that the 16 matra rhythm cycle composition should be sung in Teentala only, it could be Tilwada also! Therefore for me, the bhava of the bandish decides the tala. If the composition is set to Adi Chautal, it should justify why it is so!

As far the theme is concerned, yes I normally continue the same theme in my vilambit (slow), madhya (medium tempo) and drut laya (fast tempo) compositions. The continuity of the theme gets along with my listeners too. At times I compose because it becomes necessary as the traditional composition does not carry the emotion of the raga. There was, for instance, a composition in raga Lalit “Tum to bare Sainyan…” that talks about the Khandita Nayika. I questioned myself why quarrel and abuse at the beautiful hour of a pious dawn? So in raga Lalit I composed a vilambit khayal “Jago he Nandalal..”, the chhota khayal in Teentala “Kamal Pankhudi Kholo…” and the Drut Ada Chautal Bandish “ Kholo nayan / Saanchi Kaho Tum Sovat ho Ya Jaagat…?” This comes from my own experience as a mother when my daughter used to pretend that she is sleeping after my repeated wake up calls.

As for your third query, “Yes, I don’t like to put my ‘mudra’ on my compositions because I don’t think I own them. People are free to use my compositions and even alter them according to their own sweet will. So why should I put my own stamp on them? I am happy with the fact that the discerning audience at once recognise my bandishes.

You are a passionate practitioner of Jaipur Atrauli Gharana, but, in general, what are your views about gharana tradition and its relevance in the present musical scenario?

This is not a problem of classical music alone. In every sphere of life you see this problem, because there is a lot of exposure to all sorts of things. The only way out is to be true to your tradition. We must also ponder over what actually is tradition? The novelty of today is going to become the tradition tomorrow, hence one should not take liberty in the name of novelty. You need a lot of restraint to preserve your centuries old rich musical heritage and tradition. Listen to all sorts of things but exercise restraint and think a thousand times, before incorporating ‘novelty’ into your own tradition.

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You are also a very competent teacher with a number of well-trained students. What is your teaching methodology?

I select only those who help my own growth while teaching them. I have no particular methodology. I always say that I don’t teach, they learn.

There is not even a fixed schedule. We fix our timings on telephone. Sometimes they come to learn because they are participating in a competition. Sometimes, I take a raga and we work together on it.

What are the points that you insist upon while teaching a student?

First and foremost is being totally in tune. I just can not tolerate ‘besurapana’. They learn a lot while listening to me. I insist that they sing with the tanpura. The electronic tanpura is not allowed in my class. First they learn how to tune and listen to the tanpura. In fact it is the tanpura that shows you the path!

You have some special ragas of your gharana....

Yes, there are specific ragas and specific gayaki of our gharana. You have to take care of all the facets of the ragas “uski shakl-surat sambhalna padta hai!” My guru Ratnakar Pai has given me compositions of many achhobh (rare) ragas like Bhankhar, Khat, Khat-Todi and many more. I was amazed to see the untrodden paths in these ragas, when my mother used to teach these ragas to me.

I would often ask her have you ever learnt these ragas? She would say, “No, I have not, but I can see the new paths.” That’s what is happening with me now. I could elaborate a raga like Vachaspati, which has hardly any scope for vistar and could delineate it as my main raga. I don’t even struggle to compose “bandish ban jaati hai!”

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