The Indian classical performing arts could not replace the age-old guru-shishya parampara in the context of modern education system and drastically changed value systems; because every Indian art, interwoven with science, myth and philosophy — all at once, aims at self-transformation by inculcating divinity. Guru, who personifies wisdom, plays a pivotal role in this. It is he who leads from the front by practising what he preaches. It is he who transmits the knowledge handed down to him across generations by unravelling the mystery behind the scriptures and certain rituals or sacraments associated with the art.
Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, who has been a top ranking vocalist, carries the role of a traditional guru as his second nature. Discovered by Pandit Vijay Kichlu, the founder-director of ITC Sangeet Research Academy (SRA), he, as a guru with the Academy, made Kolkata his home since 1993. His exemplary personality, simple lifestyle, deep knowledge, pristine music and dedication as a teacher put him at the high pedestal pretty soon and he produced vocalists like Shashank Maktedar, Omkar Dadarkar, Sadhana Deshmukh and numerous others including son-disciple Sameehan Kashalkar. Interestingly, despite being trained by an icon, all, even Sameehan, display their own independent entity. This, perhaps, is the rarest achievement a guru can boast of.
Kashalkar shifted base to his home town Pune recently with the intention to train vocalists at a city-based academy of music and dance and to continue grooming SRA scholars as “associate guru”. As a parting gift to Kolkata, he gave a scintillating recital during SRA’s Malhar Festival at Birla Sabhagar and, in a rare gesture for any guru of his stature, answered questions regarding his teaching methodology very candidly.
Do you teach students together or separately?
Separately; but I make other students listen to this teaching-learning process. ‘Sanskara’ do play an important role in learning process. I did not have to teach the basics to Sameehan as he picked up many things by listening to lessons meant for Shashank, who came to me when Sameehan was a toddler. Listening gave him a good sense of talas like Tilwada and Jhumra even before he formally began his own lessons; and he started off with raga Sohni! To develop this ‘sanskara’, my guruji would ask me to watch him closely while teaching. I saw him how easily he would teach even ragas like Poorva to young students! That has left an indelible imprint on my mind. I follow his footsteps while teaching now.
How important is riyaaz?
No one will say no to its importance. But since each individual is different, it should be according to one’s own requirement and stamina. I do not recommend ‘kharaj saadhana’ for little children. Boys should do it when voice gets steady after the change-of-voice. Singing the bandish or listening to music and thinking about it is enough during this period, as extra stress on voice is very harmful. Beginners must do riyaaz in my presence; later they should be on their own; but the process is very gradual. I strongly believe that riyaaz and performance are different ball games.
What are the steps that you follow in the process of teaching?
There are a few very important aspects: correct, tuneful ‘akar’ in normal ‘talking’ voice; ‘Gala nikalne se’ or by emulating others, one can ruin one’s own voice; albeit forceful gamaks do need lung-power and also force from the navel. A few paltas are devised according to the need of our gayaki and depending on the needs of a particular student; only to help in tuneful singing and to develop clear grains of taans. The range of the voice should traverse comfortably from lower pancham to upper madhyam. A good sense of rhythm is very important as rhythmic patterns play an important role in all the three (Gwalior, Jaipur, Agra) styles that I represent.
My style of teaching is ‘comprehensive’ – if I may say so. Methods of voice training and lessons of raga and tala continue to progress together. I begin by teaching the chalan of a particular raga in small phrases; initially with the help of sargams, followed by aakar. For this I choose ragas with broad spectrum (Yaman, Bhairav), but this does not stop me from teaching simpler ‘Anwat’ (less popular) ragas with their restricted movements and narrow pathway.
Medium paced compositions come next, with proper enunciation replete with meend, gamak, murki etc. I believe in teaching as many bandishes as possible; but without any simplification; as is done in schools. While singing bandish, the student must show the tala-cycle by clapping. He may find it very difficult in the beginning but it gives a clear concept of rhythm.
I teach laya-baddha alap or rhythm-woven passages to beautify the compositions. At this stage the student has to sing exactly the way I teach to imbibe the nuanced singing. Playing with the lyrics (bol-banav) and taans follow next. Elaborate, complex rhythmic patterns like ‘Aamad ka andaaz’ (how to arrive at sam with an aesthetic rhythmic pattern in tow), bol-baant (dividing lyrics), etc are taught simultaneously. At this juncture I allow a student to wade through the difficulties and find his own way, so that he develops his own ‘andaaz’ (sense of proportion) for creating a dramatic arrival on the sam. This has to be in accordance with the rest of improvised design of the total cycle, or else the whole exercise goes waste.
The rest, as you know, rests on the individual's own aesthetics.