Friday Review

The ‘uncrowned king’ deserved better

Pandit Shankar Ghosh was an uncrowned king of tabla who did not get his due in this world of petty politics. He remained stoic and majestically engrossed in his own world and celebrated the entire span of eight decades of his life with amazing spirit of creativity; but hurt he was! Most probably that is why towards the final days of his life he wished to be left alone with his near and dear ones only and chose to bid adieu at a time when almost the entire music fraternity was busy at the inaugural day of the famed Dover Lane Music Conference on January 22.

And with that came the end of an era which saw Kanai Dutta, Shyamal Bose and Shankar Ghosh – the three most revered senior disciples of Padmabhushan awardee Guru Jnan Prakash Ghosh. Among them Shankar Ghosh was the undisputed successor of his guru’s legacy who not only elevated himself to the level of world-class musicians but also transformed Bengal as a dominant haven of tabla by grooming disciples, encouraging new aspirants and educating listeners tirelessly.

Pandit Ghosh lived up to his name (meaning Shiva) and reigned laya (pulse, cadence); but allowed himself to be conquered by emotions of both ecstasy and anger; because he wished to be honest in thought and deed. It was this honesty which reflected in his art of tabla playing. His majestic bearing, striking looks, immaculate dress sense, jovial nature, arresting speech, multifarious activities as poet-writer-music composer, feel for other melodic instruments like harmonium, sarod (which he played rather well) etc, above all, his on-stage glamour and superb artistry – all was too much to resist.

But all this was not offered to him on a platter. He did not hail from a family of musicians. “Music as a passion was allowed but after formal education; and music as a profession was unthinkable. So, my decision of adopting tabla as a profession raised a storm. Conversely, Guruji’s Dixon Lane residence was famous as a transit camp for legendary musicians in those days and impromptu sit-ins were almost a daily routine. I loved all that and like an alert soldier remained focused on my riyaaz and preferred to stay at the beck and call of guruji who, at times, would ask me to provide tabla accompaniment to the great musicians,” he once said.

This, definitely, was a part of grooming and very soon he emerged as a sought-after accompanist and played with Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, Ustad Vilayat Khan and a host of others. He was always on the move now as a regular at the All India Music Conference, Tansen Festival, Sadarang Music Festival; but his first concert with Ustad Ali Akbar Khan at Baranagar’s Kanch Mandir remained etched on his mind as his best. This association became stronger when he left Kolkata to join the Ali Akbar College of Music in California as a faculty member in early 1960s.

But the motherland beckoned him when he watched his only child Bickram grow up in that alien culture that deprived him from learning Indian culture.

He wished his son to be a true Bengali and a proud Indian. So, the son of the soil returned home but found it difficult to adjust to the trend of presenting pre-determined music.

“I refuse to wait for the nod of my co-artiste to be able to play tabla,” he reiterated during an interview. So he chose to focus on tabla solos or duets with his disciples; and what concerts they turned out to be!

He kept giving his best in terms of opening new, aesthetically modern vistas in tabla-playing; innovating unique compositions that found place even in the solo presentations by stars like Ustad Zakir Hussain; chiselling a host of brilliant disciples across generations including luminaries like Bickram Ghosh (son), Arup Chatterjee, Tanmoy Bose, Parimal Chakraborty and numerous others who are making their presence felt at the concert stage.

Albeit a traditionalist by core, he appreciated the concept of world-music and adopted certain rhythmic cadences from other countries.

He also understood the advantages of technological developments and decided to be tech-savvy.

Teaching online made him accessible across the globe but due recognition in India eluded him.


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Printable version | Jul 21, 2021 9:52:16 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/The-%E2%80%98uncrowned-king%E2%80%99-deserved-better/article14024730.ece

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