Friday Review

The gardener with an exclusive bouquet




Pandit Ajay Pohankar tells Manjari Sinha that he believes in the gharana of ‘sur’ and ‘laya’.

A legend in his own right, Pandit Ajay Pohankar is known for his versatility as a vocalist who has equal command on classical Khayal and semi-classical thumri / dadra to fusion and new age world music. Ustad Amir Khan had proclaimed him a star child prodigy way back in 1958. He started performing at a very young age in prestigious festivals like the Sawai Gandharva Festival, the Kolkata Conference, etc. The much sought after guru, was in the city recently to participate in the Vishnu Digambar Jayanti Sangeet Samaroh and talked about his ideas and notions of music.

Excerpts from a conversation:

Tell us how you got into music.

My musical training started at the age of five under my mother Dr. Sushila Pohankar, a renowned scholar, musicologist and vocalist trained in Gwalior and Kirana gharana gayaki. She was the head of Music Department in Jabalpur University. My father was an advocate by profession but he had learnt music under Pandit Ratanjankar in Lucknow Maris Music College and hence was very fond of classical music. All the big names of that time in the music world would come to perform in musical soiress at our home and would stay for 3-4 days. By the time I was 9-10 years old, I had listened to all of them from Ustad Nazakat & Salamat Ali to Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan and Pandit Vinayak Rao Patwardhan who would take me in his lap and make me remember his bandishes.

At what age did you start performing on stage?

In 1958, Ustad Amir Khan, who was a dear friend of my father, introduced me as a child prodigy. In the year 1959 Pandit Bhimsen Joshi invited me to sing at the Sawai Gandharva Festival on the occasion of his “Shashthi-Purti’ (60th birthday) celebrations and all the elder musicians of those days blessed me. I was just nine-year-old when I was awarded the ‘Sangeet Pravin’ title from Gayan Samaj, Pune, which was conferred till then only upon Pandit D.B. Paluskar. Luckily there was no age bar for this, and I was allowed to perform.

Since you come from an educated family, there would have been academic expectations also from you?

Yes, of course. Mine was a family of well to do educated members. My parents saw to it that I do well on academic front too. I completed my Masters in English Literature from Jabalpur University along with ‘Sangeet Alankar’.

Your Guru (mother) was a vocalist from Gwalior and Kirana Gharana, but your music doesn’t sound confined to that.

My mother did initiate me into classical music and taught me but I have listened to the top vocalist of all the gharanas. All the stalwarts who stayed with us, would give me something or the other. Maine har gharane ke buzurgon se prasad paya hai. I’m like a gardener who enjoys the beauty of each and every flower of his garden. Whether it is Patiala or Agra, I love them all and adorn my music according to my own discerning will. I believe that the music should be ‘gharanedaar’ not the musician.

What is your notion about the gharana tradition?

Gharana is nothing but mannerism, a particular style of singing. I don’t respect the idea of living in the safe shelter of gharana, like if you are not able to make name for yourself, live in the comfortable shade of gharana and keep referring the names of your father or other musicians of your gharana. Gharana, in fact, is recognised for the artistes and not vice-versa. I do respect the good qualities and the ‘gunijan’ (greats) of every gharana but as far my notion about the gharana tradition is concerned, I only believe in the gharana of ‘sur’ and ‘laya’.

Apart from classical music you have been performing in other genres also. What is the secret behind it?

Yes, I do love other genres of music as much as I do the classical music. I like thumri, dadra, qawwali and ghazal too. No programme of ghazal is complete without me in Mumbai. According to me a person can never be a good artiste if he hates any kind of music. I love listening to Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhosle as much as Mehdi Hasan and Ghulam Ali. I adore the thumris of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Barkat Ali Khan. My principle is simple, ‘Bring flowers from anywhere, but your bouquet should be exclusive.’

What about other members of your family?

My wife Anjali is a talented semi-classical vocalist and sings thumri/dadra pretty well. She has recently released her album, “Safar Thumri Gayaki Ka”. My son Abhijit is also a gifted artiste and plays classical music on the keyboard. I believe that any classy thing is classical. His album “Piya Bawri’ has broken all the records of popularity. I have collaborated with him in many of his experimental albums of fusion.

You are also a reputed Guru; what is your teaching method?

Gaana kitab se nahin hota hai, aur spirituality odhi nahin jaati. (You can’t teach music with books and can’t pretend spirituality.) It needs God’s grace and your own dedication with no pretensions. The good news is that the present generation is taking music seriously and with full dedication. My teaching method comprise voice culture, the theory and practice of Hindustani classical, application of chords and Western harmony et al. I try to focus on the plus points of individual student and want to enable them to be on their own. I have been a professor of music in Mumbai University from 1988 to 2001. I have taught some of the top ranking music professionals of all genres. Amongst the present lot, Anand Vaidya, Dhananjay Joshi, Nitin Sharma, Suranjana Khandalkar and many more are making good names for themselves.

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Printable version | Dec 12, 2019 1:36:36 PM |

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