World missed listening her

Vidushi Ameena Perera, who passed away recently, was a fine sitar player but never used her rich lineage as a professional.

September 01, 2016 10:45 pm | Updated September 22, 2016 04:23 pm IST

SELF EFFACING ARTIST Vidushi Ameena Perera.

SELF EFFACING ARTIST Vidushi Ameena Perera.

Vidushi Ameena Perera, eldest daughter and disciple of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, left for her heavenly abode on 27th August after a brave fight against cancer and, finally, septicaemia. A very fine sitar player belonging to the Maihar gharana, she did not pursue it as a career; but her art remained her passion, the source of her indomitable spirit, the fountainhead of her positivityand exemplary humility.

Nicknamed Shree and also Baby, she was neither a recluse like the living legend Annapoorna Devi, her Pishima (paternal aunt) and her role model in the arena of music; nor did her simple and homely lifestyle courted any controversy. In fact, she worked hard to stay away from all accolades and consequent controversies by being extremely self-effacing despite her enviable lineage, wealth of knowledge and venerated status as a guru who actually took care of the disciples of her brother the late Dhynesh Khan along with the disciples of her eldest NRI brother Aashish Khan. She opted to remain unsung.

Dr ES Perera, her erudite musicologist-cum-musician husband and the head of Academic Research Department of the ITC Sangeet Research Academy, introduced her to me when I became its member in 1997. My first impression was that they were made for each other – fond of good music, good clothes, good fun and laughter; and yet so down-to-earth, peace-loving and simple to the core.

It was Dr. Perera who would often tell colleagues about the days when he came down to Kolkata to learn sarod at the feet of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, who gave away the hand of her dearest daughter in marriage to him, a Buddhist from Sri Lanka; but not before assessing him thoroughly. They were made to do riyaz for long hours. More than a decade senior than Baby, he would often humour her with chocolates. After Khan saheb shifted base to the United States, they took it upon themselves to keep the Maihar gharana flag flying high. They also introduced their only child Raki to sarod.

Around 1998, Babydi, accompanied by veteran violinist Shishirkana Dhar Chowdhury, went to the US to brush up her music under the watchful eyes of her father-guru. She came back recharged and totally dedicated to teaching; but still chose to play the second fiddle, giving her brothers all the credit. Among such disciples, young sarod exponents Sayak Barua and Debanjan Bhattacharya have already carved a niche for themselves as highly promising musicians. Through their dossiers and ruminations, one gets to know about another Annapoorna Devi of the family.

According to Debanjan, the world missed listening to her, as she always felt uncomfortable coming into limelight. “She would teach by singing and play the intricate sections on the sitar. She had an amazing soft sweet tone of the sitar. Once when we gazed at her, mesmerized by her playing, she said in a shy manner, “I also had to practice 16 hours a day with my elder brothers!”

She had all the compositions written down for us. She used to follow a strict systematic method of teaching which was her own. She would say you need to live a simple good peaceful life to understand our music, especially alaap. She always stressed on the lifestyle we needed to maintain to become a good artiste. In my case, she used to meticulously note down the ragas Guruji Ustad Aashish Khan would teach me each season. Once she said, now you should learn Baba Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s treatment of the same raga. In this way, you can learn two styles of playing. She taught special ragas like Chandranandan, Madhumalati, Kaunsi Bhairavi in special talas like Dhamari.

She was affectionate like a mother. She would come to attend my concerts with Puja-flowers, bless me and sit in the audience. Once, when I was down with malaria, she came down to my house with such floral blessings, placed them on my forehead and prayed for speedy recovery.

Sayak remembers the anecdotes shared by her in the class, all of which taught precious lessons. He admits, “Her influence changed my life. She would scold in the mildest possible manner, but it would sting the most. It is very hard to keep up with her philosophy and perception of music. She was not a professional but a true classical musician. Music to her was as natural as breathing. According to her, the music of her father is the most simple, yet most complex technique-wise.”

US-based sarod virtuoso Alam Khan writes, “Even though we had a big difference in age and we are were born of different mothers, with her none of this mattered. We were very close and I have so many wonderful memories of travelling around India together, learning music together, practising, discussing, telling stories, eating, laughing, celebrating... Visiting India will never be the same without her and all the care she showered on me in my home away from home. She will be greatly missed. Farewell Baby-didi...I love you.”

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