Friday Review

In the company of legends

There is a dictum about music that Hindustani musician, Dr. Soma Ghosh holds quite close to her heart, one that has been passed on to her by her teachers: that expression or abhinaya in music is of utmost importance, perhaps a notch higher than even technique and grammar.

“My guru, the late Bageshwari Devi used to say that ‘hum jab gaate hain, hum dil se nritya karte hain’ (when we sing, we dance from our heart). Even baba (the late Ustad Bismillah Khan), my mentor used to say that music is about sur ras bhav,” recalled Ghosh recently when she came to perform at the 8th Bangalore International Arts Festival. “I’ve always been taught that I must first enjoy and celebrate my music before I take it to my audience. The idea is draw the audience into the myriad emotions of a composition by experiencing and expressing them through one’s singing,” she added.

I met her a day after her performance in the city. As our conversation progressed, I realised that this dictum is reflected not just in her music but also in her thoughts and utterances. There was an uncanny attention to detail in almost every anecdote she narrated. Her eyes lit up and she recreated the scene in front of my eyes through her vivid and passionate narration so much so that it felt like even I was there when she went to the dargah in Meerut, where she heard Ustad Bismillah Khan’s shehnai play and wondered if she would ever be able to meet him. Or a few months after that, when she sang Janimaro Pichkaari in Raag Kafi, when Ustad Bismillah Khan, actually heard her and asked her to perform a jugalbandi with him!

It would not be an exaggeration if we said that Dr. Soma Ghosh’s musical journey has been shaped by a string of fortunate encounters- almost all of which she relived during my conversation with her. “I consider my musical journey to have begun right when I was in my mother’s womb. My mother, Archana Chakravarthy, belonged to the Senia gharana. When she began teaching music in Banaras, she was pregnant with me. So, in a way, I believe my training began then!,” she narrated. After training under her mother, Ghosh, then went on to learn from Narayan Chakravarthy who taught her the voice technique unique to the Senia gharana. She graduated in Literature and did her M.A in Music and went on to pursue a doctorate under Chittaranjan Jyotishya of the Gwalior gharana. “I was lucky to have trained under the two gharanas. The emotion of Gwalior and the technique of Senia blended and added newness to my music,” she described.

Her music continued to be transformed when she met Bageshwari Devi who Ghosh describes as an expert in the music peculiar to Banaras; she was particularly known for her proficiency in thumri, khori, chaiti, kajri, tappa and ghazal, she said. “Bageshwari Devi, my guru ma, lived alone in a temple.

I learnt a lot from her. When she sang, her face glowed, saathon rang khilte the unke chehre par (the seven colours bloomed when she sang). She was from the same gharana as Rasoolan Bai, Siddeshwari Devi, Gauhar Jaan and it was she who introduced to Bismillah Khan’s shehnai,” she recalled.

So for Ghosh, it was natural to invite Khan for a tribute concert that she had organised for the late Bageshwari Devi in 2001. But little did she know that that concert would change her life forever and transform her music even more. “The plan for the concert was such that I would sing first and then Khan saab would play the shehnai. I didn’t think he would arrive earlier. I began singing at 7.45 p.m and he entered. He heard me sing for three minutes and is believed to have immediately said that he wants to perform a jugalbandi with me. I was awestruck because such a huge legend was actually saying that he wants to collaborate and perform with me. We did five jugalbandi concerts together and each of them have been unforgettable for me,” she recounted.

Ghosh described Bismillah Khan as an ego-less, fakiri who only did what appealed to his heart. She remembered that he wore the rare black topi during his performance with her and even sang a few lines of Behag, a raag she sang that day.

“Those were rare artists who did not have any qualms in furthering a budding artist’s career. Today, I sense a trend of give and take. When I began my career, I realised that people don’t give others a chance to perform easily. Opportunities are mostly given to those that are well known or by taking money from the artists themselves,” she bemoaned. So, in 1999, in an attempt to change that, Ghosh set up Madhu Murcchana, an NGO. “What I’ve tried to do through this NGO is to try and give the lesser known but mightily talented artists a chance to perform. Apart from that, I also try and give fellowships to those students who plan to leave music because of various constraints,” she explained.

Ghosh is also planning to set up a ‘ Sangeet Gram’ in Varanasi, one that will host classes for all gharanas of music and even dance. “I’m worried that today, in an age of reality TV, music has become glamorous but at the same time, I wonder if sadhana and riyaaz (practise) are also being substituted. I’ve always wanted to tell the judges of these reality TV shows to not take the contestants to such a high pedestal. Yes, tell them they are talented but please ask them to give music their time and effort. Lata Mangeshkar, even today, begins her day with riyaaz,” she added.

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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 5:59:36 PM |

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