Friday Review

Music, his life’s mission

DEDICATED TO TEACHING: N.S. Gunda Shastry (top) believes learning should be linked with knowledge; (left) with students at his school Sangeeta Krupa Kuteera Photos: Bhagya Prakash K.   | Photo Credit: Bhagya Prakash K

You could walk right past Sangeeta Krupa Kuteera, the school of Hindustani music run by Gunda Shastry for there is little to no means of labelling that adorn its doors and outer walls. Nestled amidst a row of near-identical, low-roofed old houses in Tyagaraja Nagar, Gunda Shastry’s modest home which doubles up as his music school simply blends into the rest of the landscape. So, it was only when Shastry opened the door and came out into the street to receive me that I found my way to his institution.

“I have never felt the need to put up a giant board proclaiming my name in bold letters. Perhaps it is something I have learned from my guru, Pt. R.V. Sheshadri Gawai who believed in a simple life. He taught me its importance and value too. Those who hear about this school find their way here anyway,” says Shastry.

Sangeeta Krupa Kuteera, started in 1984, is not the music school that is commercially driven or one that rides on certificates or medals, I realise a few minutes into my conversation with Shastry. Trained under the legendary Pt. Gawai who is widely credited as among those who popularised Hindustani music in Bangalore, Shastry harbours a different outlook on learning an art form and the role that an institution must play in this process. Apart from the contributions of his guru which I learn about during the course of our conversation, a large part of this outlook, I realise, takes root in Shastry’s personality itself which is unostentatious and unbelievably humble. For instance, on reaching the classroom on the first floor, Shastry handed me a brochure of activities of his school and told me that I will find all that I need in that piece of paper. Taken aback, I insisted that I intend to ask him a few questions. It was then that Irealised that Shastry is actually shy when asked to speak about himself.

“I’m only furthering my guru's training. On his 60th birthday, he said that instead of teaching music in our homes, we should perhaps start something under a banner. That is how this school came to be. My goal is to keep Gawai’s method alive,” he explains.

Shastry’s interest in the tabla was sparked when he frequented the bhajan sessions at the Ramakrishna Ashram back in 1961. “I wanted to play the tabla for bhajans conducted by the Vivekananda Bharat Sangh. Then I felt that it wasn’t enough and wanted to learn to play the tabla for classical music as well. I had a full-time job and had to support my family . So I was looking for a teacher who would be kind enough to accommodate my time constraints. I was directed to Pt. Sheshadri Gawai and his Aravinda Sangeetha Vidyalaya and then there was no looking back,” he narrates. He also trained under Pt. Sheshagiri Hangal. “When I went to Hangal, he asked me whether I had asked Gawai before coming to him. He said only with Gawai’s permission I could begin learning under him. Where do you find such teachers today?”

When he speaks of his guru, especially Gawai, Shastry’s face lights up. “My guru used to equate the role of a teacher to that of flowing water. People should be able to come and fill up their glasses with how much ever they desire and need. My role is to provide knowledge. It is my students’ prerogative to do what they want with that knowledge, ” he explains.

In Sangeetha Krupa Kuteera, students get a chance to perform at the monthly concerts at the school. “There is one point of view that suggests that students must acquire a certain level of expertise before they can perform on stage. Gawai believed differently; that students should be put on stage as and when they learn. This gives the student the courage, the confidence and instils interest in the art form. They may make mistakes but that is part of the process. If I teach a ‘na dhin dhin dha’, then I teach its corollaries too. And since I know music, I teach them a bhajan and train them to play for it too,” he explains.

Shastry may be nurturing an old tradition of music but his philosophy as a teacher is in tandem with the current times. “What I have noticed is that many students lose interest when they reach the 9 standard. So a lot of my students fall in the category of a ‘floating’ class. They may or may not have passed examinations in music but they are in the field and know their music well. Time is a constraint today. One must teach without any preconditions. There will be those who leave mid-way and then there will be those that stay with you,” he adds.

Shastry’s school is one of the few institutions in the city that continues to impart training in Hindustani music, harmonium and tabla and has produced some of the known musicians in the field today. Shastry’s school has played an instrumental role in also creating an educated audience. Of course, this is not without its constraints and challenges. When asked to evaluate the avenues for Hindustani music today in Bangalore, he says that while there are opportunities, they are not sufficient. “We do not have a TV channel, for instance, that is dedicated to classical music. We have all kinds of music shows devoted to cinema and light music too. But where is the space for the classical? Radio, in comparison, has retained its slots for the classical genre. But who listens to radio these days,” he asks.

For Shastry, preserving the classical tradition is his only goal. “I’m not interested in urging my students to acquire certificates and degrees in music. Most often, there is hardly any relationship between a certificate and a person’s knowledge of music. Students should not think about money or the stage and should just learn for learning’s sake.”

In today’s age of commercial thirst and severe competition, Shastry’s principles and outlook, come as a rarity. His simplicity is perhaps what gives his music an enduring quality.

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Printable version | Nov 29, 2020 11:37:36 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music-his-lifes-mission/article7611751.ece

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