Music

Mellow memories

A toast to genial genius: Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar. Photo: V. Ganesan.

A toast to genial genius: Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar. Photo: V. Ganesan.  

Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar gave a scintillating concert in Kolkata to mark the 84th birth anniversary of Pandit Ram Ashray Jha.

The 84th birth anniversary celebration of the late Ram Ashray Jha at a warm baithak (sit-in) organised by his ardent admirer Jayant Chatterjee at his Sunny Towers residence turned out to be a memorable family affair attended by Chatterjee’s extended family, i.e. musicians and aficionados. The melodic tribute to Jha-ji was offered by Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, another dear member of this close knit family. According to Ulhasji, this bond allowed him to come close to Panditji, who, on his visits to Kolkata, almost always gave his recitals at the same venue. He would happily share compositions and discuss ragas with eager listeners. Once he had sung Jayant Malhar simply because the name of the raga echoed that of the music-crazy host.

Ulhas-ji too chose to sing the same raga on this special occasion. And what a recital it was! Usually one gets to hear a simple version of Jayant Malhar in which Jaijaiwanti, with its two Gandhars and both the Nishads, plays a pivotal role, with a weak trace of Malhar — almost like an afterthought to differentiate from the former — like a small velvet patch on (no, not cotton, but) the silky sweet body of Jaijaiwanti. Some go a little deeper and venture to combine some essential elements of both the melodies more consistently while delineating this mishra raga.

Frankly Ulhas-ji excels in ragas of the mishra (mixing two ragas) and even sankeerna (that mix the melodies of more than two ragas) varieties. One cannot get over his handling of Saanjh-Swaravali, an invention of the great Ustad Vilayat Khan, who was yet another venerated, close member of the Chatterjee clan. As is apparent from the name, Saanjh Swaravali (frequently pronounced as Saraoli) is a bunch of evening melodies which keep coming and then fading away in quick succession — almost creating an ambience of ‘blink and miss’. Yet Ulhas-ji is capable of making their appearances more than convincing, beautiful and thrilling at every step.

Coming back to this — Jha-ji’s smiling-profile-adorned stage and aesthetically flower-bedecked — evening’s Jayant Malhar, that actually appeared intermingled yet comprehensibly different; as Ulhas-ji kept etching the entire body of melodies of both the ragas simultaneously and sensitively. It was like the confluence of the swirling Ganga and Yamuna. But Prayag, the final residence of Jha-ji, is known for Triveni where the invisible Saraswati river plays an important role. This came in the form of a masterly bending kan (touch-note) of Shuddh Gandhar in the upper octave — so fleeting and yet so crystal clear that it literally lit up the face of the raga; as if with a haunting hint of smile!

All these features remained evocatively highlighted throughout the recital, replete with a slow Ek tala bandish, followed by “Badra tu hi barse ber-ber” a medium Teen tala composition of Jha-ji with his pen-name ‘RamRang’; and another traditional fast Ek tala composition with a curious gait. The latter inspired the otherwise unobtrusive but highly musical tabla of Pandit Suresh Talwalkar. Sameehan Kshalkar’s voice support and Gourab Chatterjee’s harmonium were commendable.

So was Jayant Chatterjee’s emotion-charged introduction of Pandit Ram Ashray Jha who was a repository of music treatises, rare and precious ragas and their classic compositions. Born in 1928 in Darbhanga, Mithila region of Bihar, he was initiated into music by his father Sukhdev Jha and uncle Madhusudan Jha. He spent 15 years in a drama company that opened new vistas; but it was Pandit Bholanath Bhatt of Allahabad, who guided and helped him flourish as an erudite musician. Jha-ji scripted five volumes of “Abhinav Geetanjali”, composed numerous bandish-s, gave prolific vocal recitals — devoid of vocal skill-show but filled with life’s valuable experiences and understanding. He adorned the post of the Head of the Music Department of Allahabad University and trained numerous successful vocalists like Geeta Banerjee (Allahabad), Shubha Mudgal (Mumbai), Sandipan Samajpati and Indrani Mukherjee (Kolkata) and several others. And yet he would say, “ Mujhe kuchh nahi aata; Sangeet meri beemari hai (I do not know anything; music is my weakness).”

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Printable version | Jun 4, 2020 6:50:45 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/mellow-memories/article3839791.ece

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