A time to sing

Rakesh Pathak in New Delhi. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

Rakesh Pathak in New Delhi. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar


Hindustani vocalist Rakesh Pathak on his adventures in the city

Upward mobility can be construed in many ways. For Rakesh Pathak, moving to the National Capital from Patna might be considered the first step. Trained in vocal music under his father Pandit Gangadhar Pathak since childhood, he had had further guidance under Pandit A.T. Kanan.

In December of 1998, Pathak, then 27, came to New Delhi for the first time. A major step towards recognition came when he was invited to sing on the occasion of Birju Maharaj’s 60th birthday celebration at Kathak Kendra in March 1999. Not long after that he toured the U.S. with Birju Maharaj’s troupe as a vocalist.

And is the rest, as they say, history? Well, literally speaking, yes. Now as he prepares for his solo recital at the India Habitat Centre’s basement auditorium Amaltas this coming Thursday, he has behind him several years of performing, composing, dance accompaniment and teaching. He has also taken guidance from the Banaras gharana stalwarts Pandit Rajan and Pandit Sajan Mishra. But living in Delhi takes its toll in often unexpected ways, and it is these twists and turns that show us, in retrospect, what our protagonist is made of.

On the one hand Pathak was exposed to the buzz that media adulation creates. “When I sang for Maharajji’s birthday, it was the first time ever that a separate car had been sent to pick me up for an event,” he recalls. “Maharajji was surrounded by media. I had never seen anything like it before. I was just standing in a corner and watching. Later Maharajji even asked me, ‘Rakesh, where were you, there were so many interviews going on. Why didn’t you come?’ I just said, ‘Maharajji, I had no idea I was required.’

As Birju Maharaj recognised the malleable beauty of his voice and selected him as a vocal accompanist, Pathak performed with him abroad and in India. Pathak basked in the praise of senior artists and the opportunity to meet and share the stage with stalwarts like Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Kishan Maharaj, Jagjit Singh, Pandit Hari Shankar, among others. “It was all a very different feeling,” he says.

But a ‘Wah!’ –– at least a rapturous one –– is not commonly a part of the vocabulary of Delhi landlords. Money was hard to come by. For the first room Pathak rented in the city, he handed over Rs.2500. Moving into the medium sized room, he thought he would be comfortable enough to practise and rest here. “By evening, more and more people started arriving,” he says. He realised there were some 12 people in the house, and his ‘single occupancy’ status was at best ignored.

The motley group of fellow tenants –– shopkeepers, rehri-wallahs, et al –– pooled their culinary talents for meals. Pathak’s skill was in making chapatis. The trouble was the timings. “Maharj ji’s rehearsals never ended before 10 at night. Only after he left, I would leave. When I reached home, the whole group would be staring at me, the sabzi prepared, waiting for the rotis. Then I would get into the kitchen and start making rotis. And it’s not as if anyone had less than seven or eight rotis each!”

Realising his music would evaporate with the perspiration induced by that unventilated kitchen, he decided he had to find another room. “I arranged to give tuition for Rs.1100 a month and rented a separate room for exactly that amount.” At least he was free to reach home in his own time. Instead of spending money on a bus ride, he would foot the distance across the city from Mandi House. “I didn’t mind, I sang as I went,” he recalls.

His neighbours were not as sanguine about his singing though. “What is this noise? Next time I’ll throw out your tanpura!” was a hurtful refrain.

It was not so much the insult to his music as to his tanpura that stung Pathak the most. “When I left home, I said I didn’t need any luggage, just that tanpura. It was a tanpura that Amir Khan Saheb had played. When I brought it to Delhi, it was as if I was taking a bit of my father’s heart away.”

That tanpura and his earnings from the Patna branch of the Song and Drama Division and All India Radio were the valuables in his possession back then.

As he takes the stage this week, he will rely on the other asset that has seen him thus far. A priceless intangible heritage called music.

(Rakesh Pathak performs with Pandit Kedarnath on the tabla and Dr. Dinkar Sharma on the harmonium. November 13, Amaltas, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road, New Delhi, 7 p.m.)

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 8:11:42 AM |

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