Dialogues with the self

Tabla player, Anuradha Pal. Photo: S. Subramanium

Tabla player, Anuradha Pal. Photo: S. Subramanium   | Photo Credit: S_Subramanium

Anuradha Pal revels in the unlimited vistas of percussion and melody

Talking can be good or bad. ‘Dialoguing’ is respectable. And Anuradha Pal, well known Mumbai-based tabla exponent, believes in a dialogue with herself. And this is far removed from merely talking to herself. Because, firstly, it requires an uncommon amount of skill and, secondly, Anuradha lets her hands and her instruments do the talking. We’ve heard of one-man teams, one-woman institutions, and the power of one. So is this just another term in a society that believes in brand marketing?

The male and female elements exist in each one of us. This is the contemporary interpretation.

On her concept of “Anuradha Pal in jugalbandi with herself” the versatile percussionist explains why it is not the same as other eminent tabla players who weave stories, themes and expressions from daily life into their percussion patterns during solo concerts. “The difference is, in a solo, you are presenting traditional compositions, and you can bring in a story element too, but I have taken a concept of Ardhanarishwara,” she says.

This concept in literature and philosophy highlights the contrast and the harmony of qualities considered opposites, such as the male and the female, the dark and the light, the strong and the delicate which complement each other and are epitomised in the form of the androgynous Shiva-Parvati as Ardhanarishwara.

“I use two ragas — Shankara and Durga,” she continues. The playing of the lehra — the melody base provided by an instrument such as the sarangi over which the percussionist weaves varied drum patterns — shifts from one raga to the other apparently seamlessly.

In terms of contrasting sounds, she uses the bigger tabla, with its more bass and resonant sound, playing it in the pakhwaj ang, to represent the Shankara/masculine aspect and the smaller table with its higher pitch sound for the Durga/feminine aspect.

“The male and female elements exist in each one of us. This is the contemporary interpretation of the Ardhanarishwara concept,” says Anuradha.

Trained in the pakhawaj too, she remarks that she cannot actually introduce this instrument, considered the ‘father’ of the tabla, into her jugalbandi with herself, merely for logistical reasons. This enthusiastic artist is prone to exclaiming, “because I don’t have a third hand…” But, she points out, she has learnt the Banaras and the Punjab gharanas and both are gharanas of the pakhawaj. “What is a jugalbandi? Two instruments dialoguing with each other, or two people talking to each other. Here’ I’m playing the pakhawaj tabla and the normal tabla.”

She also shows two gharanas interacting, and she uses an interplay of two different ragas, she says.

“I find people across the world are able to connect with this concept very well,” says Anuradha, who was in the Capital for a performance at the Bhatkhande Sangeet Vidyalaya this week. “Because some of the stories I’ve taken are universal stories.”

It’s important to “grow the audience,” as she points out. The conventional format of presenting percussion compositions directly to the audience after pointing out the stalwart who has created them and relating their salient technical features is good for an audience well versed with music, but it’s equally important to bring in a newer kind of spectator who may not be bothered with either technicalities or authorship but wants some recreation, she avers.

One storyboard that unquestionably spans generations and lifestyles is that of the mother shaking her daughter awake to attend college, though the daughter has had a late night performing at a concert. Her suggestion that she can skip the first lecture and attend one later in the day meets with stern rebuttal from the mother, who is represented by the pakhawaj ang. Anuradha, who recites the story through the medium of mnemonic syllables before playing them out on the tablas, notes that many artists have taken this story route to perform rhythmic compositions, but the different in her case is that she is representing two entities rather than one soloist.

“I’m a musician trained in the traditional guru-shishya parampara, but I also work with Flamenco, fusion, Bollywood,” says the artist, a student of Ustad Alla Rakha and Zakir Hussain. “How do those two avatars of myself interact? The idea is to make it interesting for the classical audience along with the contemporary.”

As among the earliest women tabla players to make it to the professional league, Anuradha has struggled to make a place for herself. Today, though, she says, it is still a struggle. “Of course there is, we’re a very conservative country. We still have khaap panchayats.”

As a fitting reply to this situation, perhaps, is the continuing success of her Stree Shakti band, formed in 1996 and consisting of women musicians on percussions such as the mridangam, ghatam, kanjira, with Anuradha on the tabla and accompanying melody. Depending on the theme and availability of artists, the group includes Sukanya Ramgopal (ghatam), Latha (kanjira), Narmadha Gopalakrishnan (violin), Shubhada Paradkar (vocal), Meeta Nag (sitar), Suchismita (flute) among others.

Adept at the varied aspects of tabla playing, including solo, classical accompaniment, light classical accompaniment (Thumri, Dadra, Ghazal and other genres), as well as fusion collaborations nationally and internationally, Anuradha is also upbeat about Recharge, a band she formed in 2007 on her return from the U.S., “recharged” with inspiration after her interactions with performers of Latino music with its intricate poly-rhythms.

Of upcoming projects, Anuradha, who says she takes up to two years to complete an album, is not sure. What seems certain, though, is that she continues to be charged.

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Printable version | May 27, 2020 9:27:09 PM |

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