Of letters, life and music

Published - November 14, 2014 06:55 pm IST - New Delhi,

SONOROUS NOTES Kumar Gandharva in performance

SONOROUS NOTES Kumar Gandharva in performance

It was a Sunday and the date was April 8, 1984. An unknown, young journalist working with UNI, I was elated as “The Sunday Observer”, India’s first Sunday newspaper edited by Vinod Mehta from Bombay (now Mumbai), had devoted the top half of its arts page to my article on Kumar Gandharva who had turned 60 on that very day. His admirers had organised a programme at the Siri Fort Auditorium to celebrate the occasion and felicitate him on his 60th birthday.

Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and its founder principal Vinay Chandra Maudgalya was the moving spirit behind the celebration. Kumar Gandharva’s charisma was such that even before the programme began, the spacious auditorium was overflowing, forcing the organisers to place speakers and chairs outside for those who could not find space.

Even 22 years after his premature and sudden demise in 1992, Kumar Gandharva’s charisma has not faded. This was evident at a well-attended three-day programme, organised to celebrate his 90th birth anniversary year.

The legendary singer’s daughter Kalapini Komkali and grandson Bhuvanesh Komkali sang many compositions that Kumar Gandharva used to sing. Quite a few of them were his own creations while the rest were traditional. Kumar Gandharva’s disciple Madhup Mudgal too sang on the second day.

A unique and laudable initiative marked this occasion. Two well-known publishers of Marathi and Hindi – Rajhans Prakashan and Vani Prakashan respectively – came together to bring out a set of two beautifully produced books on Kumar Gandharva. While one book is entirely in Marathi, the other is bilingual and contains poems, articles and interviews in both Hindi and English. This is a novel attempt and should be encouraged. Titled “Kaljayee Kumar Gandharva” (Kaljayee is a Sanskrit word for somebody who has triumphed over time), the books are a visual delight.

These books reminded me of an equally well-produced souvenir that was brought out on the occasion of Kumar Gandharva’s 60th birthday. If my memory serves me right, master designer Vinay Jain, who has designed the cover as well as inside pages of these books, was also behind the design and production of that souvenir. These books have been jointly edited by vocalist Kalapini Komkali and Marathi writer Rekha Inamdar-Sane.

As I used to interact closely with the late Socialist leader Madhu Limaye, I knew of his deep interest in classical music. In fact, once his wife Champa Limaye told me that as a young man, he wanted to become a classical vocalist and had trained for it. But his participation in the freedom struggle put a stop to that. However, when I read the book, it came to me as a great surprise that another Socialist leader, Ladli Mohan Nigam, too knew Kumar Gandharva and his entire family very intimately. Nigam has written a very poignant memoir about the great singer, his first wife Bhanumati’s dedication to her husband, and their simple yet inspiring life. One wonders if any of the present political leaders is interested in literature or music.

The Hindi and English sections contain many valuable contributions by poet Ashok Vajpeyi, vocalists Madhup Mudgal, Shubha Mudgal, Kalapini Komkali, Bhuvanesh Komkali and Vidya Rao, sitarist Budhaditya Mukherjee and many others. A poem by the late U. R. Ananthamurthy, translated from Kannada by the author and Linda Hess, particularly attracts attention. So does an unusual interview of Kumar Gandharva done in Hindi by music critic Mukesh Garg.

However, one feels a little disappointed as the material in Hindi, English and Marathi sections is different from one another although the foreword by the editors has been translated from Marathi for the Hindi-English edition.

One would have loved to read what Kumar Gandharva’s son Mukul Shivaputra, widely regarded as an exceptionally gifted – in some people’s view a ‘genius’ although a wayward, spoilt one – has written about his father and guru. Similarly, one can’t understand why the legendary Ravi Shankar’s contribution has been placed in the Marathi section as if he wrote in Marathi. One feels that all the sections should have contained the same material so that readers of other languages are not deprived of such valuable writings.

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