Teaching English literature in Dharwad, north Karnataka, Pandit Rajshekhar Mansur spent 35 years immersed in the works of Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway and T. S. Eliot. Seniors like Professor Armando Menezes, Dr. M. K. Naik and Dr. G. S. Amur also shaped his thinking.
Yet, the son of the legendary Jaipur-Atrauli gharana vocalist Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur retired from his job in 2002, to focus on music. He has now settled in Bengaluru, where he teaches eight singers under the gurukul system. “It was my father’s idea that I have a regular job. I was into reading those days, and this suited me. But that job was primarily to earn a livelihood. Music was always an intrinsic part of me,” he says.
Happy that I am also from Dharwad and recalling the time I visited his place 15 years ago, Mansur speaks a mix of English and Kannada. The conversation begins with tomorrow morning’s show, where he will present rare jod ragas and less-heard compositions. “The Jaipur-Atrauli repertoire has many rare gems, and the organisers, Kilachand Foundation, requested me to sing some of my father’s well-known works,” he says. His selection will include ragas Yamani Bilawal, Jai Jai Bilawal, Kabiri-Bhairav, Jogiya-Asawari and Khat, an amalgamation of six ragas .
The 74-year-old singer points out that there is always a demand for aprachalit, or uncommon, ragas. He says, “Most concerts feature the same 30 ragas . But our Hindustani classical system has so much more to offer. Though I too have sung a common raga like Marwa on request, I prefer to present these rare gems. It comes from Appa’s thinking.”
Obviously, his father played a pivotal role in Mansur’s upbringing. “Though I formally learnt [music] from the age of 16 or 17, I would feel my actual education began from the time I was born. I would accompany Appa everywhere, and his music would linger in my head,” he recalls.
Those days, Dharwad district was a cultural and musical hub, producing stalwarts like Mallikarjun Mansur, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal and Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru. The great Kumar Gandharva hailed from the neighbouring Belagavi district.
“Most gaayaks used to hold mehfil s in houses in Dharwad, Hubbali and Gadag. They would go on till early morning and the atmosphere would be very intimate. That is something that’s missing today, though many young singers are springing from the region,” he says.
As a student, Mansur decided to follow only his father’s style. “There were many other great singers, but with due respect to them, I was totally focused on Appa’s style,” he says.
What differentiates the Jaipur-Atrauli gayaki from the rest? Mansur explains: “We do not compartmentalise the ashta angas of khayal singing. There are eight angas while presenting a raga such as alaap, bol, boltaan and taan. We do not split them. It’s like a vestibule, and what we do is paint a comprehensive picture of a raga.”
Having learnt the traditional way, Mansur thinks it’s important to teach youngsters in a similar manner. He elaborates: “My eight students spend the entire day with me. Though I teach them individually, living with them is a completely different experience.”
Does he still pursue his passion for reading? Laughter precedes Mansur’s reply as he says: “Literature is a closed chapter now. I haven’t read anything in years. There’s so much more I want to do with music. And as my head of department once told me, you can’t ride two horses at the same time.”
Clearly, 24 years after Mallikarjun Mansur’s death, his son is carrying forward his rich legacy with pride and passion.
The author is a freelance music writer
Rajshekhar Mansur will perform at the Experimental Theatre, NCPA, at 10.30 a.m. on Sunday. For more details, see bookmyshow.com