Friday, December 07, 2007

Savai Gandharva Music Festival

Yesterday, SGMF kicked off here at Puné, on a coldish December evening.
This is the 55th year running that this behemoth of a music festival has swung into action.
My 12th year running, having hardly ever missed a session.
I may bunk a concert or two, for my musical tastes may not match the organizers'.
But bunking a session is unthinkable.

The reigning deity of this city musically speaking is Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, a vocalist who looks and sounds like a lion amids a zoo composed of many beasts. His personality, singing style and individuality are all so towering that he has failed to produce a single disciple who could come within earshot of his resounding reputation. "Nothing grows beneat a banyan tree..." so goes a saying, and he epitomizes it.

There may be a hundred explanations possible here but I like mine the best, ahem. I strongly feel, all his disciples, including his son Shrinivas Joshi on whom the mantle of Chief Organiser of SGMF has fallen this year (who likes Pink Floyd too, a bit of trivia worth pondering upon) are so much in sheer awe of this genius, they have failed to allow their own style to grow. Indian audiences are way too finicky -they cannot stand a musician imitating another. One who gets fame and can sustain is one who is original. I have heard six or seven of his disciples and believe me none of them sound any different from the grand old man himself. Some of his disciples, tend to copy his mannerisms, his wild repertoire of facial expressions, his forceful hand gestures, his total involvement in performing... one feels overpowered by a sense of deja vu when listening to any disciple. Thus one knows, none of them will reach the first heaven, if he is sitting on the seventh, reputation-wise.

All these years, I have been very chirpy on the first day, but yesterday was an exception. The place seemed dull somehow -except for the chilling breeze coming over from the river within shouting distance, nothing major seemed amiss. The concerts kick off with a Shehnai player, at an ungodly hour (musically speaking) of 1600 hours (4.00pm) -and that is too late to be day and too early to be night. So I end up giving the first concert a miss. Yesterday as I lazily prepared myself for the ordeal of eight hours of non-stop music, I gave he second concert a near-miss too.

Whilst I hugged myself to keep warm, despite the absence of chiling wind, there was a foggy sort of cold evening setting in, the sun had just set. I heard the most melodious voice of a youngster, sounding startlingly like Pt. Narayanrao Vyas or Pt. Vinayakrao Patwardhan. It brought to my mind the incredible voices of Vidhyadhar Vyas or Prabhakar Karekar -something very 'old world' and charming about them all. I mistook it for the voice of Shrinvas Joshi, since Pt. Bhimsen Joshi was attending the festival despite his frail health -he is nearly fully paralyzed and a couple of brain surgeries have left him weak. He sits in his car, which is driven close to the dais, and the camera manned by some music lover who worships him, keeps worrying him too often.

I read in the papers that the last twenty minutes of that vocal recitals were by Anand Bhate, a new vocalist singing for the first time. He had been buoyed up enormously by the fact that Pt. B. Joshi himself was watching him. I felt sore about having missed the khayal... and had to contend with only a natya sangeet snatch.

What I had come especially to listen to, was next. The famous Gundecha Brothers. The famous duo who sing the old fashioned Dhrupad Dhamar style with a high fidelity. How time passes, I too wondered, sitting on a thin rug spread out over a long distance. I had to sit because this sort of serious music is no fun when one is shifting weight from leg to leg, and casting longing looks at the urinals behind the main shamiana. I sat quietly next to a young lady whose hand gestures gave her away as a music teacher -they all keep a tab on the rhythm religiously, tapping their right palm on the right knee, once facing upwards, once facing downwards. This is a vey 'South Indian' way of keeping track of 'taal' to my mind. After all Puné is 'dakkhan' meaning south in Urdu or Hindustani which the Britishers corrupted to Deccan... the gateway to south. Thus one who has not spent a lifetime here in this music studded city nor in south, all these south Indian mannerisms are very obvious, as obvious as a foreign accent.

It has always been difficult for me to slip into a raag easily when someone is singing the leisurely laid out alaap, so the raag they were singing sounded like Jayjaywanti and Jhinjhoti to my muddy ears.... and miraculously turned into Adana in their Dhrupad rendition with rather a forceful bandish 'Shiva Shankar Mahabali'. The raag was Shree, chosen rather aptly since it is a sandhi-prakash raag, sung during the twilight hours. Though their faces have not changed much in the last 15 years, one of them has a mottled grey head. The younger one still looks youthful. The last time I heard them and drove them from their host's place in the University Area in Baroda, to the Music College where they were performing, it was in 1992. nearly 15 years ago. Due to the increasing rush, and the higher level of security for the performers, it seemed nearly impossible to approach them, so I dropped the idea of meeting them.

I didn't stay long, after they had brought the house down with their rendition of raag Shree which is rather a dry and abstract melody. The next performer turned out to be a sarangi player Murad Ali with links to the legendary Ustad Sabri Khan of Delhi. I somehow failed to get into the skin of the performance, listlessly wandered around and walked out several hours earlier. The main performer to follow would have been Arti Anklikar-Tikekar whom I have heard very often at Baroda, and who has never seemed five star material to me at all.

On the whole, a satisfying visit. Friday I am bunking, but will surely go on Saturday.