57th Sawai Gandharva Music Festival 2009, Pune, India
This is the reason I like to travel to Pune to attend this festival; apart from the music itself, of course.
As I took my seat on Day 1, I felt a certain peace and calm envelope me. Just to be there, the familiar shamianas, the thousands of music lovers, the CD shops and food stalls behind, and the best of the best Hindustani classical musicians singing for us, ah…bliss! To see and hear Anand Deshpande, the very efficient and no-nonsense compere was reassuring. Things had not changed.
Day 1 started with a recorded message from Bhimsen Joshi, after which Pramod Gaekwad played the shahnai, establishing a festive ambience. The highlight of the day was Pandit Tarun Bhattacharya on Santoor, ably accompanied by Tarun Banerjee (not sure I got the name right) on the tabla. They were a fantastic combination, and their superlative performance lifted the audience to ecstatic heights, and received a standing ovation. He ended with a lilting Pahadi dhun, which made one want to dance! Devaki Pandit was good too, and sang Raag Bhim Palasi and Raag Amruth Varshini. The last to sing was our own Pandit Jasraj (with a very simply dressed and docile Durga sitting behind him!). He began with the familiar “Sakala ban gagan pawan…” However, I had to leave because it was quite late.
Day 2, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia gave an enjoyable performance, his bansuri accompanied by tabla and mridangam whiz kids who drummed magic into our ears! At one point, it seemed like the flute was the accompanying instrument, rather than the other way round! The day ended with my favourite Malini ‘Tai’ Rajurkar. She was simple, as usual, no frills…sang accompanied only by tabla and harmonium, and rendered the raagas with a purity that I feel is rare. Earlier, Shrinivas Joshi (Bhimsen Joshi’s son) sang. An IIT-ian, Shrinivas looks young and boyish, and is carrying the responsibility of organising Sawai Gandharva year after year ever since his father‘s illness. His singing is no comparison with the Senior Joshi; he sang one khyal with aalap-taan, etc., and then sang some bandishes and bhajans. We were introduced to his cute little son, about 6-7 years old, who sang a little along with him!
One of the things that I feel touched about Sawai is this…you have the old, established musicans in front, and behind them are the youngsters---the shishyas---usually with the tanpuras and fresh eager young voices; the baton will be passed on one day, but the musical journey is long and very exacting. One day, the shishyas will be singing sitting in front, and only when they have proved themselves at many other concerts will they reach Pune and the Sawai stage. This is what makes Sawai special. This is what makes Sawai sacred.
On day 3, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar’s performance was no doubt the most inspiring. Earlier, the charming Samhita Nandi from Kolkata sang Raag Bhagyashree very melodiously indeed. She is surely a musician to watch out for.
Day 4 had some emotional moments. Towards the end of the morning session, when Girija Devi from Banaras Gharana (see photo below) was singing, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi came in his car to listen to her. There was a hush in the audience…it was an overwhelming moment indeed. She got up and went to meet him, and came back in tears…she apparently told him that his place was on the stage and not in the car, and that she prayed that he would be disease-free and would sing again. Many a person in the audience had tears in their eyes. Even as she was overcome by emotion, we were treated to some inspired thumris, dadras and kajris. The other artiste who was a huge hit was Ustad Shahid Pervez…the audience kept asking for more! Among the tabla players who stole people’s hearts through the festival were Ramdas Palsule, Vijay Ghate and Tarun Banerjee.
The evening session had two greats---Pandit Satyasheel Deshpande and Dr Prabha Atre. Deshpande trained under greats such as Kumar Gandharva and Bhimsen Joshi. As people asked for more, he sang one of Kumar Gandharva’s Nirgun bhajans, and what a wonderful rendition it was! What I liked about Dr Prabha Atre was that she gave her shishyas a very fair chance to sing along with her---and they got to sing quite a few taans as well. There was also a Bharatnatyam performance by Mallika Sarabhai and her son Rewanta Sarabhai. They were very good.
Pandit Bhimsen Joshi made another appearance, this time in a wheel chair on stage, along with his contemporary Pandit Ram Narayan (Saarangi). Pandit Ram Narayan spoke about Joshi and Joshi also spoke one sentence in Marathi. It was sad to see Joshi, the maestro known for a thousand expressions, with just one expression on his face; perhaps he had had a paralytic stroke. But who knows, some miracle could happen, and he just might sing again, just as Pandit Firoze Dastur had, when I went last time. Even as the music went on, things were happening behind the shamianas. The picture above (look at Bismillah Khan!) is one of the photos at the photo exhibition of two greats who passed away during 2009---Gangubai Hangal and Pandit Firoze Dastur; the latter surprised audiences in 2006 by suddenly singing Bhairavi along with the shishyas of Joshi (I have a very amateur video of this moment; if anyone is interested I could send it by email). The CD shops alongside did brisk business; there were thousands of titles, and most were on sale.
Apart from this there were, during the morning, two activities, “Antarang”---a discussion with the artistes, and the other was the screening of documentary films on music. I did not attend any of these.
On my way back to Hyderabad, the chuk-chuk of Mumbai Express strangely sounded melodious... o-da-ni-ta-ni ta-ni-ta-ni... o-da-ni-ta-ni ta-ni-ta-ni... , and I said, "Wah! Kya baat hai!!"
Satyasheel Deshpande: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Dy1NpD7FZc