The Samrat club international, a cultural organization, organizes a classical music festival in Ponda every year. It was their thirtieth festival this year. It is usually spread over three days, having three sessions every day. I remember reading the names of maestros like Sri Bhimsen joshi, Sri Hariprasad chourasia, Sri Jitendra abhisheki, Smt kishori amonkar, Sri Amjad ali khan and many other equally eminent personalities, in the list of concerts during these festivals. Surely a feast for music lovers.
I have been in Ponda for the past twenty three years, living at a distance of three kilometers from the venue where these concerts are held. I have had nothing worth mentioning about to engage me otherwise at the time of these concerts and still, have been foolish enough to miss all of them (seventy one – to be exact) but one. The one which I attended last Sunday. It is not that I am averse to classical music. (I do like it when they play/sing according to my liking) It is just indifference.
This year I made a firm decision that I would attend at least one of the concerts, and chose the middle session on the Sunday evening. And I made it to the concert. A beginning and better late than never. Even though twenty three years late is as good or as bad as ‘never’.
I reached the venue at 7.30 PM when the first session had just ended and people were walking out of the hall for a cup of tea or just for a small stroll in the compound to loosen their limbs. I met many people known to me, who said “hello doctor, Free evening today? How did you like it? ‘Raag’ ******** was great. Don’t you think so?” etc and I simply nodded my head vaguely.
I went into the hall and occupied a chair near the exit so that I could clear out unnoticed if I felt so. The second session, a ‘Jugalbandhi’ was about to start and the artistes were already on the stage. I knew that two musicians perform together in a ‘Jugalbandhi’ and there were indeed two smart, young artistes on the stage dressed alike in green ‘kurta’s, facing the audience, lovingly holding their stringed instruments. The third gentleman sat confidently with his hands poised on the ‘Tabla’.
I look at all musicians with a mixture of appreciation, admiration, awe, wonder and many more such words. I do not know how they manage to produce those wonderful sounds. Some people are endowed with super human skills which elude me. I have tentatively tried teasing the strings of a ‘veena’, pressing the keys of a ‘harmonium’ and beating on the ‘Tabla’ and have noted the effect with great regret. Since I felt that producing the sounds with one’s own throat is much easier, I have tried my throat too and it has never failed to bring my children out of their rooms with folded hands, begging me to stop. So much so, my singing is in great demand when children remain stubbornly stuck to their laptops and refuse to come out of their room in spite of my wife repeatedly calling out to them.
The compe’re introduced the artistes, and I think she spoke highly about their training, practice, achievements etc and mentioned the name of the ‘raag’ (which I do not recollect) with which the concert would begin. She spoke in Marathi and I only got the names of the artistes and the name of the raag.
They began tuning their instruments and matching one with the other. I could very well recognize the ‘tabla’ and was sure that one of the stringed instruments was a ‘Sitar’. I could not recognize the second instrument. From a distance (near the exit) and without my glasses (I had thought that since only my ears are involved, there was no need for the glasses) it looked flat and trapezoidal in shape and I thought it might be a ‘Santoor’ or similar instrument. The process of tuning and matching went on for sometime. Then the artiste with the unknown instrument started humming in a low tone so that the sitar artiste could tune his sitar, better. The ‘tabla’ artiste was sitting quietly. The gentleman with the unknown instrument kept humming without playing his instrument audibly. Whenever he stopped, the sitar artiste produced some low sounds. It sounded alright for me but they were not satisfied. They went on humming and playing softly. I waited for the three of them to perk up and start the performance so that I could enjoy it but they never did. The humming, tuning and matching went on for nearly forty minutes and then even the humming stopped. Everyone in the hall woke up and clapped! I was flabbergasted. The musicians did not even begin in full earnest and these people were clapping!
I know when to clap in a concert. I have been out of touch but not new to classical concerts. During our childhood, we used to attend almost all the concerts that were organized at the time of Ramanavami celebrations in Bangalore. We went there and sat through the performance waiting for it to end and the ‘prasad’ (delicacies that had been offered to the lord) to be distributed. We dozed through when the music was slow and woke up when the notes went high. The artiste with the stringed instrument would be playing wildly with his hands moving up and down fast, (like my voltage stabilizer needle, during erratic supply) the vocalist would be hitting his thighs hard with his palm and his folded leg in turn would be rhythmically hitting the floor, the percussionist would be beating the hell out of his ‘tabla’, ‘mridangam’ or the‘ghatam’(which, during the heat of playing, he sometimes threw into the air and caught it back – he never missed, to our utter disappointment. All of them would be intently looking into each other’s faces, making appreciative gestures and nodding their heads in tandem and they would stop abruptly just in time to avoid the percussionist breaking his instrument.
That’s when everyone clapped. Not when the musicians had just about begun.
I wanted to share my feelings and noticed an elderly gentleman who was known to me, sitting in the next row. I went and sat next to him, talked about the performance and casually mentioned about audience without taste, clapping at inappropriate moments. I told him that it spoilt the atmosphere and the artiste’s moods. Then I wondered why the concert had not yet started and why only the sitar artiste was playing his instrument in spite of the concert being a ‘Jugalbandhi’?
He turned towards me and gave me a look which would have made me wilt had I not put in extra efforts during the morning ‘yoga’ and ‘praanaayam’. He said that it was a ‘Jugalbandhi’ of VOCAL AND SITAR and that they had just done the ‘aalaap’ of the ‘raag’ splendidly. The unknown stringed instrument was a ‘swarmandal’ which the vocalist used to maintain his ‘raag’ and pitch!
I retreated quietly, went far from the elderly gentleman and in spite of the set back in enjoying classical music, sat through the remaining performance. Since the artistes have to cater to all tastes, they did play my type of music near the end and I was gratified to see them coming up to my expectations and exhaust themselves. I did enjoy the concert and even clapped, perfectly timing it with all others when the ‘tabla’ artiste was about to beat his ‘tabla’ into smithereens. That was the end of the concert.
I am waiting for the next year’s music festival to continue my learning.
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