Sunday, March 02, 2008
Sarod Less Travelled
India is a rare country with two equally well developed traditions of Classical Music - Hindustani (from Northern India) and Carnatic (from South India). This post is about Hindustani Classical music.
You have vocalists and instrumentalists to choose from in each category. The classical set of instruments that played solo were traditionally Sitar, Sarod, Bansuri (bamboo flute), Shehnai accompanied by the drone of a Tanpura to keep scale and Sarangi and to the beats of a Tabla. Over the years other instruments have been brought in to add variety. The Sarangi has moved up centrestage from being just a sidekick. Some instruments like Esraj (more popular in the Eastern States of India especially West Bengal) have faded away even though in some traditions (Vishnupur) or gharanas it played a prominent role. "Over the years many western musical instruments like violin, harmonium, mandolin, archtop guitar and electric guitar have come to be accepted in Indian classical music." Brij Bhushan Kabra and later Vishwa Mohan Bhatt popularized the Guitar as an instrument that can play Hindustani Classical. Just as Shiv Kumar Sharma has brought the Santoor (meaning a hundred stringed lute) to the mainstream of classical music.
Indian Classical Music has been developed over several generations with knowledge and skills being passed down from father to son (most of the instrumentalists are males in Hindustani Classical Music - is that the same in Carnatic Classical too?) or from teacher to disciple known as the guru-shishya tradition in India. The guru or the maestro would have the title of Ustaad (in case the teacher was Muslim) or Pandit (for the Hindu).
My parents were both Hindustani Classical music addicts. My mother played Ragas on the Acoustic Hawaiian Lap Guitar (known simply as the Hawaiian Steel Guitar in India). My father never played an instrument or sang but made sure he taught himself ragas by reading, meeting musicians and attending concerts whenever possible. The concerts, the vinyl LP records and the ubiquitious radio with the All India Radio Sangeet Sammelan or the classical music hour at night were a part of my universe. Just as I was beginning to get excited about The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Pat Boone and all, thanks to the efforts of SPICMACAY (an acronym for Society for Promotion of Indian Classical Music And Culture Among Youth) my love for Indian Classical music co-existed with my love for every other sound that I got familiar with over the years. SPICMACAY used to organize Lecture Demonstrations (LecDems for short) to bring the best of the best Indian Classical Music maestros to explain the basics elements of the classical musical vocabulary and grammar and made it "cool" to listen to. The very first one I attended had Ustad Amjad Ali Khan xplaining the basics of Raga Yaman by playing raga based popular Bollywood hits on the sarod. Accompanied by the long haired Ustad Zakir Hussain on the tabla (who taught a semester at Princeton University in 2006) , they mesmerized the college crowd. Last fortnight I bumped into Ustad Amjad Ali Khan at Mumbai's swank new airport terminal. Here is a photo capturing that moment.