Mumbai Music: Deepak Raja
Director: Surabhi Sharma; Cinematographer: Ajay Noronha
Duration: 01:00:45; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 31.227; Saturation: 0.211; Lightness: 0.163; Volume: 0.048; Cuts per Minute: 0.230; Words per Minute: 145.134
Summary: Eminent musicologist and sitarist Deepak Raja speaks about his two sitar gurus and their different pedagogic styles, how raags are internalised and audiences cultivated, what the relationship is between performing music and writing about it, and about the situation of Hindustani music in Mumbai today.
TN: Deepakji it's really nice to be able to hear from you about your multi-faceted engagement with Hindustani classical sangeet in Bombay. I know you studied elsewhere as well, but in your formative years you were both a student and a practitioner in Bombay, and this is what we would like to speak with you about.
TN: Also to generally learn about the musical culture in Bombay at the time when you were growing up, the kinds of places where you heard music, the kinds of people you listened to and so on and so forth. It will be a very informal discussion. Could we begin with your first entry into music, wherever it was? Doesn't have to be Bombay.
DR: Ah well, I started studying music in Delhi, when I was 5 or 6, but then Bombay was my grandparents' home, so we always came here, and with my cousins learning from a very good guru here... My guru in Delhi was not really a very advanced guru...
So with my cousins studying music here, I got involved with studying with my guru in Bombay. So it was an occasional thing in the beginning, became gradually more and more intense as I started moving towards Bombay professionally, and then of course it became full time - 3 times a week with one guru and three times a week with another guru - and that's how it happened. Because Bombay was always my grandfather's home so we were always here during summer vacations.
TN: So were you studying form the same person from since when you were in college or you changed many gurus?
DR: Ah no, in fact when I was in high school about 10 or 11, I started studying with Mr. Dev Burman who was a prince of Tripura and had given up his ancestral home and all his princely rights to come to Bombay and become a teacher of music, and he started me off. He used to teach my cousin who became a very good sitar player, so with him I started learning whenever I was here.
Once I moved to Bombay in 68' permanently then he was teaching me 3 times a week, and Mr. Arvind Parikh the disciple of Vilayat Khan Saab, he was a neighbour, so he said if you have time I'll teach you and Mr. Burman was large enough.. large hearted enough to say, yes he's the same gharana go and learn from him too. So three mornings a week I would learn with Mr. Burman and three nights a week I would learn with Mr. Parikh and that's how it started, and that's what - 45 years now.
TN: So this actually meant that 6 days a week you were learning or sometimes in the same day you were studying with two different people
DR: Well, sometimes yes, same day if Mr. Parikh was travelling because he was a businessman in cargo train. Cargo train means you have to travel, so sometimes he would instead of today can we meet tomorrow I'm travelling that kind of thing. But he was very very regular. I mean of the 100 sessions he was suppose to give us about 100-110 sessions a year he wouldn't have missed more than 2 or 3 days of teaching to his students.
And initially when he started teaching there was only 3 of us. So most of the time all three of us came together.
TN: So when you say that both your gurus belonged to the same gharana. What exactly would you mean? In this instance you were learning sitar
DR: Ya...that's the
TN: So what's the ancestry that you would trace?
DR: The gharana is Etawah gharana, Ustad Vilayat Khan. My first guru, Mr. Burman, had studied with Ustad Inayat Khan, Vilayat Khan Saab's father and Mr. D T Joshi was also Inayat Khan's disciple. Mr Arvind Parikh has studied with Ustad Vilayat Khan himself, he's the senior-most disciple, so there's continuity of style and that's important if you want to make... start making sense as a performing musician.
TN: What difference did you see in the teaching methods of your two gurus?
DR: Very difficult to conceptualise actually, because they had both learnt very differently, so Mr. Burman had actually done a course at the Marris college of music in Lucknow with D.T Joshi so his whole system was... and he had learnt from Ustad Inayat Khan, whose approach to music was more orthodox. Vilayat Khan Saab in that sense was a revolutionary musician.
So Mr Burman's method was, you take one raag A to Z for two years you live with that raag and you master that raag, and I think in all the 20 years odd years I learnt with him probably he taught me no more than 5 raags but if you know 5 raags A to Z then you can handle any raag.
TN: Which were these? Were these sampoorna raags or...?
DR: Not neccesarily, occasionally I would choose or he would choose. I mean he taught me - the first raag I started learning when I was only part-time with him, visiting Bombay, was Bhimpalas. Bhimpalas went on for almost 4-5 years because I was learning only one or two months in a year and then I started with Desi. I liked Desi very much because I loved that Baiju Bawra song that Amir Khan Saab, D V Paluskar had recorded
and I was crazy about that song so I said teach me Desi and he said no it is too early for Desi. I said no, I want to learn it anyway. So he taught me. Then almost for 2 or 3 years he taught me Bhairavi and nearly A to Z Bhairavi as his generation knew it. What later musicians did to Bhairavi is a different issue altogether, his generation I mean they made it an encyclopaedia of melody.
He taught me Bhairavi then and he taught me Bilaskhani, because he said if you learn Bhairavi then you must learn Bilaskhani, same notes but different configuration, so that you never mix up the two. So he taught me Bilaskhani and then the 5th raag he taught me was Malkauns which was one of the relatively simpler raags.
TN: So when you say A to Z of Bhairavi what exactly do you mean?
DR: Starting from alaap to complete presentation, concert level presentation, with pre-composed taans, pre-composed tihai, that's the way they had learnt. That generation depended a lot on pre-composed material to teach and not so much improvisation.
TN: And not so much on improvisation?
DR: Well, I won't say it's improvisation... no improvisation, but they taught you the method of improvisation, so they had composed something . I won't say it's entirely pre-composed, alaap cannot be precomposed. I mean normally it cannot be, but the taans are pre-composed. So they taught you the grammar through the literature.
Mr. Parikh's approach is very different. I mean on that day itself, okay what do you want? You go there, which raag do you want to study? Then he will take you through about half and hour of alaap and show you the broad pattern. I think it also depends a lot on what level of understanding you are, because by the time I came to him. I was already performing, so I mean... not that I was a seasoned performer, but I was doing occasional performances and I had been on the stage for quite a few years by then.
So then he would teach you a new raag. Then he would teach you 2, 3, 4 compositions in that raag while Mr. Burman's method was live with one raag and two compositions for 2 years and you master those in all their manifestations right from alaap to jhala. So they are two different approaches. Mr. Parikh recognised the level at which I was while Mr. Burman said, no matter what level you are if you understand 5 raags you know what to do with any raags.
So I think the combination worked for me very well at that stage. I've seen Mr. Parikh teaching novices, relative novices, and he takes them through almost the same procedure as Mr. Burman would, but then there's also a difference of generations and also difference of intellect I think. Because Mr. Parikh's is a very analytical mind. He's a big businessman, he runs a company of 2000 crores turnover with 18 offices all over the country, I mean, and he has to control that operation with just one sheet of paper in front of him every morning . So you are talking about different quality of mind, in not just in musical mind but the way he explains things, the way he analyses the technique it's so different.
DR: I mean...once he has explained a technique to you, you can master it with half the amount of practice because this generation and being the kind of mind he is and educated person. He's learnt to analyse it in its barest detail. Sometimes it seems too simplistic to the traditional musicians. Ahhh, this is all creativity you can't analyse it like this, but he knows how to impart that knowledge.
TN: So pedagogically its very useful, but is it performatively also useful?
DR: Very useful, very useful,, because see there is, when you are practising your conscious mind is doing the composing and organising all the musical material that's in your head, and at the practising stage your conscious mind is allowed to be active. Once you sit on the stage its the unconscious mind that executes and the conscious mind is looking for new directions something you may or may not have practised. You are storing all those inputs in your head partially pre-composed and what comes out at that time has to be an effortless configuration only then you are making sense as a musician.
It's very much like a film I think, it's at the editing table that a film is really made. You've written all your script, you have done all your work, but the life of the film surfaces at the editing table and ... the performances are the editing table, that's the way it works.
TN: You are someone who is quite well known as a writer on music and I know that you have really invested a lot of time and effort in it, and its something that gives you a lot of rewards in terms of the satisfaction that you get. What connections do you see between your being a performer, student of music, a listener and a writer on music?
DR: Ahhh... very important issue and I think I'm discovering that now. For the last 15 years I almost didn't practise. I mean hardly any at all. Last 5 years my sitar didn't come out of its case. I had to get it overhauled before I started practising again. In these 15 years I have been almost a full-time writer. Whatever work I have done in music I have been a writer.
DR: As a writer a you are analytical, and my job was to analyse the music and interpret it for audiences mainly abroad, which means you get down to really... fundamentals. What are the taan patterns? So I go through 15-20-30 recordings and figure out what are the different taan patterns, plot, do a graphic plot of the taan patterns to explain to an international audience what are the fundamental taan patterns. When I sit down... then when things like sitar itself or sarod any of the plucked instruments you are analysing all the time the stroke craft.
The balance between the outward stroke and inner stroke. The balance between the right hand and the left hand. Now these are issues after these 15 years' gap I have started practising again, I have started going again for my training with my guru and I find today I'm ruthless with myself on everything that I have analysed. My music is different and it's not necessarily more cerebral but today I know what I want to hear. Earlier I was always thinking of what I want to play.
I think that's a huge difference when you become analytical and being an analyst of music after being a music lover and a student was difficult . I have found when I got a good, great recording to do a commentary on I had to hear it 50 times before I stopped enjoying it because until you memorise it you keep enjoying it. Everytime you discover something new you enjoy it. If you enjoy it you can't analyse it.
DR: So the greatest recordings I have heard 50 times and memorised before I could write about them and then I said okay now I sit with a stopwatch and start analysing it because I have stopped enjoying it. When you enjoy it you don't... your critical mind is on the side.
TN: So one or two examples of these great recordings that you heard 50 times and internalised in some way?
DR: I can give you two examples, giving only one won't be fair. There was one recording of Tejendra Majumdar, sarod player of Puriya Dhanashri. I went through that recording 50 times and memorised it because he was doing such wonderful things with that raag and also such wonderful things with that architecture. He had deviated a bit from orthodox architecture but what he had come up with was a very novel way of holding interest of contemporary audiences in spite of having deviated from orthodox architecture.
Now so at every hearing I was enjoying what he was doing with the raaga and also enjoying what he was doing with the architecture and it took me about 50 hea... 50 auditions of that recording and I said, okay now it by heart now I can start analysing it.
Another was a recording of Sanjh Saravli which is the creation of Vilayat Khan Saab himself. It's a single piece rendition, 78 mins in khayal format, now nobody ever before played a 78 minute khayal on the sitar and vilambit khayal at a crazily slow tempo at which an ordinary sitarist won't make sense, and it was a great piece of music - very orthodox format and totally unorthodox music, and just the sense of marvel.
I was listening to it with my jaw dropped right through. 50 times I must have heard it. Then I actually sat down and notated the whole recording... concert. 78 mins took me one full day to notate. One phrase, stop, write down, one phrase, we didn't have digital melodic analysers at that time. Even today you don't have something good enough for instruments. Vocal music digital melodic analysis works today but again the software is not user friendly at all. It's very difficult still, progress is being made people, want to be able to do it well and Suvarna Rao and Wim van der Meer of the University of Amsterdam have done wonderful work in this area. They put up a website also, doing a melodic plot of Hindustani music recordings. So I had to do it manually.
One phrase, stop, notate, notate stop, one phrase, second phrase notate stop, stop, stop. I was luckily working with - today with CD's it's not so easy - working with cassettes in those days.
Life was easier you could stop and start, stop and start, stop and start I must have worn out several tape recorders doing thigs like that. So it took one full day to notate a 78 minute recording okay now I understand what is going on and even then I wasn't totally satisfied because I couldn't cope with the totality of that music. So I called up Dr. Ranade and said, Sir I have monumental piece of music which I am not able to conceptualise because you have to say what is it about. What is the big idea there and you've enjoyed it that means there's something big there and I said I can't put my finger on it would you care to look at it?
DR: So he said come over, leave the recording overnight. Next morning I went to him... and he had a wonderful way of you know, pointing at the moon where you don't look at his finger you look at the moon. He had a wonderful way of guiding thinking of musicians, and he said just concentrate on the raag tatva and everything you write will fall into place, and that commentary of mine is the most talked about commentary in musicological circles.
Because I took that advice just concentrated on it everything falls into place.
TN: In this instance what was the raag tatva?
DR: It wasn't a raaga. Sanjh Saravli is Vilayat Khan Saab's own creation which is a mix of so many raags. Now in our music raag authenticity is fundamental, raag grammar is fundamental. The greats have a freedom to play around a little and audiences give them that freedom. This wasn't a raag really, it was actually a composition around which Khan Saab was trying to build up a new raag, and the new raag that he was trying to build was built was a complex of many raags of the same family -totally unorthodox, he's broken the rules of raag tatva itself.
The essential raaganess he had sacrificed and said okay I'm going to build... in fact he told me when I interviewed him about it. He says, Arrey yeh ek acchi cheez ban gayi. Cheez is generally used for composition not for a raag. Ban gayi means the composition composed itself and he tried to build a raag around it - most unorthodox music but in the most orthodox khayal format. So the moment I realised it was the raag that was the main thing, I understood why he had packed it in the most orthodox format.
It was totally unorthodox raaganess, to make... to make it digestible he had to choose the most orthodox format and of course only he can do it. I would say that I haven't heard everything published in the last 50 years, but I would say it would qualify as one of the finest recordings of instrumental music in the last 50 years, amazing piece of music, I'll give you a copy if you want. He recorded it in 97' I think for India Archive Music, New York, amazing. I mean he was not at his technical best by then. But the quality of music...
TN: So when you speak about analysing the raag tatva and actually figuring out what exactly Khan Saab was trying to do, how has that impacted your own performance?
DR: Well, we can't do things that those people can do. I mean I won't dare create a raag beyond the raag grammar, as a performer... I would...
TN: Shows you at least the limits of music
DR: See, the raag has several levels of personality, so if you look at the highest level it's an unlimited source of melodic ideas, but that is something in the air. It's a formless form. Now, we tried to manifest it each time uniquely in a concert but in the middle level there is a consensual personality of the raag... that means all facets of that raag's melodic personality that have been reasonably explored. So when people like us who studied a lot of records we function on that as the universal melodic ideas and of course on a good day when the gods are smiling on you. You might come up with one idea that goes beyond it.
DR: So we work on the conceptual personality of the raag, and further down the moment you choose a bandish your composition itself focuses your rendition towards a certain facet of the raag personality. No bandish can be a complete exhaustion of the raag's personality. Every bandish emphasises a certain aspect of the raag's personality. So you take the bandish as the basis and then explore whatever is aesthetically compatible with that from within the consensual personality. So there is the formless form as the presiding deity, then there is a consensual form that is generally recognised, and then there is a manifest form in the composition which guides what I present.
People like us wouldn't go beyond a consensual form. Not I mean we won't.. we would aspire to it and in a moment of inspiration probably get somewhere, and hope that it hasn't breached the raag's grammar.
TN: When you say people like us, do you mean people who have spent a lot of time learning, studying but don't consider that their primary identity, as performers?
DR: No, no...
TN: Or do you mean something else?
DR: ... I would put something else
DR: See, it's only the greats that are permitted to explore new territories of raag melodic personality, and that is why they are great. Audiences won't be tolerant with this. I mean if I tried to do something weird I'll have a few torpedos coming my way, so maybe we can't even think beyond a consensual personality. You can hear a lot of music. On an inspired day yes, you might get a new idea that hasn't occurred to anyone. On one of Khan Saab's recordings I remember, one phrase he played was so outrageously off key but that one phrase captured the entire mood of the raag. It was outrageously out of key... off key.
Because that was a raag that was supposed to be weird, it's supposed to be spooky, Shree, and in that he played one phrase that was outright spooky. So these things... even he wouldn't have thought of, that it just came to him while he was performing in his recording. It just comes to you because they have got... the word raag has no melodic meaning at all in any language it has only an emotional meaning. It's people like us who are stuck to the melodic meaning. But people who can reach out to its emotional meaning can do crazy things with it
TN: When we had spoken earlier you had talked about how now you are paying attention to the link between the process of engaging with music and writing about it and I think you had given the example of Ranade Saab himself, who's not again seen primarily as a musician more as amusicologist but who performed religiously every single morning his riyaaz.
DR: Yes, absolutely
TN: So speak a little bit about that, what the connections would then be. Why.. what's the connection eith performance that you need?
DR: I think there are four angles. I just in fact had an occasion to talk about them when in Poona I was given this award, there are four angles to being a musicologist.
One is the creative process which you have to understand, which your guru gives you, he enables you to understand a raag, enables you to explore its possibilities, enables you to structure it in an intelligible way as a communicable idea. Then the second is the gyaan, the kalapaksh which is the srajankriya. Second is the gyaanpaksh, the theoretical knowledge that you need the conceptual understanding you need to, you need of all aspects of music including its history, its origins that gives you a perspective even on the history of a raag. If you know it helps so it helps you to avoid older forms. It helps you to understand very clearly what are the contemporary forms accepted forms and recognisable forms.
Then the third is the Shravanpaksh, how much you have heard. Because the entire consensual personality of the raag, and entire tradition is evident to you only from how much you have heard. Fortunately recording technology makes so much accessible to you. So I have had three friends who are big collectors and every time I needed anything I had to make 3 phone calls and next morning I have got whatever I want and without any obligation, and after a while I stopped collecting. I just would borrow them and return to them the next day, how much can you collect. I don't see myself as a collector. And the fourth is the relationship between the musician and his art. That's what we are referring to, that is a very complex area which you get when you are a performer. When you are practising regularly, you understand the relationship between the musician and his art.
DR: And I had the advantage when I was writing commentaries on the recordings for India Archive Music, I had the advantage of interviewing all the musicians, living musicians whose recordings I analysed, and because they were talking to a musician they gave me insights that an average journalist won't get. They were talking to a musician as a musician.
For instance, Shahid Parvez discussed with me technical details of fine tuning the jawari bridge for quality, controlling the acoustic quality of the acoustic quality of the sitar. Okay - sitar guru, he has given you some idea. Vilayat Khan Saab I spoke to him he gave me some ideas, but Shahid was talking to a person his own generation and he explained to me how many different materials he had experimented with.
How many different grindings of the materials he has used, what kind of sand papers he has used, what kind of files he has used to get exactly the tone he wants. I think these are very important insights that you get as a performing musician, and when you understand the relationship of the musician with his art, the man has worked so hard on the quality of the sound - Shahid Parvez - so has Vilayat Khan... Vilayat Khan Saab may or may not discuss it with you and he might think you won't understand. He thinks he has other things to contribute to you.
So having interviewed 35-40 top musicians, not just top musicians right from just upcoming musicians to people at Khan Saab's level, you begin to understand the relationship. Broadly I would use our Indian traditional concept of 'gun'. Some musicians have a satvik relationship with their art, others have rajsik relation with their art, and third have a taamsik relation with their art, and it shows in their music. So that's one angle, but that you understand only when you are in touch with the process of being a musician yourself, otherwise nobody gives it to you . You won't find this in any book.
Even your guru most of the time will not tell you because it's an understood thing your guru's values, musical values rub off on what you play and your own musical values to the extent that they differ will reflect in what you perform but these three traditional classifications have helped me to understand. At least I can understand there is very clearly a satvik kind of relationship, there is a taamsik relationship and there's a rajasik - all three varieties I have seen. In that sense I'm a little like a lawyer who sees all aspects of his client's personality from the best to the worst, because I'm using evidence. I'm writing on the basis of evidence.
TN: This is not all for the film, we are putting up the entire interview online as research interview first of all.
DR: Okay, okay
TN: that will be extremely useful
DR: And a subject like this you can't work on sound bytes
TN: Absolutely... So I think this is probably the right moment to ask you, since you spoke about the relationship between riyaaz performance and writing about music - you are someone who also plays the surbahar, you're someone who is learning or has learnt vocal music, you know some tabla. So how do you relate this to knowing about one kind of musical practice. What is the, I suppose the spectrum of things you need to know in order to even understand say sitar practice. Why is it important for you to know vocal, to know tabla?
DR: Well, that's a fundamental issue in Hindustani instrumental music. Vocal music has the highest status in Hindustani music, instrumental the next and dance the least, lowest. There's a good reason for it I think, because the vocal expression is the originator of all musical ideas, and the trained vocalist or a musician...a vocalist can train himself to express it in all its con... because the human voice is capable of variations of timbre, pitch and volume, while instruments in their own way are limited in their manipulation of all the three dimensions, so a trained vocalist can produce almost anything while a trained sitarist cannot produce almost anything.
So the vocal... vocalist is the originator of all musical ideas, even the instrumentalist, any instrument you look at, he will admit to you that he's singing in his mind as he is composing. Then he figures out what is the best way to interpret it on his instrument, and of course the bow and wind instruments express the vocal better than the plucked instruments, and yet traditionally you find that veena was the accompaniment of vocal music and it's a plucked instrument, and in the south it still does...it still plays exactly what the vocalist sings, in Hindustani music no longer.
But... the vocal is the fuindamental originator of all ideas and the more you learn vocal music the more authentically you express it. Or the more authentically you can visualise its manifestation of whatever instrument you are playing, in my gharana even more so because Ustad Vilayat Khan was a vocalist, a trained vocalist.
He became a sitarist recultantly and his mother ordered him to become a sitarist because his father had been a sitarist. It's documented, its in interviews and I have it on tape and it's been documented that he had launched himself as a vocalist. He was a very well trained vocalist, his father died very young, so he didn't have much sitar training. So he learnt from his mother's brother and grandfather who were both vocalists.
TN: So why would they make the choice of sitar or any instrument if they felt that vocal music was at the pinnacle of the musical arts?
DR: Well, his mother's orders you are a son of a sitarist, you have to be a sitarist, that's how it happened.
TN: Okay, so what did it mean to be a sitarist say in the early 20th century as opposed to a sitarist now? There's been a difference in the way the instrument has shaped up right?
DR: Yes, and I think the main difference has been the amplification era. See the instrumental music was subdued in its popularity and stature and sophistication because there were no microphones to carry it to substantial numbers of audiences.
A vocalist could cultivate a heavy voice like Fayyaz Khan or Kesarbai. They could address audiences of 200 and 300 without a microphone. Sitarist couldn't reach beyond 40 people. Sarod had a little more volume and it addressed 50-60 people. The difference between, the balance between vocal music and instrumental music began with amplification.
TN: So around the 40's? What would be the date?
DR: Ah... probably earlier because I think recording technology came in 1902 and the earliest recordings we have of instrumental music are from that 1902-1903. Vilayat Khan Saab's grandfather Imdad Khan recorded the first surbahar and sitar in 1902.
TN: Is it the same Imdad Khan who was in the Gayan Uttejak Mandali? The Gayan Uttejak Mandali, same Imdad Khan or someone else?
DR: As far as I know there was only one Imdad Khan
TN: Then I think he was the chief
DR: The same
TN: The person who taught Bhatkhande actually
DR: Could have been.
TN: In the Gayan Uttejak Mandali
DR: Could have been. Bhatkhande yes that would have been his era. Bhatkhand died in 1930's right? 37. I think Imdad Khan Saab died in 1920. Would have been probably the same.
TN: So obviously he was a vocalist as well as a sitar player.
DR: Oh yes, absolutely. In fact Imdad Khan's father Sahebdad Khan was a sarangi player so had to be a vocalist also. We come from a linegae of sarangi players who became surbahar and sitar players, and for us it's fundamental to know vocal music to be able to play the kind of music we do.
TN: When does sitar then become then a solo instrument? Is it along with the amplification this also happens?
DR: Ah... actually it came into its own with Ravi Shankarji and Vilayat Khan Saab. I would say 40's because they had to do a lot of work on the engineering of the instrument and both of them worked very closely with craftsmen to improve the acoustic quality because the moment the amplification came, the old sitar sounded dead and it was a very dumb instrument. I mean if you listen to the pre-Ravi Shankar, Vilayat Khan even Inayat Khan some sophistication was evident, before that it was dead, absolutely, the sound was dull and the music that was played was not sophisticated. Then these two guys really worked on the engineering and they both developed distinctive designs which today remain the standard, and the Vilayat Khan style and the Ravi Shankar style are two different styles of sitar design, that's it.
TN: So both the acoustic chambers and the strings, the quality of the strings, everything had to change?
DR: Everything had to change, because the microphone allowed you to communicate much more. So the moment microphones' capability became available you can address not only larger [number of] people but say, much more on the instrument, so re-design to make sure that they could exploit the capabilities of the electronic amplification.
TN: So did that bring the sitar close to voice or did that take it off in another direction?
DR: Well it did both actually Ravi Shankarji tried to take it closer to the veena and the orthodox veena and the surbahar. He actually integrated the surbahar with the sitar. Ravi Shankarji's design was sitar and surbahar on the same instrument.
Vilayat Khan Saab took the exactly the opposite route. He dumped the base strings and the lower octave and made it a pure treble sitar. So Ravi Shankar's sitar was treble and base with a sharp metallic tone because he wanted... his style was more flashy.
Flashy in the sense it was more an extroverted style while Vilayat Khan Saab's style was more intoverted. So he kept a subdued timbre, and made the instrument heavier, and Vilayat Khan [has] almost hammer strokes and don't forget Ravi Shankar's fingers are short and stubby so his strokes are never powerful.
It's a lot to do with the ergonomics also, because Vilayat Khan Saab had long fingers, Ravi Shankarji has shorter fingers. That explains the large difference in style. Allso Ravi Shankarji had learnt with a sarod player, so a little bit of the sarod idiom had come into his music. Vilayat Khan Saab has learnt with vocalists so the vocal idiom came into his music.
TN: You had mentioned when we spoke earlier about the impact of other forms on sitar playing like dance for example so, in the instance of Ravi Shankar how did that change? They way that he performed?
DR: Well, I think that...you know if I play a recording of Ravi Shankarji for you I can show you the elements which are straight from dance. For instance his habit of repeating a phrase twice. Now it's clearly a reference to dance, because the dancer will execute one movement with the left hand and then with the right hand it has to played twice.
DR:Now that is one aspect, secondly the importance of rhythm. Dance is substantially a response to rhythm. So Ravi Shankarji's style has a much greater emphasis on the rhythmic play than Vilayat Khan Saab's style - both are masters of rhythm but the rhythmicality of Ravi Shankarji's music is much sharper and much more prominent than Vilayat Khan Saab's rhythmicality.
The subject of rhythmicality is a long one. One can write a thesis on what constitutes rhythmicality or the perception of ...heightened perception of rhythm, is a different issue altogether.
TN: Let me bring you back to your own like personal involvement in music as a student and as a performer. I'm always fascinated by this fact that there are so many thousands of people in a place like Bombay for example, who engage with music purely as listeners, purely as connossieurs, as rasikas if you like, and there's no aspect of them that says, I want to become a performer or even I want to learn the music because it seems like too much to be able to do, given the fact that most people are not professional musicians, there are very few who aspire to that you know to that level .
TN:So how do you place yourself there? Like why would you have taken the step. I know that from a very young age you have been involved in music but it's a conscious choice at some point to say, I want to actually learn music and then to perform music.
DR: It happened unconsciously actually. My talent was discovered when I was young. I wanted to learn, [but] initially I didn't practice very much. My mother would sit with a stick and make me practise for one hour everyday at the age of 10 or 12. Then I was turning into an adolescent - all the stresses of growing up I started sharing with my instrument, more than going around with friends, or more than the social circuit.
So, then that's how it happened. I think talent was discovered there was a musical culture in the family, opportunities were available. My parents were willing to spend on hiring the teachers in the early days, to give me a reasonable amount of performing competence. School encourages you. Modern School that I went to had a full time music teacher with all the instruments available and every week we had three classes for music for whoever was interested, and I guess it's generally the environment that you get.
DR: And... I mean there was probably a stage when I said, Do I want to be a performing musician, but then the risks were too high. People from our kind of backgrounds... and unfortunately my training hadn't been stable enough in my early years to give me a high level of competence at an early enough age.
When I started seeing myself as a performer it was 1986, I was almost 40 by then. 40 is too late if you want to be in a music career... performing as a career, then you have start getting noticed by 25, put in a good 12-15 years of struggle. It's only by 40 that you start making sense and between 40 and 45 I would say probably the best years of a performing musician because you have enough maturity and you still have enough physical energy left.
So that combination of skill and maturity is available between 40 and 45, if you are lucky it goes onto 40 to 50. I mean if you are really in that league. You see all our great musicians, Ali Akbar Khan is probably the only exception who was shining earlier than 40. Ravi Shankarji, Vilayat Khan - the best work he has produced - Bhimsenji, Amir Khan Saab all are.. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, all are greats between 40 and 50 they produced the best work and then really started flying high only around 40.
TN: Let me ask you something that is very important for our project which is to try and understand the larger musical culture in which you are also enabled to become a performer and a writer and so on. How would you describe that? In the time that you have spent in Bombay in particular what kinds of listening practices, what kinds of performance situations, if you could tell us.
DR: I'll say this about Bombay, Bombay gives like in every other profession I think Bombay gives everyone a chance, it's willing to give everyone a chance, and probably more so now than was 20 years ago because Bombay has become a very fragmented music market because of the logistical issues. See, I remember the time when you could have an audience of 300 people from all parts of the city going to Thana for a good concert. Thana in those days was a sleepy old town, not what it is today.
Today's logistics have become crores so, a lot of small music circles have come up all over the place. They can't pay well enough to musicians to afford the big ones because they are expensive, but at 10,000 rupees a concert expense there are lots of small music circles that are willing to encourage new talent n Bombay, and if they are good they get noticed they get talked about and they move on.
I mean even today, most of your today's stars I mean upcoming stars were virtually unknown 5 years ago and they are all around 30. So by 30, you can start getting noticed in Bombay. Bombay has that vitality still.
TN: What are these places where are these music circles forming?
DR: Everywhere in fact if you subscribe to mailing list called Huzur Banda Nawaz.
TN: Ahh.. I get that
DR: Ha...my God, places that ten years ago didn't have a music circle but they have one because there are audiences there who won't travel longer. I mean after I moved from Pedder Road to Khar. I have told people half an hour in this direction half an hour in that direction and go beyond that too much. I go upto Bhavan's college Andheri and I go upto Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre, beyond that okay, something unusual if a close friend is performing or I might go... it's just too cruel. So in that sense the cruelty of Bombay might have helped creating larger number of avenues for new talent to come up. Today in most concerts that I attend except for the big festivals audience is below 100. 50-60, 50-60
TN: What kind of audience do you see? In terms of age in terms of...
DR: Age is unfortunately, I have been saying this for a long time that you have brilliant 40 year olds performing for an average audience age of 70 plus, 65 plus in ten years these seats will be empty
TN: But there will still be the 40 year olds performing right?
DR: We've lost... yeah no, the tragedy is that we have lost 30 years of audience cultivation. How why, it's a very complex issue. I mean if you want my favourite theory I think radio is to blame, because we as in my generation, as an audience we have been cultivated by the radio and All India Radio even today has the largest archive of recorded music and huge... incredible asset. I mean they can start a 24 hour music channel anytime without even hiring any young musicians to perform tomorrow. But they are not doing it, and we have lost 30 years of audience cultivation
TN: So but in the time that... (Cut)
DR: When I go to concerts now, I find the audience is mainly above 65 and brilliant musicians between 35 and 40 performing for them and in 10 years these seats are going to be empty, we won't be around. So it appears to me that we have lost 30 years of one whole generation if you consider 30 years a generation, and that's sad and...
TN: Why has that happened?
DR: Well, the reasons must be very complex but I think All India Radio is responsible over the last 30 years the proportion of time devoted to classical music has shrunk steadily because they have many pulls and pressures. They have news in so many different languages on every channel. They need folk music, they need this music that... I mean it's become it is no longer a major cultural force.
I mean today some of these young musicians like Meghana [Kulkarni] for instance, I want to appear for the radio auditions. I said, to what purpose? One is even if you get an A grade the market is not going to give you 30,000 rupees for a concert, that's one. Secondly you will get three chances a year to perform, big deal. I said you can build a very good career without being on All India Radio and that's what most of these young kids have done.
TN: But this is in many ways a post-Independence phenomenon that All India Radio became such a major patron of the music but surely today there is far less centralisation, there are many more radio channels, there are many more television channels not only All India Radio and Doordarshan. Would not that in some ways help? With the same phenomenon that you mentioned, the fragmentation of the market, the emergence of niche markets and therefore probably more opportunities for music.
DR: I'll put it this way, what I know reliably from knowledgable people that classical music market - the non-popular segment - is just about one percent, one to one and a half percent of the total recorded music market. That has been so for several years now, so although the volumes may be growing, one percent of that market would not be good enough to sustain a commercially viable television or radio channel devoted to classical music. In Carnatic music it might ...that one percent maybe 5 percent. Hindustani music I don't see that possibillty. All India Radio has been talking about it for several years about a 24 hour classical music channel for Hindustani and Carnatic. They have done nothing.
DR: That would be see because most of our influences ...see, raag depends on familiarity, the appeal of any melody depends on familiarity and most of this familiarity is acquired involuntarily
TN: By just listening, by sheer listening
DR: By listening and then if you have the family culture it reinforces it. I mean my mother would tell me, listen to this musician she's good, listen to this musician she's good so that familiarity is reinforced by prestige suggestion. That gives you some idea what's good, what's bad, what's not so good, what is good music. That whole process depends on free and involuntary exposure in the early years.
DR: So the moment our raaga melodies become unfamiliar to our generation, you have lost the entire generation, because at 20 you can't introduce people to raag, except some people are specifically interested in that they might take interest. You know...I have been trying to cultivate that kind of interest amongst adolescents and young people. So it's an involuntary absorption of these musical ideas. Today it's taking place only in popular music. Classical music hasn't got a fighting chance.
But, look at the kind of money that is pumped into popular music to make it "the" main stream culture. Bhimsenji was... recently I was writing a booklet for, The Music History of Baroda and Baroda had been the single biggest repository of musical talent in the princely days and one of the seniors they told me about Bhimsenji, in the days before cars were there he used to perform in Baroda and travelling by a tonga, and the tonga driver started... he was humming something and the tonga driver identified the raag, it was a rare raag. So Bhimsenji turned around and told him, a city where a rare raag being hummed by me is recognised by a tonga driver has to be Fayyaz Khan's city.
So because these are involuntarily absorbed, that fellow poor chap probably never owned a radio. Radio was an expensive business when were children, and radio was a show piece of the house kept in the centre of the drawing room and covered always so that it won't gather dust
TN: but there were other ways of dissemination like I know for example in Dharwad or other places. There would be a radio owned by the local grocery store or the local kirana and everyone there cluster around and listen to the music.
DR: Ya, they do
TN: So there are ways by which you get to hear.
DR: No, why people like Bhimsenji picked up the intial ideas on Hindustani music standing outside a record shop and left home that night, after he heard Abdul Karim Khan left home that night in search of a guru
TN: So very quick question about where all did you hear music whether in concerts or private homes in Bombay? Over the years.
DR: I would say both, but I heard a lot of music in my young days at concerts in Delhi. My father used to be in Delhi in my early years, first 10 years, and right from the time I was 5 or 6 my mother wanted me to go. My father would not always very happily accompany us, and concerts in those days started after 7:30-8 o'clock, went on till 2, 3 in the night. So, I would go along and my mother would take me to listen to that music and very often I'd doze off in the seats but even that sleep learning that took place, planted some important seeds.
So I heard a lot of concerts in Delhi and then of course we were away from Delhi.
I heard a lot of concerts in Poona, we lived in Poona for four years. Home concerts mainly in Bombay, that's only in the last 15-20 years because there is a knowledgeable.... circle which wants to hear quality music, can afford to pay for good musicians to come and perform at home. So I get invited to some of those concerts and I have heard them mainly at home. But..
TN: So on an average how many in a week would there be? How many in a month?
DR: Home concerts? Home concerts, I would say... I won't know Kishor [Merchant] will be able to tell you much better. Home concerts of all grades of musicians. I mean you have to be invited for them so, I would say Bombay has about 20 in a month, 10-15 in a month. I mean I have heard home concerts of upcoming musicians at my friend's Sunder Rajan's house, you probably know that couple, that's Rohan's father, at their house I have heard home concerts of musicians, informal kind, of 15-20-30 people.
And I have heard Ashwini [Bhide Deshpande] singing in a private concert. In Baroda I have heard a few private concerts, quite a few, actually there's a friend of mine who hosts concerts at home every once a year. Ahemdabad there's another friend of mine who they generally invite me most of the time when I go they are good friends and ask my advice to feature musicians so.
TN: So this is particular kind of circuit of music performance and a very important one because it doesn't usually become very public
DR: I think good.. No and good music will survive, the quality music will survive only in these circles now, because what is being sung to fill a hall of 1200 people is nonsense. A populist, very populist manifestation.
I mean I don't know, you know Chandra Pai? Chandra Pai has set up of a circuit of very good patrons in Bombay and in Poona, is an NRI who put in together a corpus of 5 million dollars to promote the home concert circuit all over the country and Chandra should be here any minute you should probably talk to him.
He is a fanatical, his wife is Yogini Gandhi the kathak dancer, and that couple is extremely active, they have hosted a few... he comes to India for what 3 months in a year. He is a software tycoon and totally devoted to classical music and he says I'm in America now only to put up, pull up enough money to do this in India.
He plans to come back and just promote this circuit because he says, good music will survive only in this circuit. He feels very strongly about it and so far I have attended 3 or 4 concerts he's hosted, quality music, quality audience, well tends to be because the rich people who host these concerts tend to be a little aristocratic more than knowledgeable, but that's okay.
I think the quality of music is what matters, if out of the 50 people with diamonds and pearls, 50 ladies with diamonds and pearls, if ten of them understand good music that's good enough for the musicians.
TN: So you are depending on the women to understand the music?
DR: Hmm... sorry
TN: You are depending on the women to understand the music.
DR: More likely, because more of the women have had some music education today. In my family, my mother started learning first, her sister started, that's how I found my first guru. Ladies will outnumber the men even today in Gandharva Mahavidyalay, they are creating a base of good listeners.