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In honour of Bade Khansaheb


Ajoy Chakrabarty's concert was in tune with the spirit of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan's soulful works.

IN CONCERT Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty. Photo: Satish H.

Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty chose Raga Bhupali to commence the concert organised by Surmandal on the eve of Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan Saheb's death anniversary. A direct disciple of Khansaheb's son, Ustad Munnawar Ali Khan, Panditji has imbibed the best that Bade Khansaheb's style had to offer. In choosing Bhupali, a raga on which Bade Khansaheb had left his own imprint, Panditji opened with a vilambit composition dear to his musical mentors, Prabhu Rang Bina.

This raga is an early night raga, and its central idea is expressed eloquently in texts such as Raga Kalpa-druma, Sangita Darpan and Shiva-Tatva-Ratnakar: `High-breasted, her radiant white body reddened with saffron, her face a heart-entrancing moon. When all is still, with bitter grief Bhupali remembers her absent Lord'. Yet, in the process of development of the khayal form, and the composition mentioned above, this sentiment, while retaining the quality of the oppressiveness of the night, transforms itself into one of cosmic and spiritual longing, as well as reluctant detachment. So, the movement from prabhu bina to mohe sab sukh dina exemplifies this mood.

A few questions

While Pandit Chakrabarty remained faithful to all the elements of Bade Khansaheb's singing in the vilambit, whether it be the harkats of the Punjabi style, or the bol-anga or the taans, preceded by a leisurely aalapi, his choice of the drut composition, Torey Nainon Ne, was a surprise. Abandoning the majestic Deva Maheshwar Mahadev piece in favour of eyes, however alluring, left questions unanswered. Panditji has often said that many compositions are unable, often, to carry the weight of a raga. Was this an instance of this inability to carry the movement of Bhupali? Are we so enchanted by this composition only because of the quality of Bade Khansaheb's rendition, rather than the composition's fidelity to the raga? If this be so, why did Panditji himself render the more popular drut bandish in a recent recording? The tarana in the end was a fitting finale to the spirit Bade Khansaheb brought to this raga, but the absence of the more popular Deva Maheshwar rankled.

The second raga Ajoy Chakrabarty sang was Bihag. Again, in the choice of the vilambit composition, Panditji paid his musical debt to Bade Khansaheb by singing Kano mein Karna Phool. If one goes to several recordings of Bade Khansaheb, of which I am partial to a 1956 Bombay recording at a live concert, and if one compares these to Pandit Chakravarty's rendition, one is forced to concede that Ajoy Chakravarty brought something distinctive to the vilambit composition while remaining faithful to his musical lineage. This was inherent in his leisurely and unhurried treatment of the development of the raga, especially the purvanga or the lower half of the scale.

The treatment of the pa ni sa ga cluster of notes along with pa ma (tivra) ga ma ga phrase was as it ought to be in Bihag to bring out its distinctiveness.

`Drut' compositions

As if to consolidate his unique treatment of Bihag, Panditji sang four drut compositions in this raga. The Kirana Gharana inspired Chinta Na Kar Re was followed Neha Chhal-chhal Bihag Ka Naina. Then, the Bade Khansaheb favourite, Ab To Lat Laagi Mohe, and finally, Jhoom Jham Dhoom Dham.

While musical aficionados swear by Bade Khansaheb's thumri renditions, my ears have never been able to transcend the Banaras-Lucknow axis in thumri in favour of the Lahore-Patiala axis. Moreover, one has always wondered whether men, with the exception of Birju Maharaj, can really ever bring to fore the delicacy and tenderness of a thumri composition. Panditji presented two signature thumris that are inextricably associated with Bade Khansaheb, the Pilu thumri, Kate Na Biraha Ki Raat, and Aaye Na Baalam in Bhairavi. Neither Ajoy Chakravarty's outstanding voice, nor his musical genius, nor this musical thoughtfulness could bring the delicate soul of thumri to life.

The rendition served well as a sliver of nostalgia, but remained just that.

The concert was rounded off by Panditji singing Hari Om Tatsat, a bhajan immortalised by Bade Khansaheb.

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