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PEOPLE

Structure and balance

ROSHAN SHAHANI

Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande on what her music means to her.



Sought-after: Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande

ASHWINI BHIDE-DESHPANDE'S music is situated alongside the brave, feminine voices of the Khayal genre, which, sadly enough, add up to a mere handful; musicians who move ahead with the times and who are bringing in a fresh awareness and rigour to the discipline of classical music today.

Ashwini has a tight concert schedule for most of the year. "It only appears that I'm busy," she says modestly. "It is the seasonal demand." The singing tours however, seem like a whirlwind campaign for an urgent and necessary cause. Hers is truly an appeal for structure and balance in music.

Tradition of Bhakti

The reaching-out and well-enunciated language, which characterises her delivery of Bandish Raga, is reinforced with the Madhya and Uttaranga Swara modalities upholding the beseeching mood significantly. These upper-pitched projections, whether it is a Khayal or a Bhajan, connect her to the massive and pulsating tradition of Bhakti.

The idiom of the devotional and of love-in-separation are found in the fabric and musical consciousness of this country. In the recently published book of self-composed compositions, Raga Rachananjali, she adds a musical-literary embellishment to the sanctuary of the Khayal with her own compositions. Her concert invariably ends with a lilting energy hanging in the air.

Asked about the tendencies of singers meandering through the raga in endless patterns; she reacts spiritedly, "It's not like that with us. We sing the jhol (the essential cadence) and our elaboration of the bandish is rooted in this musical essence. There may be 20 bandishs in one raga. Each has its own pattern."

At the high profiled event of the Indian Music Group, St. Xavier's College in south Mumbai, Ashwini had chosen to sing Marwa, the twilight raga, a tiered musical block. The bandish, "Piya morey aavat des bhailava" has been immortalised by Ustad Amir Khan, and is said to be the ultimate in musical meditation. "We have all been influenced by the form," says Ashwini even as she is given to tempering the upaj within the parameters of her voice. Indeed, the raga in another composition is nuanced unconventionally, affirming that there are freedoms and possibilities for shaping a raga with one's personal temperament. "I learnt upaj and traditional aspects of layakaari from my mother, Manik Bhide," her first guru. From Ratnakar Pai, her present guru, she imbibed the complexities of the gharana. "He is strict about the immutability of the mukhada (refrain); you cannot violate it, whatever the nature of elaboration."

Probing the nuances

Does she aspire to the grand epic-abstract musicality of a Moghubai or a Kesarbai or does she aim for refinement of the devotional-classical mode? "There is no one path to music. At the moment I sing Kabir, Soordas and Meera bhajans, orchestrating the text and music with my saathis. Singing collectively is a part of our tradition. I want to be as active in its enlivenment as much as I want to probe the nuances of the Jaipur Gharana gayaki."

Is that why you are one of the most sought-after women singers of classical music?" I ask. "There is a popular need for the devotional," she avers. That a singer bursts forth intuitively when on stage is a misnomer she says. "It's hard work. You cannot get away by singing carelessly and without preparation. The demand for rigour comes from NRI Indians as well."

Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande is on a roll; conscious, and meticulous about every aspect of performance. Perhaps, she doesn't need to ask herself the question, "Where do I go from here?" For the moment at least, she is warbling like a nightingale, a luminous figure in our midst.

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