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Discernment. Online

'I am not a major fan of the Begum (though I do like her early recordings and quite used to enjoy her concerts till the early '80s), but she sang much better than I had expected'
'Suddenly, Kishori Amonkar and her accompanists started winding up. One of the organisers  launched into a speech that led to a round of felicitation for all the artistes and accompanists'
'Why do Mumbai audiences start leaving - in large numbers - well before the end of the concert?'


Three divas, one stage 

Parveen Sultana, Girija Devi and Kishori Amonkar sang in Mumbai, one after the other, and Abhay Phadnis listened intently

On October 2, I attended a morning concert at Shanmukhananda Hall in Mumbai. The singers featured (in order of appearance) were Parveen Sultana, Girija Devi, and Kishori Amonkar. I had made a few notes after the event, and thought of posting them on RMIC as a record of the concert. (Record, not review, because the latter needs technical knowledge that is beyond me.)

The concert started (only 20 minutes later than scheduled -- surely a record in Mumbai!) with raga Miyan ki Todi by Parveen Sultana. She was accompanied by Mohammed Dholpuri on the harmonium (he is apparently Delhi-based) and Mukundraj Deo on the tabla. I am not a major fan of the Begum (though I do like her early recordings and quite used to enjoy her concerts till the early '80s), but she sang much better than I had expected. She spent a significant amount of time developing the raga in the lower registers, where she sounded very good indeed. But then came the inevitable ati-taar forays and sargams@speed-of-light, the latter quite often going distinctly besuraa. Her voice seems to have deteriorated a bit (with age?) and she could not hit the high notes with quite the elan (or precision) she once could. Mercifully, the ati-taar ventures were limited in number.

She did something that was new to me: she would start off a taan, repeat the phrase an octave lower, go back to the higher octave for the next phrase, again repeat THAT an octave lower, and so on. It sounded good the first few times, but when she kept doing it over and over, it jarred a bit. Is this done by any other singers? I have never noticed it - even in PS herself - before this (but then I have not heard much of her in the last 10 years or so).

Following the vilambit and drut bandish-es in Todi, she launched into something she called "Ambika Sarang". She said it was based on the Karnatak melakarta Vachaspati, and then also mumbled something about Khambavati. The wording of the bandish was unusual - "saarii jaaminii jaagii re". While "jaaminii/yaaminii" IS a synonym for "raat", I have never heard it used like this. She then went on to a forgettable rendition of a bhajan (mai.n to lino gobi.ndo mol), allegedly presented because many people had sent in a "farmaaish" for it. The last item was a Marathi song, "rasikaa tujhyaach saaThii", which was sung passably well.

After a short interval came Girija Devi. I had last heard her live 10 years ago at Pune, and was keenly looking forward to listening to her, and was not disappointed -- she was in great form and sang very well indeed. She started with a vilambit and a drut khyal in Jaunpuri, and then a short tap-khyal in 'Gandhari Bahaar', which she described as "hamaare ghar kii khaas chiiz". Then came a marvellous tappa ("piyaa nazar nahii.n aa.Ndaa"), a Pilu thumri, and a delicious jhoola ("dekho saa.Nware ke gorii jhuulalii jhuule"). She ended with one of my favourite pieces - "diiwaanaa kiye shyaam, kyaa jaaduu Daaraa". It is a beautiful composition, and she did full justice to it.

She was accompanied on the harmonium by Puruthottam Walavalkar, on the saarangi by Dhruba Ghosh, and on the tabla by Aneesh Pradhan. The surprise package was one of her students who was accompanying her on the tanpura, Rupan Talwar (or Sarkar - didn't get the last name very clearly); the girl has a beautiful voice and sang with a lot of 'taiyyarii' (though she did fumble in the antaraa of the jhoolaa), and Girija Devi gave her a lot of scope to show it off!

Another short break, and then Kishori Amonkar started off with Raga Gaud Sarang. The vilambit chiiz was "kajaraare gorii tore nainaa". [I have always found the sam placement in this cheez unusual -- it seems to land on a non-existent syllable! To make the sam, the "aa" in "kajaraare" is drawn out -- "kajaraa_aa_re", with the sam on the elongated "aa". Can some knowledgeable soul say whether this happens in any/many other instances?] Her throat seemed to be troubling her for the first 15-20 minutes, but once it freed, there resulted a shower of breath-taking taan-s. Not the best I have heard from her, but very good indeed! Her disciples -- Sanghamitra Bagchi and Nirmala Bedekar -- were in good form too and provided very good vocal support. Also providing fitting accompaniment were Purushottam Walavalkar on the harmonium and Balakrishna Iyer on the tabla.

After the drut cheez ("piyu pal na laage morii a.Nkhiyaa.N") in Gaud Sarang, there were some noises about Bhairavi, when she suddenly said: "mazhii aaj khuup ichchha aahe kii tumhaalaa aamachyaa jaipuur gharaaNyaachii ek khaas chiiz aikavaavii - aamhii tyaalaa luur mhaNato. aapalii aikaayachii ichchhaa aahe kaay?" ("I very much want to sing for you a speciality of our Jaipur gharana -- we call it Loor Sarang. Would you want to hear it?") Of course there was chorus of "yes!" from the audience, and she sand a beautiful bhajan-like composition for about 20 minutes (the same composition that is on her "SwarUtsav" release by Music Today, but sung much better!).

And then, suddenly, she and her accompanists started winding up! One of the organisers (Shashi Vyas) came up on stage and launched into a speech that led to a round of felicitation for all the artistes and accompanists and then a vote of thanks. A side-show was a lot of feet-touching and hugging between the artistes, with Parveen Sultana touching the feet of the other two and Kishori touching the feet of Girija Devi and all of them hugging each other. Quite genuine, I'm sure, but just seemed overdone.

And as Vyas launched into his vote of thanks, he said, "I have told Kishori-tai that I am not leaving this hall until she has sung 'baabul moraa'." This, after all the artistes had got up and some of the instruments had been taken off! KA protested, pointing at her watch (it was getting on to 3 pm - the concert had started at 9.20 am!) and saying, "Let people go home". The ball was again in the audience's court, with Vyas asking whether we wanted to hear "baabul moraa" or not. The response being a foregone conclusion, KA and her accompanists sat down again, the taanpura-s and the swaramandal were tuned again, and she launched into a very moving rendition of "baabul moraa". A noteworthy feature of her rendition was that - unlike many khyaaliyaa-s who sing it - she gave full play to both antaraa-s, ending with a very evocative recital of all the lines of both antaraa-s strung together. A great finale to a memorable morning!

General comments:

- All the three artistes were in very good humour and took trouble to establish a rapport with the audience. (It was a relief to see KA, especially, in a bonhomous mood - not an everyday occurrence!) This made the concert that much more enjoyable.

- Parveen Sultana and her two disciples used taanpura-s with six strings, something I have noticed earlier too in her concerts. Can someone shed light on the utility of the two extra strings? Do they add to the tonal effect of the taanpura?

- The multiple-artiste format worked quite well, though I for one wouldn't have complained if the available time had been divided between just two artistes rather than three (no prizes for guessing which two! :)). The breaks in between the artistes were kept to the minimum time needed for the next artiste to come on and get the instruments tuned.

- WHY do Mumbai audiences start leaving - in large numbers - well before the end of the concert?? I have seen this happen in ever so often. When it happens at night, one can blame it on the timings of the last bus/train, but why in a morning concert?? I have yet to see a Pune audience do this, even for late night concerts.

- This business of interrupting the artiste mid-way to get the felicitations and vote of thanks through was disgusting. Surely they could have finished it in the interval between GD's and KA's concerts!

- Vyas hinted in his speech at making the recordings commercially available, "with the artistes' permission". Let's hope that happens!

Abhay Phadnis

Published on 6 November 2002

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