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Grace under pressure

Ulhas Bapat tries to make the santoor yeild the glides and graces so central to Indian music

With its hundred strings, the santoor poses a problem: tuning takes endless time. A percussive instrument, it does not lend itself to graces and oscillations.

The young Ulhas Bapat has thought up a method to overcome this hitch: he changes the tuning of a couple of strings, changes the key tone, and continues the concert. His other innovation is to get some bend on the notes.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma, the master who gave the Kashmiri folk instrument its classical status, glides the strikers over a range of strings (instead of hitting it) to achieve a sort of grace. But Ulhas Bapat seems to press the string, as if during tuning, to achieve some grace (I use 'grace' in the musical sense: the word roughly corresponds to our idea of 'meend').

It looks as though the meend he thus achieves is limited in its usefulness. You hear only one real meend on this tape, and the rest of the time you hear the unlinked tinkling notes of the santoor.

Colours of Romance presents ragas Bhoopali, Gorakh Kauns and Jaijaiwanti. The inlay card credits the creation of Gorakh Kauns to Ulhas Bapat. The raga is a mix of Gorakh Kalyan and Malkauns.

The pentatonic notes of Bhoopali make it sound very simple and the raga does not find much depth in the unfolding. The nishad is usually used very subtly and unobtrusively in Bhoop, but it sounds quite pronounced in this rendering.

Jaijaiwanti follows the usual course, highlighting and stopping on the rishabh, but without the tender glides and connections.

The santoor as an instrument does not come close to the human voice as does the sarangi, veena or violin. This is one instrument where the player uses neither hand (as in the violin, veena or sarangi) nor mouth (flute, trumpet) to touch it directly. Could that be the reason its music fails to touch us as deeply?

S Suchitra Lata

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