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Fire and Light… Sangeet Natak Akademi award for young performers

Posted by ElJay Arem (IMC OnAir) on February 5, 2012

Fire and Light

Arunabha Deb : New Delhi, Sun Feb 05 2012, 00:06 hrs

Hindustani vocalists Kaushiki Desikan and Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil, recently won the Sangeet Natak Akademi award for young performers. – Are they the best of their generation?

If asked to name two female Hindustani vocalists who carry the hopes of the new generation, connoisseurs are likely to come up with Kaushiki Desikan and Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil. That the Sangeet Natak Akademi has awarded them the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar 2011 is a serendipitous occasion. Often, the Akademi’s choices have made little sense, but nobody familiar with the music of Kaushiki and Manjusha can grudge them this honour. Separated by 10 years (Kaushiki is younger, at 31) and by their vastly different gayakis, the two have left most of their contemporaries far behind; the Akademi has got it spot-on this time.

Kaushiki Chakraborty-Desikan

Kaushiki Chakraborty-Desikan

For Kaushiki, the award carries a special significance. The last time she had come close to winning an award at the national level was when she appeared for an All India Radio competition. The experience wasn’t pleasant. By that time, she had already burst into the world of Hindustani music as a young phenomenon — her winning the competition was a foregone conclusion. But she came second, losing out on the president’s gold medal. There was worse to follow. When she applied for an upgradation (a pet AIR corruption, meaning applying for a higher grade) from her default B to B High, her recording was rejected. She was the darling of the concert circuits, a young diva, who combined virtuosity with a charming stage persona, but who wasn’t good enough for the radio bosses. Awards have followed since, including an award from BBC for outstanding achievement when she was 25, but this is the first time she has been recognised by the Indian government.

She has often had to pay a price for having come into the limelight as a teenager. There were early insinuations that her success was a function of her lineage. As the daughter and disciple of Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, she did have an advantage, which she acknowledges. “I would be delusional to think that I got no advantage or that other girls my age could not have achieved what I did if they were on the same platform,” she says. But by her early twenties, she had developed an identity. Organisers weren’t rushing to her because of her father, but because she was giving them sold-out concerts.

Manjusha Kulkarni Patil

Manjusha Kulkarni Patil

The trajectory of Manjusha’s career couldn’t have been more different. She is from Sangli, in Maharashtra, and her guru Pandit DV Kane (popularly known as Kane Bua) lived in the neighbouring town of Ichalkaranji. She travelled around 25km every day for her lessons, staying over on weekends, and for many years her life revolved around this routine. She hardly had public recognition and she did not think beyond her talim. “I was obsessed with learning as much as I possibly could. Even when he (Kane Bua) taught other students I would not leave, I would just sit there with the tanpura. There have been occasions when I have sat with a tanpura, learning, for more than eight hours at a stretch. And we didn’t record, we had to retain what was taught to us,” she says.

She spoke over the telephone from Pune, where she now lives, but the distance and the crackle couldn’t suppress her euphoria as she described this period in her life. She later learned from Dr Vikas Kashalkar and Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, but her days in Ichalkaranji made her the musician that she is today. As much as influencing her gayaki, the experience with Kane Bua shaped her musical ethos. It usually sounds pretentious when a musician says that he/she is “one with her music”. Manjusha, though, says it with a lightness of touch that makes her believable. With a laugh, she says, “I am married, I also have a young daughter, but, you know, music is everything to me — sab kuchh hai mera.” For our photo-shoot, she had only one condition: she had to be photographed with her tanpura. “I have no reason to be in a photograph without it.”

Her performance at the Sawai Gandharva Sangeet Mahotsava in Pune in 1998 changed the course of her career. The festival was organised by Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and it is believed that he decided the line-up himself. Four years later, he invited her again, to sing at the 50th edition of the festival: Manjusha holds this second invitation as her greatest honour yet. Since then, she has performed at every major festival in the country. Initially, her recognition was confined to western India, but of late she has been a regular in Delhi and Kolkata. Last year she performed at the Dover Lane Music Conference in Kolkata. Kaushiki was part of the same festival (she is the only young musician who is invited there every year). The Dover Lane audience, always up for passionately pointless arguments, spent the four festival-days debating who was better. There was no resolution, but the ever-critical and pompous Kolkata listeners had to agree that the two were the best in their generation.

It helps that their singing styles have little in common. Manjusha has been trained in the Gwalior, Agra and Jaipur traditions and like her present guru, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar, she draws from all three in her singing. Kaushiki belongs to the Patiala Gharana; her gayaki is an amalgam of the gharana’s intrinsic elements and the singing styles of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and her father. Apart from Begum Parween Sulatana, there have not been too many prominent female exponents of Patiala. The emphasis on tayari in this gharana (before the advent of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, who gave it a fresh aesthetic dimension) had for long branded it as unsuitable for female singers. Kaushki is aware of this. “It is true that many aspects of the Patiala gharana are fundamentally masculine – like heavy gamaks and strong aakars. I have to use them judiciously in my singing.” This does not mean that she adheres to a stereotypical notion of the feminine gayaki: “I don’t believe that a woman always has to sound sweet and mellifluous. Very consciously, I combine sweetness and force in my singing.” And she combines it with panache. She moves around three octaves like a child on a tricycle. She delivers taans with impeccable accuracy, a feature of her singing that sends audiences into a tizzy

There are two aspects that are similar to both: their vibrancy and their training. With them on stage, there is never a boring moment. There are no repetitions of phrases; no unnecessarily long vistaars just to earn a “cerebral” tag. They are conscious of their audience and yet they don’t compromise on their talim. Their grammar is solid; it would be impossible to criticise them for digressing from the purity of a raga. In a way, they are great role models for aspiring musicians. They are popular without being gimmicky. And their stories confirm that there is no single route to achieve that popularity: one was a diva before she was 20 and remains every bit that diva a decade later; the other found fame late and in her reserved, shy manner has been building on it since. When the two of them pose for the photo-op at the upcoming award ceremony, it will make for an apt picture of celebration.

Arunabha Deb is a Kolkata-based classical music writer

(Source: 02/05/2012 – Indianexpress.com | Story)

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