Sunday, February 8, 2009

A music concert

This incident occurred more than 30 years ago at a small town in coastal Karnataka. A small group of music enthusiasts had formed a body to promote classical music. As the people who reside there have an ear of Hindustani classical music [a form of classical singing which is different from that of carnatic [south Indian classical] music, this is the form of music that they were organizing every month. It was not easy. Organizing a concert meant raising resources and the music lovers were high in their love for music but low in finances and generally, it was cheap local talent that was available, and they had to be satisfied with this.

On one occasion, on the day of their anniversary, they decided to get Bhimsen Joshi. Bhimsen Joshi even those days were famous but gettable [recently the nation has honored him with the highest civilian award, Bharath Rathna]. But it meant spending upwards of 25,000 Rs, a lot of money those days. Without a sponsor it was impossible to get Joshi.

The richest man in the town was businessman Ganpathi Kamthi. Ganpathi was known to donate funds for worthy causes. A delegation of music lovers went to meet Mr. Kamthi. After the preliminaries Ganpathi asked the secretary of the organization a simple question. ‘Does this Joshi fellow sing devotional songs [Bhakti geeth]? Joshi is well known to sing these [Abhangs] though he did it in classical style which is very different from the usual form of rendering devotional singing by the uninitiated to classical form of music. There was enthusiastic,’ yes, yes, he does’ from the group which was from their point true. Ganpathi agreed to sponsor the meet. But a problem arose. As the chief guest he was expected to speak. Ganpathi’s knowledge of music was confined to occasional hearing of Hindi or Kannada film music and devotional songs. The organizers told him that they would prepare a written down speech which he can refer to when he was asked to make his speech.

On the appointed day there was a huge gathering of music lovers and Ganpathi Kamthi was well received and obviously he enjoyed all the attention he was getting. He was profusely thanked and was asked to speak. Ganpathi may not have knowledge of classical music but he knew how to impress the audience, having spoken at many business meetings. Referring only briefly to the written speech, he extolled the virtues of Hindustani classical music and its evolution and praised Bhimsen Joshi and thanked him for agreeing to give the concert. He got the deserved applause. The secretary escorted him to the front row where he sat in high expectation of listening to the maestro.

The concert began with rag Malhaar. A single line of a Marathi [another Indian language] abhang [devotional song] was taken and Joshi elaborated this in this raag for over an hour. There were several times thunderous applause and when he stopped there was nonstop clapping for more than five minutes. There was five minutes break and the secretary came to Ganpathi and asked him Kash asa [How is it going?]. Ganpathi gave a noncommittal smile. He was just having the beginning of a raging head ache. The devotional song he expected had not even begun. After this one hour of torture, he could not understand the ecstasy of the audience. There was no escape as the next session of the programme began.

Joshi selected the first line of another song and began rendering it in rag Malkauns. Malkauns is a popular rag in Hindustani classical music and it is like watching a slow flowing river and there are not many highs and lows in it. Joshi spent another hour in exploring the intricacies of the rag. He did not go beyond two lines of that song to the utter disappointment of Ganpathi whose head ache by now was raging. The musician was in his elements and seeing the audience so appreciative and the bond between the performer and the listeners was so intense that after he finished this piece he took another raag without a break and this time he chose to sing in Bhairavi. Bhairavi is raag when sung with intensity and emotion can bring ecstatic tears to the eyes of the listeners. Seeing so many crying, Ganpathi thought that here must be something very sad in what this fool of a singer was doing. Upset, he called the secretary over and asked why they were crying. He was told that they were tears of joy and not sorrow. Ganpathi’ s head ache now was at a crescendo. He sat with his head held in his hands and the onlookers mistook it be of intense involvement.

At last the concert was over and the audience gave a standing ovation to Joshi. After the formalities of seeing the performer taking his leave, the secretary came over to Ganpathi and in all sincerity asked in Konkani, the language of Ganpathi Kamthi,[Kash laglo] how was it?. Ganpathi brought all his pent up emotions to the surface, ‘you ask how was it [kash laglo, kash laglo mantha], that son of a wh----e pulled and pulled [thantha, thantha] and pulled, it is a surprise his throat did not split and if you ask me another such silly question I will break your head, bloody waste of money’ he said this with venomous intensity and walked away, leaving the poor secretary dumbfounded.

My friend Gnandev Kamath told me this real life story in Konkani and I am afraid the translation does not bring the same flavor of the original.

1 comment:

Dip said...

Laughs ...
Thank you for sharing
~ Dip