My father never took any concert casually. A concert for him was as serious a task as his pooja. One hour before the commencement of the concert, he would be ready and impatiently waiting for the organizers to pick us up. On reaching the venue, he would directly proceed to the green room to assure himself that all the instruments and accompanists had come. Sometimes it would be the accompanists who would be late, never he. Turning to me, he would say, “Son, tune the tanpuras”. No talking to the admirers or friends. No waste of time. When all the instruments were tuned, he would rehearse the beginning raga for ten or fifteen minutes. If the tabalji were to be a new accompanist, he would patiently tell him to give him a firm laya and then sing for his benefit. After the short rehearsal, he would smoke a beedi or two and drink a cup of tea. Ten-twenty minutes before the scheduled start of the concert, he would be fully ready. I have never known him to be deliberately late. He did not like the audience to be waiting for him. It was one of his principles that the audience’s time is precious.
When the organizers asked him to go to the stage, he would immediately proceed, give a Namaste to the entire audience with folded hands and take the stage. With minor adjustments, if they were needed, like tuning the tanpuras he would attend to them. He would never be bothered about the mikes, how good or how bad they were. It was the business of the organizers to see that they were good. And in a matter of two or three minutes, without any ado, he would start. First at the Shadja and then the mukhada of the bandish and the performance would be on its way. He didn’t believe in creating an external halo of greatness by pretending to be meticulous in ascertaining the volume of the mikes, the positioning of the tanpuras, tabla and harmonium. No, he never tried to create any false sense of ambience. He hardly noticed even the décor of the stage. However, one second he would ‘waste’, if waste it can be called. From out of his pocket he would remove a small purse and look at the photograph of Shivayogi, the deity in whom he believed greatly, pray silently for another second, then pocket the purse and begin the performance. This ritual was the most important thing for him. When I once casually asked him why he did it, he said, “Son, I tell him that this performance is dedicated to him”. With this sense of dedication to his God, there would be no possibility of the performance going wrong. I could never understand his religiosity, his unshakable faith in the powers that be for him. I guess he would also be seeing his gurus in Shivayogi’s photo.
The first raga would generally be an elaborate one of an hour or so. It would be an hour or forty five minutes of continuous singing without any kind of pause either in the form of giving a chance for the harmonium player to show off his artistry or a chance to the Tablist to show off his accompaniment. One swara after the other, phrase after phrase, Gamak after Gamak, Meends, Bol-baant, Taans after Taans – all these would follow without a pause. One never felt that he paused even to take a breath! If I happened to be accompanying him, may be, he would give me a chance or two to repeat a phrase, or sometimes on rare occasions, he would leave me a whole avartan. It was only during the last few years that he began giving me greater scope and would even approve on stage my bit of singing. If I were to make mistakes, he would turn to me, smile at my mistake, and correct it and proceed further. Next time I should not suppose to make the same mistake in the same session or he would glare at me! Sometimes he wouldn’t be aware that he had not taught me a particular bandish and he would, after some time of my hesitant accompaniment would look at me enquiringly. I would whisper ever so softly in his ear that I was not familiar with that particular bandish. Knowing it, he then would not leave any space for me to fill in.
The following ragas would be short in terms of duration. Some critics have made observations to the effect that after the first item, the following pieces would be too short. There are two or three things to be kept in mind. If it were to be a full length concert by one performer as in the past, my father did not present the second or third items as small pieces. Many times I have heard him perform for four to five hours and present just three or four ragas. People who have heard him in those days, I am sure, will corroborate what I am saying here. Also, I have recordings of these concerts. There are his admirers both here and elsewhere who can tell us that in those days he would present all ragas in a concert with equal elaboration, of course, depending upon the scope of the ragas. One easily forgets that by now the nature of concerts has changed dramatically. A minimum of three or four artists are presented in one evening or morning concert running to about four to five hours. How much time would each artist get at such concerts? Even if the senior artist were to get two hours, how many ragas can he present? The pattern has been one raga of an hour’s duration and two or three short pieces in the remaining hour. And in case, the earlier performers cut into the next man’s allotted time, the senior artists’ allotted time would naturally be affected. Music critics must take note of the changed circumstances before they hasten to make untenable statements. They should also make it a point to remember that some of the ragas by their nature cannot be performed for hours together because they have a small jeeva (soul), as my father used to put it.
Another side of the story is that, unlike the alapi of other gharanas, the Jaipur gharana as represented by my father held no great store by elaboration in note by note rendering. Through this note by note method of alapi any raga, despite its “jeeva”, can be sung for hours together. This aspect too must be borne in mind by music critics – my father’s alapi was note by note linear elaboration, but a well knit integrated alapi taking into account the scope of the raga. Also the entire performance by my father would be in the form of a continuum with no unnecessary pauses where accompanying artists could perform for avartans together one after the other with the main artist smilingly encouraging them to go on and on. In my father’s rendering there would be a sense of uninterrupted flow from the beginning to the end of the raga. And that flow in itself would create a distinct atmosphere of the raga. Many listeners have rightly said that even as my father’s performance comes to an end temporally, it is still going on in their minds. “It is still going on in our minds”, many have said. That is the music for you – a phenomenon that is recollected and remembered as fondly as though you were listening to it in your mind.
Of late, in the past ten years or so, we were all successful in persuading him to take a small break of fifteen to twenty minutes after singing for an hour and half, characteristically enough, he would turn to the organizers or the audience and politely say “Ek Panch minute, interval”. The audience would approve and I would give him a hand to stand up and then take him to the green room. Once, a particular admirer who had somehow missed the announcement but seen me slowly escorting him to the green-room was so concerned that he came running to me and asked “Kya ho gaya Panditji ko? Wo Theek hai na?” (What happened to Panditji? He is fine no?). I assured him that he was fine, that he was taking rest for ten minutes. Another time, during one such ‘interval’ somehow my father took more than twenty minutes because he was talking to his close friends like P L Deshpande, Ramesh Nadkarni. Outside among the audience, a whisper went round that “Panditji, was not well”. And there was great concern all round. People thronged to the green-room to find out what had happened. When they heard his laughter from inside the room, they were much relieved. “Panditji is all right, thank god”, somebody remarked! And when he reappeared on the stage, there was a loud applause. During these intervals, as I led him inside, he’d softly ask me “How is it going on? How is my voice?” I would assure him that nothing was wrong with his voice, or tell him to advise the tabla player or harmonium player to soften their accompaniment. “Yes, yes. You tell them”. And I would put it to them that my father desired such and such type of accompaniment especially if they happened to be new players. At these intervals, he would have a cup of tea and a beedi or two. If somebody were to offer him an imported cigarette, he would half smoke it, but then revert back to his own beedi. Coming back from the interval, he would be charged with new energy to go on with his singing.
He did not quite appreciate an open air performance with the wind directly blowing into his lungs. At least, he desired that stage to be covered on three sides. However, he was not a man to ask for a change at the last moment and create problems for the organizers. He would perform in the given ambience, but later advise the organizers to have at least the stage covered from three sides the next time.
Excepting the first raga, the other following ragas would be unpremeditated. Even in the case of the commencing raga, between our decision at our lodgings and the venue, there would sometimes be a change. Quite a few times he would fulfill the ‘farmaish’ of knowledgeable listeners and close friends like P L Deshpande, Ramesh Nadkarni, Mohan Nadkarni, Bengeri, Shobha Singh, Kalidas, Ravi Shankar, Prem Shankar Jha etc. He would never say ‘no’ to their requests. Many a times he would ask me “Son, what shall we sing now?” And I would suggest and he would sing it.