My Taleem from my Guru- Part 1

I am writing this note in response to a friend’s request that he and others were eagerly waiting to hear about my taleem from my Guru. Hence,it’s going to be a personal note and may not be of much use to learners.

My taleem from my father-guru was in the most unorthodox,but the most effective,manner than the general method of teaching-learning process. He decided to teach me after he surprisingly learned that at the age of 16, I had sung Malkauns in my annual class day in college without any formal training .( His tablist,Basavaraj Bendigeri,had reported the matter to him because he had accompanied me on tabla ) Incidentally, my father never wanted me to be a professional musician because of the travails he had gone through as professional musician. He wanted me to become a doctor,but I didn’t become one.
Although my father-guru was an indulgent father, as Guru he was a very exacting teacher and a strict disciplinarian before whom I would shudder. In taking taleem from him there were no quarters given nor taken. I would see him in a different role/avatar. There was no father in this Guru when he began teaching a particular raga. There neither was a son when I was learning from him. It would be a purely guru-shishya relationship. At the stipulated time,I would enter the room ( there was no music room in the two bedroom house ),put the darri/carpet,take the tanpura,try to tune it ( I didn’t know how to tune in the beginning stage and I would struggle to tune it perfectly…How lucky modern students are with the electronic tanpura!) He would enter and give final touches to the tuning of the tanpura or he would ask me to fine tune it before him.
After a few initial ragaswaras in the lower octave,he would begin to sing the bandish of a raga a few times and ask me to follow him. Many times I would not know the name,the swaras involved,no vadai samvadi of the raga,what angs were involved,whether it was jod or sankirna raga. Nothing ! No introduction to the raga. It would be like being pushed into the raging ocean from a cliff,when I dint even know swimming ! I had to flay my arms wildly and beat my legs and be scared, but I knew the instructor was there to help me swim. I simply had to follow him blindly until I got some idea of the way the raga went on. He would repeat the bandish some ten times with me following him. No pen or notebook to write down the notes. He would say “the ragaswaras must be written down or etched in the mind,not in books”. This was a purely aural-oral tradition through which he had learned and he wanted me to learn in the same manner. After he taught me the bandish, asking me to practice it by myself,he would saunter out to smoke his beedis or have a cup of tea,but always with one ear on my practice and suddenly coming to correct if I went wrong.
Once or twice,he would forget I was practicing and would be oblivious of it for 20/30 minutes and he had to be reminded by my loving mother to attend to my singing. I still remember, once he had given me a taan pattern to be practiced in Bhimpalas and he went out. He came after 30 minutes and said ” good,the taan pattern has become puckka/perfect”. That spiralling taan pattern has not gone out of my mind even today and when I employ it, I remember him with nostalgia. What a great Guru, straight from the heavens!
After I had got the bandish,he would come in to teach the badhat/progression of the raga. He would teach the badhat phrase by phrase,not note by note.
Sometimes,while teaching he would take the ‘dagga’ and play the tala. At other times he would call the tablist who generally happened to be Basavaraj Bhendigeri. My guru had enormous patience to instill the nuances of ragaswaras and phrases until I got them right. He would not let me off until he was satisfied I had got them right. My mother would sometimes intrude to say “Let the poor boy eat something. He must be hungry”. To which he would strictly say ” Eating at eating times,singing at singing times”. My mother would walk out with a sad face. This kind of taleem continued for years ! How I wish my Guru were still alive and I would still be learning from this “tapasvi” of ragaswaras and laya!
It’s interesting to note that nothing would be said during the teaching-learning session. All that had to be said,he would say through his singing.