The onus of taking a legacy forward

The sons of legends reunited at the Ustad Bismillah Khan centenary celebrations held in the city recently.

It was like an alumni meet. There was laughter, lament and loving exchange of notes. The initial brief greeting turned into bonhomie as years melted away into memories.

Sitting around a circular table, they spoke of the good times, the hard training and finding themselves in the shadow of their famous fathers.

Shehnai exponent Pt. S. Ballesh and his son Krishna Ballesh’s centenary ode to their guru Ustad Bismillah Khan recently in Chennai resurrected the link among the heirs of hoary lineages.

Clad in a spotless white kurta pyjama, Ustad Nazim Khan, the tabla-artist son of Ustad Bismillah Khan, recalled a Benaras that echoed with the euphonious strains of his father’s shehnai. From the banks of the Ganga, he travelled the world with an instrument restricted to lending an auspicious sound to Indian festivities. He elevated its status and brought it to the centre stage. “Par ab woh baat nahi rahi (those days seem lost forever),” rued the son. “Though the city has retained its musical character, as far as the shehnai is concerned, there are not many practitioners who can take forward my father’s creative vision. Some of those who performed along with him are no more. One of my brothers, who inherited his style, has also passed away. My younger sibling, a talented shehnai artist, has cancer,” said Khan, who accompanied his father for 36 years.

“How can we afford to lose a cultural treasure? We definitely need to do something about it,” pointed out a distressed Rajshekhar Mansur, son of Mallikarjun Mansur, a stalwart of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. “There are several music schools. The Benaras Hindu University has always been known for its music department. But you need concerted efforts by Government authorities and institutions to perpetuate the Ustad’s brilliant shehnai technique,” he emphasised. Besides performing with his father from the age of 20, and later emerging as a solo vocalist, Rajshekhar was a professor of English at Karnataka University, Dharwad. “To keep my father’s legacy alive I was ready to undergo every ordeal. I approached the Chief Minister and requested that Mallikarjun Mansur’s house be turned into a trust, where lessons in music are imparted.”

“The sad part is most artists are hesitant to approach the Government. Also, culture issues hardly draw any attention,” reasoned Shrinivas Joshi in his baritone. With the looks of a corporate honcho, the Pune-based Shrinivas, son of the celebrated Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, after completing his B.Tech from IIT, Delhi, decided to pursue music full time. He trained under both his father and mother Vatsalabai. “It’s a great balancing act for musicians these days. On the one hand, you are expected to uphold the traditional values while on the other you have to appeal to the masses. The demands of the changing times are tough to meet,” said Shrinivas.

But Rajshekhar is unmoved by the modern constraints. “Luckily, I am a professor by profession,” he laughs, “so I sing what pleases my soul. Most often, I take up rare raags or compositions. How else can I call myself a disciple of my renowned father?”

“In the process of proving a worthy inheritor, it is important that I don’t project myself as another Bhimsen Joshi because I cannot be one. It’s futile trying to emulate his greatness. What I have imbibed is by merely being around and observing him and hearing his music constantly. More than formal training, the ambience taught enough,” pointed out Shrinivas.

Ustad Nazim explained how during the learning period you should discover your strengths and be prepared to step out of the shadow.

“It is lesson one in the lives of children of famous parents. Even while living up to the family name, contribute something of your own to the dharohar .”

Original article published in The Hindu