Awards and Honours

Most artists indulge in artistic creativity generally to display their works in order to achieve fame and / or money. But great artists do so in order to please themselves by their self-expression. For these artists, the fact that their creations give pleasure to others is a secondary consideration. My father always said and believed that he performed to please himself. And this was true. He never bothered who his audience was. Since he sang for self-satisfaction, he was never after awards, honours, felicitation, titles etc. I have never known him to have requested anybody recommend him for any of the honours and awards. “Caring for recognition, awards, medals etc would force you to make compromises with your art. You will have to cater to the tastes of the audience. I believe in raising the tastes of my audience to my standards. If they are not pleased, well, let them stay away from my performances and as always sing for myself”, he would say. It is not that he had no regard for the audience. On the contrary, he had great love and respect for an audience which would accept his art on his principles.

From the very beginning of his music career, awards, honours, titles have all come unsolicited. And that explains why awards and honours started coming late, very late by today’s standards, in his career. After the two titles, ‘Sangeeta Ratna’ and ‘Gandharva Ratna’, conferred upon him in 1930 by his admirers in Gadag and Athani respectively, for the next thirty-two years no awards came his way. It was that in 1962, he received the Karnataka State Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and six years later, he was given the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award. During these awardless thirty-two years, I have not seen him either complaining or cribbing. During these years, most of his contemporaries in the field of music already had many awards under their belt. My father’s mind was set not upon awards or honours, but on perfecting his art, on honing his art to perfection, to the best of his ability. Also, he would not indulge in wire pulling and / or canvassing or even cultivating people who mattered. Whenever I would pointedly refer to this musician or that musician being given a particular award or title, he would catch the drift of my meaning and he would disarm me by saying, “Good, let them get the awards. Why don’t you see the point that musicians are being accepted by the public? I have seen times when classical music and musicians were almost treated as untouchables. And these people, may be they deserved the awards”. When I said, “But, why not you?”, he said, “Son, they will come when God wills it”. And come, they did in great numbers after he was awarded the Padmashri in 1970. The floodgates of awards and honours simply opened up to him. Between 1970 and 1992, he received any number of these awards and honours which he received in all humility. From time to time, private institutions, music circles and government cultural agencies began vying with one another to shower him with awards and honours. The press and connoisseurs called him “musician’s musician”, “the Doyen of Jaipur Gharana”, “The Titan”, “The Legend” and “what not” (his remark!). Surprisingly, none of these went to his head. Even as late as 1990, he would say to me and to his close friends, “How little of music do I know compared to my gurus! They were oceans of music and I was a thirsty man. But how much of the ocean could I drink? Just a few handfuls!” He said at the time of one of his felicitations in Bombay. “I am getting these awards and honours simply because all the great masters have gone”. The listeners thought he was making a joke and they laughed. I knew, he said it in dead earnest. He never kept count of the awards, honours and citations. Neither did he keep them in a safe place, my younger sisters, Girija, Mahadevi did try to keep at least some of them safely. Whenever I asked him about them, he would say, “Son, they are there somewhere”. However, I have treasured many of the citations, articles, books, reviews so that they could be of use to somebody working on his music. Of all the awards and honours, he seems to have appreciated the country’s prestigious “Kalidas Samman” (1981) award of Madhya Pradesh. If no awards, no honours, no felicitations went to his head; neither did any criticism go to his heart. “It’s all part of the game called living, son. Everything is attributable to God”, he would say philosophically. I was present in the Rashtrapati Bhavan Hall when he received the Padmavibhushan Award in 1992. A day prior to the ceremony, all the ‘Padma’ awardees were given a rehearsal of how they should conduct themselves during the actual ceremony. My father found it rather amusing. On the ceremonial day, we were taken to the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi. As the ceremony began and my father’s name was announced, time stood still for me, watching him receive the award. Here was a man from one of the innumerable and countless villages of India, a man who had dedicated his all for music sadhana, a frail figure of 82 in a simple dhoti and kurta, moving towards the then President of India, R. Venkatarman, to receive one of the country’s highest awards. When I wondered how could this have been possible, three truths dawned upon me – first, his gurus gave him unreservedly, second, his continuous tapasya bore fruit and finally, his unflinching faith in his gurus – both spiritual and musical. As he moved towards the President, my heart missed a beat or two because he was avoiding the red carpet and had to be ushered to walk on it! This simple, god-loving man perhaps wanted to shun the limelight, not knowing or not to know that this was his D-Day and the red carpet was specially rolled out for people like him to tread on. And back home, relating about the ceremony to all my sisters, he highlighted the fact that he had seen film actors like Amitabh Bachchan and Manoj Kumar at the tea with the President! When my sisters persisted in knowing how he felt receiving the award, he simply said, ‘Nothing, daughters. It was just one of those things’. Such disarming simplicity was his nature.