My Father and My Mother

We learned from our mother that in his twenties and thirties, my father was somewhat a hot tempered young man. Musically, these were the years when he was on the boil, imbibing the stern discipline of the Gwalior Gharana – a discipline which had curtailed his freedom of musical expression of the stage. Apart from this curtailment of his ‘musical freedom’, he had to provide for his family which had started expanding with the birth of his eldest daughter in 1940, my birth in 1942, my younger sisters in 1945, 1947, 1949. By the time he was forty, there were five children to be fed and brought up. He had no regular income. There was no help from his parents and he had chosen to come away with his wife from the ancestral home. Now and then he would get a contract to compose theatre music and very rarely musical concerts on a regular basis. By then, he had moved into the Atrauli-Jaipur Gharana – no mean shift this was, a sea change from one established personality to another in the making. A short while later, Manji Khan died leaving my father all bewildered at sea. At the behest of Bade Miyan, Alladiya Khan Saheb, Burji khan took him as a disciple, which was even more exacting than his two year stint with Manji. As he was to say later on, “with the seemingly unfettered and free flowing music of Manji Khan where I was wandering carefree in the world of boundless imagination. When I came to Burji Khan, I realized I had to be necessarily tethered and it was a difficult period of learning”.

My mother would tell us how she stood mortally afraid of my father’s temper until my eldest sister and I were born. (True, it was that he had chosen to cut off / severe all connections with his kith and kin because of what he perceived as ill-treatment of his wife by them). Only his mother loved and cared for his wife. My mother would tell us how her mother-in-law would secretively make her daughters-in-law eat something or the other before her sons came to eat. Being a male dominated family with all the males taking turns to play the role of master and lord of the house, what with the daughters of the house too lording over the daughters-in-law, there was no recourse but do things like eating tit-bits on stealth with the kind mother-in-law winking at them. Although my mother had escaped the harassment of people at her in-law’s place, here in her new home, she had to avoid rubbing my father’s aunt on the wrong side. And this aunt of my father gleefully assumed the role of the typical mother-in-law. My father had taken on rent one of the many houses his aunt owned and she lived next door. Only a door separated my mother’s house from her’s. And this old woman / my father’s aunt would keep ready a list of complaints against my mother as my father returned from his tours – complaints like wasting one or two morsels of food, neglecting to fetch in dried clothes, using a shade too much of oil in the curry – all petty omissions and commissions. The matter had become such a routine affair to my father that every time he returned, he would be expecting his aunt to call for him and would not stop until he took it out of my mother. But when we were born and gradually began to sense the significance of my father shouting at my mother, it would be difficult for us to hide our amusement at such scenes because we were more than convinced that my father was doing it more out of deference to this elderly aunt than in earnest with my mother knowing it. Between my elder sister and myself, I was the one who would stand dumb in fear at my father’s raving and ranting. My eldest sister would comfort me by explaining to me that all this was not for real. Even today, the two of us can recall these scenes very vividly. My father would be shouting at my mother standing near the door which separated our home from my ‘grandmother’s’ home, sometimes throwing things in every direction, excepting the one where my mother stood amused. Perhaps, my ‘grandmother’ would be satisfied at this. She never really investigated the truth and when she asked us whether my father beat and abused our mother, we would say ‘yes’. And then she would give us sweets! My father was a great manager of men and matters. He hardly ever antagonized his kith and kin, he tried to please them, but with concern for his wife and children always at his heart.

My mother was unlettered and traditional in her attitude and beliefs. All attempts of my father to ‘modernize’ her proved futile. He even brought her ‘printed sarees’ from Bombay, but she would not even touch them. She would be dressed in the typical ‘Dharwari saree’ worn by common people. Only later in life she condescended to wear slightly superior ‘Dharwari sarees’. It did not take long for my father to realize that behind this “country village woman” (as he would sometimes jestingly tease her), there was a woman of great resolve and resilience. When we grew up, my father would repeatedly say, “I don’t know how I could have managed without this woman for my wife. I cannot think of myself and my achievements without her”. In one of his replies to a felicitation, my father proudly acclaimed my mother’s contribution to his career. His home front with a wife like her was an impregnable castle and he didn’t have to worry overmuch so long as she was there. Not only did he have unswerving trust in her, but he also had great respect for the woman who stood solidly by him with never a complaint that would disturb him. “She is made of steel, son. Nothing disturbs her to distraction”, he would say. In all my life, I would see my father cry only twice. Once it was when I, as a young boy, had run away from home and had returned. He had then pressed me to his bosom and sobbed uncontrollably. The second time was when my mother passed away. His eyes were red with weeping when he realized that the woman who had loved, cared and worshipped him was no more. It was the greatest grief for him. He had lost his mother and grieved. He had lost his gurus and grieved. When he lost his wife, he grieved as though there was nothing that he could lose any more. For the next ten years of his life after her death, he greatly missed her. She had been his compassionate and understanding companion since his childhood. 

My mother was fully aware of my father’s worth as a musician although she did not know the names of ragas and other technicalities. But she immensely enjoyed listening to his music. Even as she would be involved in household chores, one ear would always be open to his singing. Here was a woman who had fondly listened to her man singing, doing his daily practice at all odd hours and she would never dream of complaining. The more he practiced, the more she cared for him, giving him to eat the best that was available, the best dishes she could make. In so far as his food was concerned, my mother was very particular – cooking fresh meals twice a day, hot rotis and bhajis for lunch and for dinner to the very end of her life. As a child I remember my mother baking the roti until it puffed up like a ball and she would quietly push in two or three spoons of ghee inside it and place it in his plate – very like an indulgent mother feeding her dear child. She gave him milk and tea as soon as she realized he needed something hot for his tiring throat. He didn’t have to ask for anything. Like the Gin of Allauddin’s magic lamp she was there to serve her man. Even when she was severely affected by rhemetoid-arthritis in her sixties, when she could barely walk into the kitchen, with the wall to support her and with her twisted fingers she would make hot rotis for my father. She would not let my sisters make rotis for him. For many months the walls of our house bore her finger-marks as she went into the kitchen to cook for her husband. Love and care was written all over in these finger-marks. She would not even listen to my father forbidding her from taking such trouble for his sake. She would merely say, “That’s no trouble at all. I’ll do rotis for you until I am alive”. My father would plead his helplessness at such devotion. He also knew that in serving him she derived great pleasure. Although she did not indulge in traditional form of worship of God, she prayed for the good of her husband, his success and his long life and for her children’s welfare. My father, who was a deeply religious man, would sometimes say, “Son, your mother has not enough belief in God”. To which, I would say, “Her family is her temple, Appa. She finds her God in looking after her family”. Although my explanation seemed to convince him, he would still be left wondering if she was a godless person. But she was god fearing. At her dying moments, my father was still struggling to instill the concept of his kind of God into her. 

Having listened to his music for a number of years, she had come to like it so much that she would not listen to the music of others. In case, one of us happened to be listening to the music of other people, she would brusquely say, “Turn it off. It’s nothing like your father’s”. She would even pass “judgments” on my father’s music in her own naïve but meaningful way and my father would calmly take them with due respect to her responses. For instance, if he happened to indulge more in phirats or gamaks, she would say, “What’s this, you were spiraling only in tans from beginning to end!” and my father would turn to one of us and say, “It’s very difficult to please your mother with my singing”. And then he’d burst out into his loud, childlike laughter. At which my mother would persist on her opinion and say, “Yes, you did too much of phirat. Later when I began to give vocal support to my father, she would say, “Why don’t you give more scope to your son? It will give you some much needed rest and him some experience”. 

My father would take my mother to his concerts in and around Dharwad, invariably to to his performances at Murughamath, at Ulavi and Yediyoor – all religious places where my father performed as Seva. He would also take her to his felicitations. And there she would be sitting graciously in the front row and beaming with pleasure inside herself. Never once did she show signs of pride or haughtiness. She was well composed and carried herself with dignity.

It is no exaggeration to say that my father was able to devote himself unswervingly to the pursuit if his goal in music mainly because he had such companion in my mother. She never interfered in his career as a musician. My father writes in his autobiography: 

One day I overheard a neighbor chastising my wife thus: ‘I have heard that your husband refuses to take up the concerts he has been invited to. He does not even go to AIR for recordings. Why are you indulging him? You must force him to earn a living. If he had accepted the offers, you would have been financially secure. I cannot bear to see your unending suffering’. My wife calmly replied, ‘Singing is his profession, I am a simple housewife and its intricacies are beyond me. It is immaterial to me whether he accepts the programmes or not. I am content to support him during his sadhana. When I see him doing rigorous riyaz for 7 to 8 hours, I get immense satisfaction.’ She thus defended me several times when “well meaning” neighbours advised her. I am glad that I did not have a ringmaster for a wife who would compel me to accept programmes. If she had nagged me, I could not have reached greater heights in the field of music. She walked hand in hand with me through thick and thin and was always there to cheer me up when I was feeling low (P, 68).