No swara, for my father, exists by itself, not even the shadja. The shadja of a raga exists in relation to other swaras of the raga, especially to its nearest swaras, either in ascent or in descent. Hence, the shadja of a raga is not a neutral swara, but a ‘loaded’ or ‘coloured’ swara. The shadja of a raga may have perceptibly the Aas, the Kan (touch), the Sparsh of other nearby related raga-swaras. For instance, the shadja of Yaman has the Aas of the Yaman dhaivat and the amshatmak Nishad of Yaman. The amsh Nishad is not pronounced, but its presence is imperceptibly felt. As my father once put it, “The Shadja makes its entry in its proper attire like it were a character on stage”. We cannot mistake it for shadja of any other raga. Every other swara of a raga enters in its proper attire. Hence each swara, including the shadja assumes its own identity or individuality. But it needs a lot of patience to be able to appreciate and master this aspect of swaras and needless to say, a competent guru who can patiently groom the shishya.
Now I know what my father meant by ‘kharj riyaaz/mehnat which he used to do every morning when I was young. He used to practice the shadja of a particular raga in various ways to achieve the desired effect. For at least half an hour or so, he never used to go beyond Gandhar of the madhya saptak. Between the Pancham of mandra saptak and the Gandhar of Madhya saptak he would swim about moving gradually from one swara to the other. It seemed as though the second swara was emanating from the previous one. This gives a certain sense of continuity among the swaras. No khatkas, no murkis, no taans during the first half hour. I suppose, this method gives a certain resonance and stability to shadja. Also, he would employ ‘eekar’, ‘ukaar’ and ‘aakar’ while doing kharj mehanat. He used to vary the amptitude of swaras in all these three manners. He would maintain stability over swaras for long duration, to the utmost of his breath control. Whenever the shadja seemed a little tremulous or unstable, he would cut off clear his throat, take a long breath and begin again. This had obviously helped him to develop great ‘dam sas’ or ‘breathe control / duration’. Over the years, he had gained such stupendous breath control that when he would stop over the tar shadja, he would seem to make the listeners gasp for breath. It would seem as though they were running out of breath.
He had also developed an immense stability and resonance as he held the tar shadja. Many listeners and music critics have marveled at the fact that even at the age of 80, he could hold the audience spell bound by his tar shadja. Many listeners experienced the feeling that whenever he employed the tar shadja, it would merge with the shadja of the tanpuras. At such times, it was as if a third tanpura was playing and there was no human voice involved. So effective was his music.
I can recall his ‘aakar’ tar shadja pronounced in awe and majesty in his rendering of ragas like Paraj or Sampurna Malkauns. It used to be more than full-throated, full-chested, one might say. But always it used to be pin-pointed like the indicator of the jeweler’s weighing machine. It used to cost him a lot of energy, especially in his late 70s, but even then at 79, 80, 81, it hardly trembled. Only during the last couple of years, he would leave the upper octave to me. But whenever I was not accompanying him, he would summon the energy he had developed all through his life, summon out all his hidden resources and employ the upper octave swaras. One can only explain this phenomenon as a ‘tapasya’ of a life time. One does marvel at the capacity his lungs had developed over the years. And the irony of ironies is that these very lungs which had more than co-operated with him in singing, what with all his smoking, these same lungs finally cheated him by contracting cancer.
His long and continuous smoking would sometimes create minor barriers / problems which he would easily overcome by coughing and as Shri Ramesh Nadkarni put it, ‘Never was his coughing besur while singing!’