On March 2, 2007, I attended a concert of Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia, accompanied by one of his disciple, Sunil, and one of the most versatile Tabla player of his age, Pt. Vijay Ghate. The Tanpura player (she was a young girl), I could not get her name. The troupe had come to present their art in the heritage festival that was hosted in our town–Nabha.Obviously, it was one of our most-cherished dreams to watch Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia play live. And, again very obviouly, we enjoyed to our heart’s content, and the bliss that we experienced in that concert is beyond the expression-power that words of any language contain. It was one-of-its-kind, and almost a rare opportunity that other friends of mine missed–just due to the fact that they are working in some other towns and could not come because it was a working day.
Anyway, let me tell you something more about this concert. When Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia came on to the stage, we stood up and paid him, as they call it, standing ovations. He settled down on the stage, sitting like we sit on the bed–dropping his legs on its side. He balanced the mike and allowed other accompanists to settle down. Then he acknowledged the crowd and told that he was going to play Raga Pilu Bihag. He would take some Alaap in it; then would go on to Jod, Jhaalaa, and then to Gat. It was a master-piece to hear those sounds emanating from the flute that seems almost impossible-to-hold. He uses such a large bamboo flute that one would feel almost unable to comprehend the dexerity of his fingers. His disciple, Sunil, was accompanying him during this Alaap. It is noticeable here that during Alaap, the Tabla player does not take part. This sometimes makes people uneasy, but to a true classical music lover, this is one of the finest part of one’s art.
Anyway, after around 20-25 minutes of this artistery, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia signalled Pt. Vijay Ghate to start his intrument. I must, at this point, point out that I had had heard the name of Pt. Vijay Ghate, but i never heard his instrument, and perhaps never saw his picture. He is strongly built and supports long curls, which are almost trademarks of Tabla player. However, he lived up to the expectations and perhaps exceeded them. More of this master later!
After the Gat Part started, it was almost mesmerizing. At some point, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia pointed to the moon that was almost above their head, and seemed to be enjoying the beautiful presentation of musical mastery. We were almost spellbound, it seemed, by the duel that they were engaged in–they call it Jugalbandi. Oh my God, they were almost matchless, but at no time, it appeared that they do not know their music earlier (it is importance to note here that Indian classical music is based on 90% of improvisation. No player knows what he or she is going to play, leave aside the knowledge of accompanists. The compositions of live concerts depend upon the mood of the player, mood of the accompanist, and mood of the audience.
After this Raga, which ended on a very high and speedy note, where the curls of Pt. Vijay Ghate also played their part, Pt. Hari Prasad again took the mike to speak something. The next day, we had the festival of Holi. So, he proposed that he would play Holi and then would ask the audience to suggest some Raga that they would like to listen. At this juncture, we started thinking about what Raga we would suggest. Raga Shivranjani came to my mind; my friend suggested Raga Bhairavi. However, we were a bit skeptical about the timings of these Ragas. Then I thought about Raga Jhinjhoti. Anyway, the concert was going on great with that Holi Dhun, and we were enjoying it. After Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia completed that composition, he asked the audience to propose some Raga. Obviously, I was the first one to speak–Shivranjani, I blurted out. He thought about it (it means that the timings was right at least), and then said that he would need to play some dhun in it. Propose something else! Another person from the audience suggested Raga Bhairavi. “It is played in the morning”, Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia told that guy. We were a bit apprehensive about naming this Raga–the timing of this Raga is the early morning when at the break of dawn. Again, i blurted our, Raga Jhinjhoti. “Yea, this is a good Raga”, he said. My friends congratulated me for a good proposal appreciated by the master himself. However, in between these congratulations, he suggested that whether he should play Raga Hamsdhwani, which I missed hearing it. Nobody replied, as the question was directed for me. He repeated and then someone else supported that he should play it. Okay, he started playing this Raga. I love this Raga, as I have heard someone other singing in this Raga.
To say the least, it was one of those nights that anybody would like to enjoy and remember. The Jugalbandi part of their presentation was almost breathtaking, where Pt. Vijay Ghate also made us to laugh. It seemed that he was almost lost in his own music.
Okay, now some words on this master of Tabla. He hails from Madhya Pradesh (this i read later). I must say that i have never seen anyone playing Tabla with such a confidence and authority. Though there are some other undisputable Tabla masters, who stand as unparalleled exponents of this art, but the confidence and the enjoyment that he experienced were matchless. Indeed, it was a unique fortune to hear him in one’s own town, performing live! It seems that his fingers are made of iron. His strokes were more than clear and they almost had a impact on our minds and heart–percussionists as they call them! It was indeed one of the best performance or even music that I ever heard. I must say that i have not touched Tabla after hearing him–I feel ashamed of me when i think what he played and how I play it! 🙂
Anyway, the best still remains–due to lesser attraction for classical music in our town, we had a fairly less crowd. This means that we could have easy access of those masters. It happened that we entered their green room and were able to be clicked with them. And suddenly, from nowhere it seems, Pt. Vijay Ghate approached with some muffled sounds that who would pick up his heavy Tabal set and place it in the car. I promptly offered my services, for, it was almost a blessing for me to be able to touch that instrument. He smiled and agreed. We, three of us, took that instrument and walked towards the car where it could have been parked. The disciple of Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia was accompanying us for that small walk. However, after some time, we returned to the place from where we had started–the driver drove the car to the place where they were standing. Okay, we returned to that place, placed the instruments in the car, and almost made them to sit in the car. Then I again interacted with Pt. Vijay Ghate, who was very humble in his approach and was very nice to speak to me. We were thrilled and overjoyed with this close interaction and audience with all these people. Then the car drove away taking those masters to their hotel.
The enjoyment and bliss that we could share and experience was almost unabating–the concert of flute ended with another famous artist performing: Pt. Bhajan Sopori, the mastereo of Santoor from the valleys of Kashmir was on the stage. We noticed him in the green room also when we were gaining a glimpse of Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Pt. Bhajan Sopori was accompanied by Ustad Rafiuddin Sabri on Tabla. The balance of the sound system was a bit terrible, and at one stage the master was almost angry with them for not giving them the balance that he wanted. Anyhow, the concert went on, and we enjoyed some blistering, as I would say, strokes of hammers on the strings of Santoor.
It is important to mention here that the design and construction of Santoor used by Pt. Bhajan Sopori and Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma are quite different. I learnt that Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma has lesser number of strings (the Santoor is supposed to have 100 strings); perhaps around 93 only. Moreover, it seems that he uses steel instead of copper. The sound of copper and steel is easily distinguishable in the instruments used by both the masters. However, I must mention that the range and style of Santoor playing is almost matchless–Pt. Bhajan Sopori did those things, which almost seemed impossible with Santoor.
Ustad Rafiuddin Sabri was also very good at playing–he matched stroke with stroke. We enjoyed his Tabla, and alter when we got some chance to converse with them (again a sheer luck), we mentioned him that it was beautiful.
Pt. Bhajan Sopori was more interactive during his presentation–he even provided his voice in order to make us understand what he is playing. He dialated on some aspects of Patiala Gharana to which our town belonged. He even mentioned that he was able to create more pieces when he was able to see our faces! 🙂 It was a indeed a great retreat to our ears.
When the concert was over, we quickly moved towards the green room for the artists–we again offered to pick the Tabla for Ustad Rafiuddin Sabri, who willingly offered us to do so. Then, as we never imagined, we were able to converse with Pt. Bhajan Sopori for a long time. I guess the talk went for around 10-15 minutes. Then we get his visiting card also. It was most thrilling to be with those masters behind the stage–we have almost dreamt of such things and have wondered what it could feel like standing with them and watching them talk–now it was happening before our own eyes, and they were talking to us.
The day was one of the most memorable day that I could count on my fingers–we were able to experience a total bliss with these twin concerts. The willingness of artists and their company made it a heaven for us. I personally never anticipated this thing happening–I never dreamed even that we would be able to touch their instruments and handle them; to talk with them so freely; and to make them sit in the car. It was really amazing and most wonderful.