GaanSaraswati Vidushi Kishori Amonkar would have turned 86 today. On her birthday, Vidushi Shruti Sadolikar Katkar remembers Tai and pays a tribute to her music, intellect and art.
Kishori Tai’s passing away is a great loss to Indian classical music and the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. It is a huge personal loss.
During my initial days as a vocalist, Kishori ji‘s presence and music made a huge impact on me. My father (Pandit Wamanrao Sadolikar) and I would attend her concerts. I could understand what she is singing. Ghar mein gana chalta thha (music was practised at home). During the discussions at home, my father would praise Kishori Tai’s music, performance and intellect. He would tell my mother, “Bahut tez ladki hai. (She is a very sharp girl).” Those were marvellous days. Artistes would freely exchange thoughts and bandish (compositions) with each other. There was a generous flow of observations on music, performances and concerts between our seniors. They liked to, and even attended concerts of other artistes. There would be endless discussions on the various aspects of singing, on ragas, on sahitya and grammar. Kishori Tai read a lot and she would participate in some of the discussions actively. During my training from my father, maine in charchaaon ke kaaran bahut kuchh seekha (I picked a lot owing to these discussions); bandishein aur bahut charchaaen (compositions and many discussions). Tai would sometimes quote from the texts she read. She read scriptures. She had read Naaradiya Shiksha deeply and would often refer to it. Tai would always be ready with her valuable inputs. The knowledge seeped into her singing.
Kishori Tai believed that she would have been somewhere else had she received more lessons from her mother, Gaan Tapasvini Mogubai Kurdikar ji. Most of the gurus and senior musicians of those times were dependent on music tuitions for livelihood. As a result, as compared to other students, their own children would get lesser time for taleem. Musicians in those days faced tougher times. There was no dearth of appreciation or respect for them in the society, but the concert fee was much lesser. The gurus’ children would still absorb as much as they could in these circumstances, because the environment was just like a gurukul, where they would soak music very naturally.
Kishori Tai would sing from her mind. Ma ki taaleem mein bahut taakat thhee. Tai’s grasping was awesome. My father would say that even blotting paper is slower than Kishori Tai. She was so quick at absorbing her mother’s musical richness and nuances from various other influences. She sensitised all aspects in singing. Tai was very sure about what she wanted to give and present in her performance.
Kishori Tai was sensitive. She would get things most subtle and was able to say things most subtly, including some very (subtle) suggestions during her communication with her audience. Her mother’s struggles had a huge impact on her.
Kishori Tai was driven by a deep sense of expression. In her, there was a strong need to express herself. This need to express made Kishori Tai and her music profound. It made her a great performing artiste. There was so much to explore in her need to express, and the expression of swara, and singing. Within her, there was an urgent need to articulate whatever came to her mind during the singing. The desire to articulate was strong — as strong as the need to express. She would want to express her thoughts in her way, especially during performances. At the same time, she would even become very upset with things. She wanted things to be perfect. And things that upset her could upset her no end. She would not like any disturbance in the greenroom. This aspect in her would remind me of Kumar ji (Pandit Kumar Gandharv). Also, both Kumar ji and Kishori Tai had a picture ready in their minds about what they are singing and how they want to present it. They would be absorbed in it. It was sukham. Aise waqt par agar kisee ne koi farmaish kardee, to bas, “nahin”. A “no”. There were things forbidden in her musical space.
Kishori Tai was a manaswi artiste. She looked inward. Her singing was within her. Within her Self. Within her mind. For her. Presence — any presence would not affect it and make no difference to that state of mind, to that profound need to express — express herself. The audience was the taker. The listener was the taker. Enjoy with her. Jo de rahe hain, wo le lo. Zyada poochho mat (keep what is offered. Don’t question too much). Don’t criticise. Many artistes of this stature came with the practice of censure. Bura lage kisee ko, ya nahin (whether you like it or not). They did everything on their own terms and conditions.
Tai was deeply hurt by her mother’s hurt. When a parent of that stature is hurt by people, the child is hurt deep. Kishoriji saw her mother being hurt by people. The greats were tough people. They rode on the tide of the strong passion of their art and they overlooked negativity. Sangeet ne unka saathh nahin chhora (music did not leave them). Most of the female artistes of those times went through a lot of humiliation, but music stayed with them and in them. Women performers of today owe a lot to these greats. My father used to tell me that it was because of the struggles of the great woman musicians of those times that women artistes in the field of music are able to enjoy the comforts of the concert scene, air travels, and comfortable stay for performances. Manaswi kalaakaar thhey yeh sab. Music did not leave them and they gave the world so much.
Personally, I feel that Kishori ji was tough. Although she was discarded as temperamental, my experience was different. She was affectionate like the elder person of the family, and if she admonished anyone, it was because of her love for the person. Unke vyavhaar mein bahut apnaapan thha. She encouraged me a lot. “You sang beautifully. Continue to sing like this,” she told me, after a performance, in the early 1970s.
She mastered the mood and bhava. She revered them in principle. She paved her own path and found her way out through what she wanted to present. She could fly and experiment in singing. That hit many people – right in the center. Many would say — “Arre Tai ne yeh kya kar diya! (What has Tai done!)”. Her treatment to Raag Bhoop came as a shock to many people. Then came Raag Yaman. Tai was a creative artiste. She was building, thinking and developing her own within herself. And she would experiment on the spot. She had the key to many music mysteries. Many times, critics would try to get an opinion from me on Tai’s experiments. I would tell them that I have nothing to comment on Tai’s work. How can I comment on the experiments of a creative artiste of her stature? She was constantly unravelling the layers of music. One cannot fathom the flight of her imagination. It is boundless. It is seamless.
Music would open itself to her. She would open it for you. It was only after listening to her that I could musically feel and visualise Bahaduri Todi in all its glory. How to get “Mahadev” in the bandish, so many times, in so many different ways? She sang it at a concert and it opened up for me. Even the raag opened up beautifully for me. I could feel the presence of Ustad Alladiya Khan sahab in that bandish sung by Tai. Ustad Alladiya Khan sahab was the master of blending many ragas into one raga — this aspect of his approach to the raga-swaroop came alive before me in Tai’s singing.
The approach to the melody and method was not lopsided. It had to be developed to reach that level and form. It had to be developed to reach that pinnacle of creativity. Many times, I would notice that other artists singing jod, sankeern and anvat ragas would slip in the course of rendition — or — they would make these ragas come across as very complicated. Tai khol khol kar gaati thheen (she would open and unravel the melody). She knew how to make these ragas entertaining. She would keep the audience spellbound. No one would get up and leave. She would shock people with the ease in singing these ragas, and in her treatment of the ragas. She displayed this power in Raag Lalit Pancham, in Raag Basanti Kanhada and in Bahaduri Todi. She would pour her heart and soul into bhajan and thumri; her bhajan and thumri had the same pain that her Marathi abhang had. The renditions would be so different and fresh.
Many singers tried to copy her. Many tried to emulate her style. You cannot really copy an artist of her stature, because the singing is backed by certain thought process and logic which is very difficult to reproduce. Unka praan suron mein bastaa thha (her praan resided in the swaras). No one else could do what she did. She never compelled anyone and never said that others should sing the way she does. In this quality, she was like Kumar ji.
This great maestro also saw a tough phase in the 1970s. She stopped singing for a while because her throat suffered. There was silence. Everyone was stunned. This, again, was similar to how Kumar ji had to stop singing for a while. Such phases bring a lot of reflection and silence to the artiste. You have to keep your entire life behind that moment when you are not singing. It is, sort of, a new birth. It sees the flowering of a great artiste’s intellect — it is like a transformation — that of a caterpillar into a butterfly. The musician’s art gets a different colour. The greats, like Kesarbai Kerkar ji and Khan sahab also witnessed these testing times in their musical journey. The rebirth and revival of Khan sahab‘s voice led to the emergence of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana in the Indian classical music scene.
Providence! Perhaps Kishoriji, the manaswi artiste, too, got the time to ponder on her art during these difficult times. She could beat the phase with her relentless chintan. It gave a chance, perhaps to reflect — in hibernation — away from the noise. I, too, spent sometime, in 1975, without singing for similar reasons, for six to eight months, but I stood up for myself. I stood up for all that was taught to me by my gurus. I did not want to see it ruined or perishing.
Witnessing Tai’s art was witnessing an amalgamation of three greats of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. It was also a reflection of Ustad Alladiya Khan sahab’s sanskaars and the path shown by him. Apna mann khol kar rakh dena aur kalaa ko apne mould mein daal kar prastut karna.. That is Kishori Tai. I can only try to understand her. I do not claim to fully understand her. I try to understand what she tried to do. I can only analyse it. No one rendition of the same raga was same. It was not a recital. You saw her creating all the time. These days, there are artistes whose concerts sound the same as their recordings. Kishori Tai was a new person in every bhava and every taan. There was a beautiful sense of ownership of swara and melody. Every time, she was able to present a new aspect of the raga. She inherited a treasure of compositions from her gurus and she also created new compositions to suit her music. These were melodies that justified her music. She believed in versatality of compositions — a valuable quality found in Agra gharana, Gwalior gharana, and Jaipur Atrauli. Such is the taleem in these gharanas that you have a bandish to offer for every mood; every angle of the melody, and every roop.
Today, there are many people trying to sing like Tai. They must know that she looked into details. There was logic involved in every approach to music, nuances and intricacies in Tai’s singing. Yeh taan is jagah par aise kyon gayee jaati hai (why a certain taan is sung and used at a certain spot during the singing in a certain way). She used to bring everything out in the open — inside out — uncovered — layer after layer — and deconstructed, she would even reassemble it, in great style, most comfortably, for her disciples, so they know the grace involved in pouring out the renditions with the same bhava. May we be able to understand Tai more and more in the music she has left behind. Her music is our heritage. It is our door to understanding the GaanSaraswati.
(As told to Sumati Mehrishi)