Late last night, or more accurately early this morning at 1 AM, as I was working on the background score of a new feature film, my mobile phone rang. Although the phone ring did not startle me, it did cause a bit of a surprise. Nobody would call at this hour unless it was an emergency. I took the call. It was Hemant Juwekar, journalist from Sakal.
“Sorry to call so late at night. Just wanted your reaction.” He said.
These words always make the worst thoughts pop up into my mind. He sensed my confusion and said, “Haven’t you heard? Kishoritai Amonkar passed away.”
It took a moment for the news to sink in. I don’t think it still has.
There is a certain idea of immortality associated with an artist. I know that even tomorrow, I’ll just turn my iPod on in the morning and Kishoritai’s ‘Narhar Narayan’, vilambit bandish in Raag Bibhas will fill the space and purify the atmosphere of its de-tuned discord.
My mind went back to the three instances where I met Kishoritai.
I was still in college when I had heard Kishoritai live twice before at the Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre. The first concert had been rather disastrous and Kishoritai had not found her ‘sur’ and was a little lacklustre. She was known for her fiery temper and her form (or the lack of it) was not helping at all. She was in a sour mood and I remember having come disappointed from the concert. The second time was a different story altogether. She was in top form. Her sur was a window to divinity. The taans came in a spontaneous flow like a natural spring in succession and even as a concert ended, there was a design in even the spontaneity. For three hours, every single person in the hall was living in the present moment. There was no past and no future! At that moment, I had no inkling that I would be in the field of music, but I considered myself blessed that I could appreciate music.
Years later when I came under the tutelage of Pt. Satyasheel Deshpande, classical vocalist, composer and a thinker, I narrated my experience of two mehfils of the same artist in the same auditorium with almost the same audience in identical circumstances. Satyasheelji gave me a very interesting insight into the khayal gayaki. He told me that the very soul of Indian classical music is spontaneity and improvisation. An average singer who plans his or her mehfil and what they are going to sing will ensure that his mehfil will not go disastrously wrong but won’t surprise the audience. Only the most brilliant of singers could fail in a concert sometimes, simply because that artist is willing to surprise not just the audience but also oneself!
That one sentence gave me an insight into why we stayed in that moment through the concert. It was because Kishoritai herself had the prowess to make a single moment linger for the whole mehfil!
It was 1997 and I was just a couple of albums old music composer aged 26. Through a mutual friend, I met Raghunandan Panshikar (whom we fondly call Raghu Dada), the gifted son of Shri Prabhakar Panshikar, the legendary thespian. We met at the residence of Raghu Dada’s younger sister, Tarangini at Shivaji Park. Raghu Dada was the foremost disciple of Gaansaraswati Kishoritai Amonkar. We know of Kishoritai’s massive contribution to classical music and most music lovers know her song – Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne – from the movie of the same name and her two fantastic Marathi bhavageets – Jaain Vicharit Raanphula and He Shyam Sundar Rajasa. Apart from that she has done some phenomenal work on the Dnyaneshwari and other saint poets of Maharashtra. But her little-known work is that she has composed music for the Govind Nihalani movie – Drishti, starring Dimple and Irrfan Khan’s debut film. The music of Drishti is haunting. The songs written by Pt. Vasant Deo, and based on pure Ragas, were more like bandishes than film songs. It was in Drishti that I first heard Raghunandan’s voice and was floored by the sheer purity of voice. His song ‘Sawaniya Sanjhaa Mein’ is still fresh in my mind like monsoon memories.
So, when I got the opportunity to meet Raghu Dada in person, I was thrilled. We sang for the entire night. At dawn when I went back home, I carried Raghu Dada’s enchanting voice with me, wondering when I would get an opportunity to weave his voice in one of my melodies.
I didn’t have to wait too long. Shri Arun Godbole, a tax consultant from Satara, and my father’s good acquaintance, approached me with a project. He had written some songs in Hindi based on the saint, Samarth Ramdas’s philosophy using the pen name ‘Aanandi’. He wanted me to compose the songs and bring out an album of those songs. He asked if I had any singer in mind and without a moment’s delay, I recommended Raghunandan’s name.
During the recording, Shri Godbole came up with an idea that the album should be inaugurated by none other than Gaanasaraswati Kishoritai Amonkar. Raghu Dada put in a word to Kishoritai and a meeting was fixed. Shri Godbole asked me to accompany him and so one afternoon we proceeded to Kishoritai’s residence in Prabhadevi. We removed our footwear outside the house and went in after a maid opened the door. Kishoritai was known for her unpredictable temper, so we were wary, not sure what to expect. To our relief, she was most cordial and that put us at ease. She complimented me on the music of the album and said that she liked it.
“I’ll come because Raghu is my disciple and I have liked the work of this young man.” She told Shri Godbole, looking at me. Shri Godbole was most obliged. I realised that we were in awe of her not just because of her reputation of being unpredictable but primarily because her knowledge and wisdom inspired awe. She wasn’t called ‘Gaanasaraswati’ – the Goddess of knowledge of music – for nothing!
When we stepped out of her house, we let out of a sigh of relief but the relief did not last long as Shri Godbole’s footwear was not there outside her house! Somebody seemed to have flicked it! Shri Godbole, to his credit, did not lose his good humour and remarked – “Proves that she is a Goddess. Where else but from a temple that one’s footwear is stolen!”
A year or two later, I was approached by Suresh Khare, of Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre to revive P. L. Deshpande – Mangesh Padgaonkar’s radio musical – Bilhan – as a stage programme. The project was tough and challenging because the musical had been performed for All India Radio fifty years back. Since then it was never performed. There was no copy of the script with even Mangesh Padgaonkar, the songwriter of the musical, who asked me to give him a copy of the script after I had transcribed it from the recording – if I could find one! P. L. Deshpande, himself, was not keeping too well. The sole recording of that musical was with Lalji Desai, senior musician and aide of P. L. Deshpande who had performed a small role in the musical at the time. We managed to acquire the recording from Shri Lalji Desai but realised that the cassette was old and the recording was of poor quality. The left speaker only sent out a hiss, making the recording barely audible. With great difficulty, I managed to transcribe the entire script. The show was a big hit and P. L. and Sunitabai Deshpande called me to their Pune residence and gave me a gift for reviving Bilhan.
Dadar Matunga Cultural Centre (DMCC) was encouraged by the response that Bilhan got and we decided to perform another show after a huge public demand. The original cast of Bilhan, half a century back, included Pt. Jitendra Abhisheki and Kishoritai Amonkar. When Kishoritai heard that we had performed Bilhan again and were now about to do a second show, she volunteered to have one rehearsal at her house and guide us. We were, naturally, thrilled at the prospect. So, one evening, we all went to Kishoritai’s place. My friends, Omkar Dadarkar, Ajit Parab, Tanuja Jog, Shilpa Pai, who were singing in the show, also joined me. Kishoritai was most generous with her tips and suggestions. Not only that, she was also highly appreciative of the work we had put into the whole exercise. In fact, she was so happy with the effort that she volunteered to sing in our show! We were, obviously, ecstatic and the good people at DMCC were elated that Kishoritai would be singing. The concert was scheduled sometime in July.
A week before the concert, an ad appeared in the newspaper, where my name as a presenter appeared before Kishoritai’s and that apparently upset her so much that she called the organisers to say that she wouldn’t sing in the concert. I had nothing to do with the insertion of the ad, but nevertheless felt miserable that my name, quite undeservingly, appeared before hers. I also sympathised with the organisers who had no intention whatsoever to hurt or disrespect Kishoritai. But then, she was known for her temperamental behaviour. I called up Kishoritai and she said that she wasn’t upset with me personally but was not at all happy with what had happened. It was obvious that she wouldn’t budge from her position and that put me and the organisers in a spot. If she remained absent, after announcing her name, that wouldn’t go down well with the audience.
As luck would have it, the rain gods were in no mood to relent on the particular day and the concert had to be cancelled! We were saved!
In May 2010, a theatre group from Goa had produced a mega play on Shri Krishna’s life. Prof. Kirti Agashe had invited me for the play. Kishoritai was the chief guest for the event. She was in her late seventies, but seemed significantly younger. I met her in the interval and touched her feet to seek her blessings. I was quite certain that she had forgotten me, but her memory was quite sharp.
“How is your music going?” she asked me. I answered that it was going well. She said, “Remember that ‘sur’ is ‘Parameshwar’.”
I remember having come back with these words in my mind. ‘Sur’ is ‘Parameshwar’. And Kishoritai’s ‘sur’ is immortal. She has passed, but her legacy remains.
P.S. I spent some time checking if I had a photograph of Kishoritai with me, but it transpired that I had photos of Kishoritai on the days of two of the above-mentioned incidents, but none of the photos had me in it! That is destiny!
© Kaushal S. Inamdar 2017
Note – The image used has been sourced from the internet. There is no intention to infringe upon any copyright.