All this written here was just a report of what I saw and heard there. I did not want to miss out on a single detail so I kept taking my notes throughout. One reason for this was, I have been a late starter in the field of music. Luckily I had the technology that gave me lot of information for guiding me in this journey. I wanted to be able to preserve and pass on some of these memoirs of these stalwarts through my writings for others to get inspired and keep faith and keep going on in spreading the joy of music. Today Kishori Ji is definitely rejoicing with her “Sahela”. This time she is there to stay.
This evening was very special for me. It was an evening of many firsts. For the first time I was hearing my Idol Ashwini Bhide ji live. I had an opportunity of hearing Devki Pandit ji live too. And for the first time I got a first hand narration from people very close to Kishori ji on her life and Music and her contribution to a world of which I am also a part of. Though I am a late entrant but I am definitely here to stay. And while writing I was constantly listening to Sahela Re on a loop. It was my way of seeking permission from Kishori ji to write this tribute. My Shradhhanjali!!!
The agenda of Chaupal, Bhavan’s Cultural Association’s monthly program, is never known till Shekhar Sen ji takes over the podium to announce. I was wondering what would be the agenda this time but while leaving my home I was hoping to hear Ashwini Bhide ji live. As I entered from the rear side of the hall, Shekhar Sen ji finished his welcome speech and Devki Pandit ji took to the stage. So I missed the information on what was today’s theme.
Devki ji introduced her first composition in Yaman “Mo Man Lagan Lagi” a composition by Kishori Amonkar ji. She said that Kishori ji as a guru had given her a lot but whatever she could gain from her guru’s teachings were never enough and would always miss her. And just then the side door to the hall opened and I saw Ashwini Bhide ji enter. She took the front row seat for few minutes and got up and left. It took me a while to believe that Ashwini ji was seated just few rows ahead of me and also left as quickly as she entered. Since I was over 1/2 hour late I thought may be she finished singing before I came. While the Yaman coated swars of Devki ji was falling on my ears but I was constantly thinking of missing out on Ashwini Jis performance. And then suddenly Devki ji caught my attention by her swift paltas. Niranjan Lele ji beautifully accompanied her on the harmonium. Almost a 2 minute taan on the harmonium was so encapsulating. Mandar Puranik was accompanying on tabla with equal dexterity.
She melodiously transitioned to Eri Ali Piya Bin. It was very different from the ones I have heard or sung. After the khyal she sang a yaman tarana. Just as she finished, Shekhar Sen ji came up to the Podium and said, “I am very jealous that you got an opportunity to train under Kishori Amonkar ji, and I did not. Since this is a “smriti samaroh” for Kishori ji, please share with us some memories of how she would teach you as a student, how she would hone you, especially how she would scold you all if you made mistakes.”
“OH!” I almost exclaimed aloud. This was a tribute program for Gaana Saraswati Kishori Tai Amonkar, the rare old gem of Indian Classical Music, who left to the heavenly abode on the 3rd of April. I must admit here that I had never heard Kishori Ji. For someone who has learnt Indian classical from very renowned gurus, has never heard any recordings of Kishori ji is a very surprising (read shocking with exclamation marks) thing.
A very soft spoken Devki ji had a bout of cold bothering her and was constantly clearing her throat while singing too but shared so many incidents of Kishori Ji’ being a hard taskmaster. Things like once when Devki ji was down with cold and fever and wanted to skip her class, Kishori Tai insisted that she should attend as she could still hear music even if she can’t sing. When Devki ji would want to go out for a movie with friends, Kishori ji would herself take her to the movies, whereas she would want to go with her friends and not a teacher. But these gestures, reminisced Devki ji, was also the love of the Guru towards her students. Kishori ji would want to have her students always around her and do everything so that they focussed on the art. Remembering one incident, Devki ji said that even in a crowd of 2000-3000 people, if Devki ji made a mistake as her Samvadini on stage, she would be checked immediately. Kishori Ji never minced words and was very forthright with her thoughts.” She said that as learners they would keep chasing her speed of creation. It was beyond their comprehension of what Kishori ji sang and would keep trying to imitate as young learner. But Kishori ji always broke down longer phrases into pieces and explained how it works. She would always know what she was singing and would emphasise on thorough preparation before singing. Kishori ji would explain to them various shades of each note in different Ragas. Like the Kainkini Nishad which was a shade of Nishad that would be so teevra (sharp) that it would almost touch Taar shadaj. Use of Madhyam in Nanad and Bhinna Shadaj, or use of Komal Nishad in Bhimpalasi and Malkauns, the treatments were practically explained with clear distinction to her students. once Devki ji said Kishori ji met her and said I heard you are doing lots of programs and asked her what she sang in the latest one. When Devki ji said Todi, Kishori ji asked her whether she used the Moorchana she had taught. Devki ji said she had forgotten. Kishori ji said “See I teach you all so many things but you don’t remember. You should plan in advance.” Such was her thought process.
On this Shekhar ji asked Devki ji what her thought on the divine connect Kishori ji had with her music. For this Devki ji said Kishori ji always said think beyond your raag. “Raag se upar socho. Pehle khel lo suron se uske baad tumhare program ki asli shuruwat hai. Uske baad kya kehna chahte ho uspar vichar karo.” Play with all the combinations first but your performance starts after all the demonstration of ‘ragdari’. That should be the real element of your performance.
What I remembered most out of her memories was an incident in which Devki ji said that as a teenager, she would always dress up with new, different clothes every class. Once Kishori ji looked at her and said ” nice, every time something new, why doesn’t that happen with your music” Such a deep thought. As a student you may take this as hurtful to your physical appearance or take it as the biggest learning for your artistic growth.
Just as Devki ji finished, Shekhar ji invited Shashi Vyas ji to share his experiences with Kishori ji, who always treated Shashi ji like his son. Shashi ji is the son of late Pt. C R Vyas. His older siblings Suhas Vyas and Satish Vyas took over classical vocals like their father, unlike Shashi ji who practised Chartered Accountancy for 24 years and now is at the service of Music through his Pancham Nishad Creatives. Shashi ji had so many stories. It just kept flowing. Starting from his being the ‘black sheep’ of his family who from childhood had no inclination to music as opposed to his other siblings, he was drawn to Kishori Ji and Bhimsen ji’s music. Once when someone wanted to locate him for some financial advisory and Shashi ji was unreachable, they picked up the morning paper and checked the Kishori ji’s concert details and found him at that venue.
Reminiscing his initial visits to Kishori Ji’s concert (which he would always go sans his family members as he would prefer watching shows his own way) he said he always found her very restless in the first 15-20 minutes of soundcheck. She would complain about everything being not OK. But once she started, her Shadaj would be so strong that the audience would be transported to a different plateau and witness divinity through her. When he asked her she said in her style “Shasya tumhala kay. Tumhi kya gaan hote” (Shashi, why is it your concern. are you going to sing?) But on insisting further she said “That Shadaj which you are talking of makes me restless. The anxiety that whether I will be able to sing that Shadaj properly makes me check everything thoroughly.” Shashi ji said that Kishori ji took it as her responsibility to give the audience the experience of the divine connect hence ensured everything was in perfect order. In his words “Suron ke sath ekagr hokar apna astitva kho dete hai, ye karne ki baat Kishori Ji ke paa thi”. She had the power to become one with the vibrance of the notes.
When asked about her moody nature he said “Na milta Gam to barbadi ke afsane kahan jate. Har kirdar me achayi burayi hoti hai”. Having said that he narrated the story of Dronacharya asking for Eklavyas thumb as Gurudakshina from Mahabharata and said Dronacharya’s logic was since the Eklavya acquired the knowledge by wrong means (secretly observing and learning against guru’s wishes) he would utilise it also for wrong purpose hence the penalty. Thereby justifying the straightforwardness of Kishori ji that there was a purpose behind her being so firm.
Another instance when he had organised Kishori ji’s program, she had clearly stated that she will finish by 12. But her turn came just about midnight, due to other’s starting late. From the stage she pointed the time to Shashi ji “Just 10 min to 12”. Shashi ji said, “you just start. What happens later is between you and the audience” She started with Shankara raag and her Shadaj (Sa) was so powerful and she went on with it till 2.30am. Such is her strength to hold the audience. Post the show when Shashi ji went to drop her she asked him to come over for dinner and asked him about the performance. He just casually said it wasn’t her best. She started explaining that it was because she had too many shows back to back and travelling back and forth had an adverse impact on her performance. Shashi ji said she completely valued constructive criticism so there was not much truth in her rumoured moodiness.
Shashi ji said that when he did his first show, he wanted Kishori Tai’s program in the lineup but when he went to ask her she said “Why do you want my program?” to which Shashi ji said “How does that matter to you. You cant question why. If you are not interested you say no”. She was taken aback by his response and said “How can you talk to me like that”. Shashi ji explained to us in his own funny way “Does any child while speaking to his mom think about logic, NO. When you have to say something to your wife you will plan it, time it, word it appropriately and still if it is not ok at the moment, avoid it. ” Everyone burst out laughing. “That was the relationship I had with Kishori ji. I never answered straight to her and she would jokingly keep saying I allow you here because you are CRVyas jis son.” Said Shashi ji. He said that it was a ritual that everytime he approached her for a show, she would say no, but very next morning call up to ask if he seriously meant that she had to sing and would check the details.
But as he said Kishori Ji always said she would want to pass away quietly without any troubles for others, in the service of Music. And that’s the way it was. She quietly passed away in her sleep after her Riyaz.
After a short break, Ashwini ji was invited to the stage. Ashwini ji’s mother Manik Bhide ji was trained with Kishori ji and Kishori ji always insisted Manik Bhide ji to accompany her in concerts. Ashwini ji mentioned that once Kishori ji went to just listen to a late night concert and Manik ji did not go along for some reason. In the middle of the concert Kishori ji wanted to sing and organisers were more than happy to oblige. But her only condition was that Manik will have to be sent for. So at 1.30 am , Manik ji was woken from her sleep and taken to the venue. Ashwini Bhide ji said one very important thing about Kishori Ji was that she never repeated her compositions in her concerts. “She sang Mharo Pranam and left it there for others to sing and improvise. No one came closer to what she created though. She created footprints and moved to create more for others to follow.” Said Ashwini ji.
Ashwini Bhide ji presented Raag Bhupali. The first one was a compositon by Kishori ji ‘Pratham Sur Sadhe’ which she said she will not elaborate but next one in Matta Taal (9 matras) was completely meditative.
‘Prabhu Tum Data Suran Ke
Tori Kripa Se Hum Gawat hai
Nit Tero Dhyan Dharat Hu
Deho Ashish Deho’
This was followed by the Tarana- Ni ta re dare dani . She said she deliberately did not sing “Sahela Re” because it just wasn’t her time and place and calibre to attempt it. I was wondering how humble are these stalwarts.
Siddhesh Bicholkar on harmonium was in complete sync with Ashwini ji’s style. His fingers were gently gliding over the keys and
A very interesting offering she made to Kishori Ji’s memorial concert was a medley of Kishori Ji’s compositions in Ektaal beginning with Nand “Aja Re balamwa” going to Miyan Malhar “Umad Ghumad Garjat Hai” and ending with Khambavati ” ”
The concert concluded with a duet by Ashwini Ji and Devki Ji’s Mharo Pranam. What a beautiful composition by Kishori ji and what a beautiful rendition by the duo.