At Kolkata residence of Jon Barlow 91/1B Bondel Road, Kolkata 700019 [Ballygunge Phari]
About Jon Barlow
A man in pursuit of Indian Classical Music for more than fifty years. Learnt sarod, vocal music, music collector, music craftsman, photographer, artist, music theorist.
Ali Akbar Khan, 1963, Sydney, Maihar, David, Chandni Chowk, Delhi, 1971, Radhika Mohan Maitra, sarod, Umar Khan, Kalighat, Burma Teak, Siddhartha Roy Choudhury, Tun, Picnic Garden Road, Tanpura, Box-Tanpura, Imrat Khan, Nibruttibua Sarnaik, V.G. Jog, Dilshad Khan, Bablu, Hemen Sen, craftsmanship, Manas Chakraborty, instrument making
Bankim Ghosh, 1950’s, partition, East Pakistan, Esraj, tuition, multiple instrument player, 1982, All India Radio, Nikhil Banerjee, wishes, waiting
Samir Chatterjee speaks:
This is about the time when Calcutta was reshaping itself. Independence was in 1947, at the time East Pakistan was created, we know about the consequences of that- across the border area in the east and the west, what happened… Many of the Hindu musicians decided to leave Bangladesh and the nearest area they could think off was Calcutta. So they were all moving to Calcutta. One of such musicians was Pandit Bankim Ghosh. No one ever heard of him. He came from District Barishal and somehow landed in our house. He came into our house before I was born. I was born in 1955 so, I am talking about 52/53 – around that time he came in. As I started growing up, that was my initiation in music…. My mother became his disciple. What was his main instrument that you get to hear very rarely these days – Esraj. His father was a very renowned (musician), we found mention of his father’s name in some of the old books of music history. I did not get any chance to listen his father but I could imagine how his father was through his playing. I was nearly 3/ 4 years old and his routine was he would wake up late in the morning and then would clean himself up, had his tea and then listen to radio and then picked up and tuned a few instruments every now and then; earning his living by private tuition he had to play few other instruments and I was amazed to see he was able to pick up any instrument and played (flawlessly). We hear about Ustad Alauddin Khan Sahab was able to do that. At that time there (were something in the) few other people also less known who had same kind of ability. In front of my own eyes I saw him to play the Flute, Violin, Harmonium, Guitar. As Guitar came in he said,” Yes, I can play it, give me the instrument”. Gyan Babu also something like that, this kind of versatility we could see in him; but his (Pandit Bankim Ghosh) main instrument was still Esraj. And, — after the lunch, late lunch at 1.30 or 2’o clock, then he will take a short nap. And then go out for tuition at 3 or 4 o clock. He will dress up and leave and he would see me, he would like to see me every now and then throughout the course of the day. That was his waiting but my waiting started until he came back home. At that age I would be put to bed at 9 o’ clock and it was quite a struggle for me to pretend being asleep for 2 hours until he came at 11 p.m. My mother knew that I was not sleeping from the blinking of my eyes. She was sometimes come and scrolled me (saying that),” Now I am going to hit you , you have to go to school and still you are not sleeping”. She knew the reason. I would wait for him to come back home and knock on the door. Usually his wife opened the door….in the quiteness of the night , I could hear every sound and knew what he was doing . He would rinse his mouth with water and he would ask for the meal then lit up the bidi and he would pick up the Esraj.
I was just waiting for the first note, which inevitably put goose-bumps. Then for half an hour or 45 minutes or 1hour…all the duration he was practicing I would be in tears.
Later on, when I was teaching at Yale University one of my students, when I asked them to write article on their experience of music. One of my students wrote that……she started the first paragraph like this — the first sentence was this …..”no one ever cries in our family … we had deaths ..we had accidents ..we had tragedies….but we have never seen anyone cries in our family. Only the time I saw my father crying was when he listens music. So this is how…this is what … this is whom I owe my musical sensibility. “
If my music can ever…..you know I play Tabla… and I always had this question that; will I be limited in scope? In 1982 that was actually what put me restless and I picked up several locations to quit my job at All India Radio because in my book ‘ Music of India ‘ – in the front of the book I confessed that until my late youth I thought that music is divine, musicians are not. I didn’t have examples in front of mine or around me….to encourage me to really take music as a profession.
So in 1982 when I was touring with Pandit Nikhil Banerjee I gave it a second thought that, if this man can be in music, may be, I can give it a shot. I did not know him well enough yet, but I smelt something …. I see something there which I had not seen much around me. I won’t say that there were not any other person at all, there might have a been a few, but not enough to convince me to engage, to dedicate my entire life…. It’s my life, Sanjoy, I am talking about. And I had a clear vision of my life that how I want it to spent the years on this planet. So he gave me that impetus, that encouragement that and convinced me that I could give it a shot. In one of those 3 months I asked him directly this question, “Dada, you have your Sitar, and it seems to me that you can practically express any of your emotions through the Sitar. What am I going to do with the dead skins “. He was, he barely spoke, — he put some Pan-Parag into his mouth….and then just go quite….then one/two days had gone…..he knew that I’m not going to give up, I would bring up the question again and he was thinking….clearly thinking……3 days later when I asked him again during the lunch break …. just briefly said-” If you wish”.
Sanjoy Bandopadhyay: wow!
Samir Chatterjee: There are 2 things we are not ready to do with sincerity- wishing and waiting. When you wish something be careful because if you wish anybody or something continuously…… you may get answered….and imagine this was happened in 1982…..in 1996 when my son was putting up my website, he needed my bio data and I gave him it and he said,” give me your press comments”, so all the press comments I had saved I put it together with bullet points….. some of those were in Bengali , in Hindi or in English . Then once I organize them what comes out…..I read through it….I became alert of something……and then I realize that all of the reviews I had received so far were talking about the melodious aspect…… musical aspect of my Tabla.
Sanjoy Bandopadhyay: So you got that…
Samir Chatterjee: I was amazed! Not just convinced but I was amazed. I was not even aware….it was happening. So this is how things shape up naturally and that’s what I would say you not as an advice just a humble recommendation to all musicians of our next generation that keep you intend straight and honest.
All India Radio, Karamatullah Khan, Shyamal Bose, 1980’s, theka, change over, handing over, accompanaiment, tabla
Samir Chatterjee speaks:
Told by : Samir Chatterjee
This is a beautiful episode, the essence of this could be admiration, love affection and the expression of that is very strange. So, Ustad Karamatullah Khan Sahab was designated for a duty at the All India Radio for a recording session.
He was suppose to play with a singer and Khan Sahab for some reason was late and the singer waited…waited…waited and waited….then finally everyone was ready- other accompanists over there- everything in tune. Pandit Shyamal Bose Ji was around, he was also one of the staffs of that time and when things were heating up a little bit, the musician was almost angry and upset waiting for such a long time, Pandit Shyamal Bose Ji said them,” May I please? Then when Khan Sahab comes he will take over”. So Shyamal Bose Ji tuned the tabla and he started playing. Halfway through the vilambit, Khan Sahab appears. He comes and sees through the glass window and says, ”Oh! Shyamal is already started playing – may I go in please?” [He asked the persons who was recording]. The recordist says, ”Yeah, but we have to shut all doors and so that there is no noise and you have to go and catch up immediately “. ShyamalJi; his nature was if he starts, the music starts, he gets into the music and his eyes were closed. Khan Sahab went in so surreptitiously that Shyamal Bose Ji did not even know this Khansahab coming in, walking through all the floor, which is studio number – 9, which is quite a large studio, designated for Western Music recording, at least one piano I remebre, one or two pianos.
So he walked through the bare area of the floor onto the carpet, standing right behind Shyamal Bose Ji and ShyamalJi didn’t even noticed that Khan Sahab was standing behind him. So Khan Sahab’s only option was to make a physical alert and he chose to stick his big toe inside ShyamalJi’s butt. ShyamalJi woke up and how they transfer the theka from ShyamalJi to Khan Sahab. There was not a single note missing.
With such affection… its rare, very rare. ShyamalJi enjoyed that episode and told us this episode with reverence , that you know…..
Prof. SanjoyBandopadhyay : Do you remember around which time it might happen?
Samir Chatterjee: Definitely not before I joined All India Radio ….I came to Calcutta in 1981…so it was early 80’s.
Verbatim by: Mousumi Das
Picture Courtesy: Pt Dilip Mukherejee, Renowned Tabla Exponent and Google
Audience, Tansen Music Conference, Kishen maharaj, Darbari Kanada, Dhamar, Lady sarod player, 1970’s
Samir Chatterjee speaks:
Told By: Samir Chatterjee
Text Version :
This is about how compromising Calcutta audience were when it comes to real good music. You remember ‘Tansen Music Conference’ – right? We would all eagerly wait (for) year around when the festival come about and people would gather to listen some of the most renowned and able musicians. I would refrain from mention the name of the musician but she was a Sarod player and she came with one of the most renowned Tabla player from Benaras Gharana (Pandit Kishan Maharaj Ji) . They were on the stage. She started playing raga Darbari Kanada.
She was young to handle the raga and it sounded like, she used the alap section only to introduce the raga and went straight into Dhamar.
After a couple of rounds of Dhamar, brilliant Dhamar from Pandit Kishan Maharaj; few members of the audience actually walked up to the stage and asked her to stop and remind her that if you have chosen raga Darbari Kanada you should do proper justice by doing a proper alap, we can wait for the Dhamar.
It was such a strong message and for us as young students of music to see that happening in front of ours it was educable. In those days in the first couple of rows would be filled up with musicians and they had the time, they had the interest and the patience to listen to other musicians they would come. Today we don’t see that happens at all. Musicians just come for their own item, they would play and leave. They would not even wait for or stay on for next performance. But, in those days (whether) they had no performance they would still come and listen and first 3 or few rows, you know and remember, when Ustad Vilayat Khan Sahab played, half of the auditorium was always filled up with musicians. So this was one of such learning lessons.
Another occasion you remember what kind of embarrassment was it when the organizer decided to do a zugalbandi with Ustad Bismillah Khan sahib.
Prof. Sanjoy Bandopadhyay : But it was a good example of Rebuking Audience. Raga Darbari Kanada; this is never a fighting ground. Thank you for the wonderful story.
Ali Akbar Khan, Kala Mandir, 1980’s, light-man, sarod, flattened nails.
Samir Chatterjee speaks:
This is about Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahab. In the live performance at Kalamandir and sometime again inmid 80’s. Khan Sahab was in his winter visit to Calcutta. He had an extensive tour in Bangladesh before coming in Calcutta. (At Kalamandir), hall was naturally packed so there wasno way I could get a ticket…high priced…I was a student at that time…so I had to ask for a favor to the light man. I had a connection with the light man of Kalamandir…Manu Da….he said,” Ok, but no seat, you will have to sit on the stage”. I said that would be such a privilege. Manypeople refused that position because that couldn’t see the face but I didn’t need it…I was there to hear music.
Khansahib started alapa. That was probably Raga Shree and either Swapanji or Mahapurushji (SwapanChowdhury or Mahapurush Mishra) were on Tabla — most probably SwapanJi — pin-drop silence –. When Khan sahib was playing alapa— there is no sound anywhere….just the sound of Tanpura and Sarod. But, after few minutes I heard a human voice….very low….. it could be anything…. and sometimes it happens….people whisper among themselves or may be technicians are talking outside the stage. It happened here again a minute later….and then again and again…..by third or fourth time I was able to understand actually what was been spoken….a slang…..a Bengali slang…… ??? ????! — out of frustration, meaning that—you know ‘es eich I t’ (shit) as they say. I thought who could do that! When Ali Akbar Khan Sahab is playing rag Shree alapa….who has the audacity to say something like that in appreciation? Then I found, Khan Sahab himself was saying that! Every time he was trying a meend and his finger slipped ….nails slipped…so he was saying that. After 15 minutes, he got so frustrated that he stopped (playing); said,” After playing 22 concerts in Bangladesh in 25 days my nails are even worse than my bald-head. I am sorry, I am missing notes”. We just roared of laughter…..the whole auditorium even….they were so honest and genuine and very open…..they were put every thing open on to the table without any excuse…
I heard this incident from Mallar Ghosh, my Gurubhai, the son of my Guruji Pt. Jnanprakash Ghosh. Last year, Mallar and I had gone to take an examination in Santiniketan. We were to return together by train, but the train was late, so we were in the waiting room, that is when he narrated this incident. We were talking about Guruji. That is when he narrated the story. He said that Guruji’s father did not want his son to take up music as a profession. It was against his father’s wishes that Guruji entered the world of music as a professional. According to Mallar Ghosh, all his uncles, that is, all of his father’s elder brothers were lawyers. Guruji’s elder brother used to call Guruji Genu. When Guruji received the Deshikottam from Santiniketan, when they received the news, Guruji’s brother hugged Guruji and said, “Genu, our father never wanted you to be a part of the world of music. He wanted you to take up law as a profession. But now that you have received this award, this world-wide recognition, it pleases me to think that no matter where father is today, he will be extremely happy that this honour has been bestowed upon you. You could not have received such an honour in any other profession. This is a great reward. You have received this honour today because you were determined to stay in this profession. This is not just a matter of pride for you, but for the entire family. Thank you.”