If you could share something about his legendary performances at the various music conferences in Kolkata.
SL: So, at that time, there were a number of music conferences which were held in Kolkata. The main venue was Mahajati Sadan. Indira was one venue as well. The Tansen Music Conference used to be held at Indira. The Sadarang Music Conference used to be held at Mahajati Sadan, as was Surdas and the North Calcutta Music Festival.
Not at Rabindra Sadan?
SL: No. Rabindra Sadan hadn’t been constructed yet. It was built later. During those days, loudspeakers were set up outside the venues as well. People used to sit outside and listen to the music. All the stalwarts of music used to perform. Bade Gulam Ali Khan used to perform. My father was there, of course, as were other great musicians of India. Naturally, everyone couldn’t get hold of tickets. So they set up loudspeakers outside. Later, this stopped because of problems of transport. At night there could be extra buses.
Speaking about Chinmay Lahiri inevitably means speaking about his teaching abilities. We used to say that he is a philosopher’s stone. Everything he touched would turn to gold. I have analysed his style. What he would do is, if he saw someone who was talented, dedicated, and disciplined, he would most certainly train this person and make them great at what they do. Now if someone has no potential, then no matter how much they are trained, and how much they practice, they can only go so far. Yes, you might say that such a person will become a good listener. Good listeners are also very important. We need people who can understand good music. Anyway, his training was very scientific. When we were young, he used to always say to us, “Practice Bistaar when you ate over forty years old.” At that time, we would only work on Sargam and Taan.
I had later spoken with a couple of doctors to corroborate his idea. He had told me that at that age the tissues in our throat are very flexible. He used to say, “Now you are young and you can run fast. But as you grow older, you’ll grow more rigid.” That is, the flexibility will decrease. So, if we practice Sargam and Taan at great speed now, even at the age of seventy, we could perform it if we practice properly. He used to say, “Bistaar requires maturity and intelligence. When you are more mature, you’ll see that you are performing a Bistaar on your own. The tune is important. If I perform a Bistaar for half an hour, then I’d perform the taan and sargam for one and a half hours. That was the ratio.
You know, there’s one thing I remember. He used to say, “How many can you do in one breath?”
No, it was a breathing exercise – kind of like what they call Pranayam these days.
No, no. Not like that. How many Sargams can you do in one breath? (SINGS). And increase the count.
But this is a breathing exercise.
For example, I started with seven and ended with sixteen. But that isn’t there anymore.
No, but this is our breathing exercise – drawing one long breath to see how much we can do.
Breathing exercises test how far we can sing in one breath. If we suddenly stop at a word in the middle, the entire meaning will change. But such things are not a problem for us because we have practiced like this. Breathing is a very important thing, but we got used to it because we practiced so much.
Then there was the question of modulating the voice onto a higher pitch. We were always told not to shout when singing, never to use our full sound. The voice had to be smooth. The voice would be kept intact and the volume would increase. He would always keep a mirror in front of my face. Sometimes, I wonder how far ahead of his time he was! When practicing a Taal, he would keep a bowl of water in front so that the jaw doesn’t move. He kept the mirror to see how the face looks. Does it look nice? Now it’s twisted. When we go to a higher pitch, we have to decrease the volume.