Pandit Sankha Chattopadhyay is a reputed Tabla player from Kolkata. His style blends three leading Tabla Gharanas of India, Farukhabad, Delhi and Punjab.
Listener, Ravi Shankar, Alluddin Khan, Keramatulla khan, Anokhelal Mishra, Ashish khan, Vilabit, Theka, Programme, Rangmahal Theater Hall, Allarakha Khan, Rupak Tala, Kalika Cinema Hall, Tansen Conference, Late 50’s, Samta Prasad
This is a very old story from a long time ago. I was then a student of Khan Sahib, and perform very little. I was still not out professionally in the market, but everyone important knows that I can play. Because I used to carry the bags of Keramat Khan sahib, followed him with my tabla set, sat beside him, tuned the table, and as a result, I was a known face.
At the Tansen Conference, when Vilayat Khan got ready to perform, Shailen Da told him, “Today, Kanthe Maharaj Ji and Thirakwa Sahib would play with you… a duet.” Vilayat Khan said, “They are both big names, elephants in their own right, why not give them a turn? Not together.”
Shailen Da replied: “No, we decided for a duet today.”
But they didn’t agree. They said, “We shall perform separately.” Kanthe Maharaj ji took the first turn. I was near the stage at the time. I went with Keramatulla Khan Sahib and was allowed at the first row, and I was watching the fun. Out of nowhere, Vilayat Khan took up a complicated tune. Maharaj was known for the uniqueness of his technique.
Hafiz Ali Khan Sahib was playing along. In this context, I must say that the beat he chose was Tintala but the Theka was surprisingly balanced, making it a astonishingly beautiful rhythm. Dha Den Na Ke, Ta De Na Ke, Tin Tin Na Ke, Dha Dhin Dhin Dha, Dha Dhin Dhin Dha… went on fading bol.
So, he was demonstrating the rhythm with a movement of his feet, and Vilayat Khan found it extremely offensive. Suddenly, someone from the audience made a taunting noise. And at that time the rivalry of Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar was akin to that of the much publicized rivalry of East Bengal and Mohan bagan football teams. Suddenly, Vilayat Khan dropped the sitar with a bang and walked out. “No, I won’t play. They’re all agents of Ravi Shankar. I won’t play.”
Karamat Khan Sahib stood up. “What are you doing, my brother?”
Vilayat Khan: “No, Keramat bhaijan, they’re taunting at me.”
Karamat Khan Sahib: “No one is taunting at you.”
Vilayat Khan understood, and then came back on stage after a few smokes. His performance was first class. And then it was Thirakwa Sahib’s turn.
-Allow me to interrupt, I have a question. Around what year did this happen? Was it in the forties?
-No, abruptly 1954 or 55.
-Where was this musical conference held?
This was, as I feel… The program was explosive. But there was that one interruption. Music is music, after all. Vilayat Khan, with his electrifying music, would often throw out challenges to the crowd while he played. “Is there anyone who can play like me?” That’s what he used to do whenever he performed.
Anyway, then Thirakwa Sahib took his turn. What music it was! Kanthe Maharaj had already performed, but Thirakwa Sahib was another matter entirely. It was pure passion. What else would you call it? Keramat Sahib went inside again. “What are you doing, my brother? They taunted him so much, but no one said a word to you.” He was always obsessed with taunts from the crowd, whether it was his own group that was responsible for the taunts.
Anyway, Khan Sahib coaxed and persuaded. It was Dabir Khan’s turn next. And after him, someone else took his arm and sat him down at the stage. Thirkua sahib performed. I was new to Kolkata then. I came to Kolkata at around fifty and that happened around in fifty five.
– That was around fifty five?
– Fifty four or fifty five I guess.
– So it took place either in Indira hall or Basusree Hall.
– Could be Indira or Bharati hall as well, I can’t remember clearly.
I don’t know if someone has told about this incident. I heard this from Shyamal Bose, the husband of Mili Bose.
This happened sometime in the 70s, when begum Akhtar was to sing at Rabindra Sadan. The day of her programme coincided with the wedding ceremony of Pahari Sanyal’s nephew on his sister’s side. Naturally he would have to accompany his nephew as part of the groom’s retinue or ‘barjatri’. But he still paid a visit to Rabindra Sadan as Begum Akhtar would be singing. He went to the hall and sat in the front row.
When the screen went up, begum Akhtar spotted Pahari Sanyal and said, “Why are you sitting there? Come up here, on the stage…” and made him sit beside her on stage. Pahari Sanyal told her, “Begum, I was not meant to be here tonight, it’s my Bhanja’s wedding today. I have to go and join the Barjatri. I came only because you are singing today. It can’t be that you would be singing in Kolkata and I wouldn’t be there to listen! I’ll stay for one song and then leave. Please forgive me , I cannot stay today.
Begum Akhtar said – All right and then started singing.
And she sang it so splendidly, so wonderfully. After the song was over, Pahari Sanyal stood up and said – “Forgive me today, I must leave”….and started walking away towards the wings. But Begum Akhtar had went into the next song in the meantime, and such melody she had put into the opening of the song, it made Pahari Sanyal turn around and sit down there again. Eventually he stayed on for the full duration of the programme.
Later, after the programme was over, he told her, “You can well understand what my position would be in my family after this, what I would have to face when I return home. But what could I do? If you sing like this, what choice do I have? How can I leave such music?”