Reviews

TIME TO SLOW DOWN

By Sumana Ramanan

First Published in Mumbai Mirror on 27 October 2015.

Sharmila Biswas

Three of India's best vocalists will sing this Sunday in a rare day-long festival.

We live in an age defined by the mantra "faster, shorter, snappier", whose baleful influence Indian classical music has not escaped. Rare is a performance in Mumbai these days that crosses two hours or a festival that runs for longer than four.

In contrast, even 20 years ago, open-ended concerts as well as day-long and overnight festivals were common. The city had a large tribe of listeners for whom these occasions functioned as social gatherings. Here, they met old friends and made new ones, chatting over tea and samosas in the intervals, during meals afterwards and on long journeys home.

But no mantra is immutable. Just as the slow food movement is carving out an alternative to fast food by working to preserve traditional cuisines and artisanal cooking methods, the time has come for a similar push in music, the eternal food for the soul.

A slow music movement would offer an alternative to the packaged concert, by allowing the interplay between the musician's creative impulses and the audience's receptivity to determine what is sung and for how long, not organisers gesticulating from the wings that the time is up.

This Sunday, a day-long Diwali festival featuring three vocalists represents a step in this direction. The organiser, the company First Edition Arts, may be taking a leap of faith in Mumbai's listeners, but has sensibly mitigated the risk with a sterling line-up of singers with great musical depth.

"We want to create a mela-like atmosphere that encourages friends and family to get together around classical music, with all the mini-conventions that heighten listeners' shared pleasure," said Devina Dutt, a journalist who co-founded the company a year ago with her husband, Pepe Gomes, an ad filmmaker and musician. The mini-conventions include tea and lunch breaks, allowing people to make a picnic of the day.

The couple has been organising arts events since 2012, even before founding the company, which is dedicated to all forms but is currently focusing on the performing arts, especially Hindustani music. This festival will be their fourth Diwali concert, which Union Bank has supported every year.

Two of the singers are frequently heard in Mumbai, both gurus at Kolkata's Sangeet Research Academy: Uday Bhawalkar, 49, one of our finest dhrupad vocalists, and the khayal singer Ulhas Kashalkar, 60, one of India's greatest musicians. "This is a wonderful idea," said Bhawalkar. "It allows people to listen to ragas associated with three different prahars on one day." A prahar is a unit of roughly three hours.

The third singer, Vijaya Jadhav Gatlewar, 58, is heard less often here, which is entirely the city's loss. In the estimation of the astute music critic Deepak Raja, she is among the country's most learned and competent performers.

Gatlewar was born in Mumbai and lived here until she moved to the Gangubai Hangal Gurukul of Music in Hubli as a guru in 2011. She grew up in Worli and learnt from her father, DB Jadhav, a textile mill clerk whose passion was music. He had learnt from Natthan Khan, a nephew of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana founder Alladiya Khan, as well as from singers of the Agra and Gwalior gharanas.

In her early twenties, Gatlewar began learning from the Jaipur-Atrauli stalwart Nivruttibuwa Sarnaik in Mumbai, following him to the Sangeet Research Academy after he became a guru there in 1978. She returned to Mumbai in 1993, struggling financially and professionally for many years.

One does not need a PhD in sociology to surmise that Gatlewar has paid a professional price for her lack of access to social networks that come with being born into the right class and caste. "Only organisers who know music very well call me," said Gatlewar, who has a huge repertoire of rare and complex ragas that she learnt from Sarnaik. "So I am looking forward to this concert. A day-long festival is a great idea."

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