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The queen is dead … long live the queen :)

I acknowledge that images are sensitive materials and have much more potential to harm others than just plain text, and while I’ll be even more careful in the future, I hope I do get the wisdom to make correct choices.

Veena - an instrument used in classical music

I am reminded of Cole in Mr. Holland’s Opus . Cole is the son of Mr. Holland and he is totally deaf. It is probably apt as although not known by many people, I am totally deaf (100%) in my left ear and some loss of hearing in my right as well.

I say it is apt because one of the divas of classical singing, perhaps one of the old greats Ms. Kishori Amonkar is no more. I do not know whether or not she knew in her life-time that all copies of her photograph are copyrighted so there is not a single photo of her which is CC-by or CC-by-0 or whatever. This is the reason her wikipedia page is bereft of her image. For most Indian classical vocalists, the Veena is the instrument for both riyaz (practice) as well as for performance, hence have used that picture to pay her tribute.

So in a way it’s good that a partially deaf person is able to give homage to one of the greats. I have seen and heard her only once, about a decade ago. As have shared in earlier posts too, I have been lucky at times to have friends who have had variety of interests. Of course, as in life we drift from friends but whatever we learn in their company remains forever. My first hearing of classical music was with group of friends around a decade and a half.

One of the ghats in Varanasi

I had gone to Benaras/Varanasi and till that time my education in music was pop, rock, thrash, heavy metal, filmi songs, bit of ghazal and unplugged. Unplugged was due to MTV unplugged. I was in Varanasi for over a month in a palace (it was a slightly run-down palace) just next to the ghats. Ghat/s is what you call the riverbank. In the picture above the steps that you see going into the river and the in-between levels you see those are ghats.

Varanasi is one of the strangest cities if you stay a while as you will burning corpses sent to the river, ashes of people being thrown on the river, people bathing in the same river and people asking priests to bless newborns. So you see death and life at the same time and this all happens on the river-banks. Apart from that, the city is also famous for classical music of all hues. Many of the nights I slept listening to the voice of somebody playing either the veena, the shehnai played in a very cool manner or the flute. Both during sleep and being awakened by the same sounds early in the morning at 0500 hrs.

Hence I can totally understand why when Ustad Bismillah Khan sahab as well as some of the other greats when being offered by moneyed people to migrate to the States or somewhere else did not want to leave Varanasi. For those who love music, the unplugged kind, Varanasi is paradise. For those who don’t know Bismillah Khan sahab died in abject poverty. The irony is that while he added richness in thousands and millions of his fans, he himself chose to die in poverty. While I never learnt any of the musical understanding as I believe knowledge and understanding either in music or moving pictures (film) lessens the magic a bit. But that month or/and month and a half I developed a somewhat ear to classical music.

While I’m not much of a betting man, I would say that anybody who spends any amount of time in Varanasi, they would be transformed by the music which beats there. While like everywhere else, there are hindu and muslim areas, I found the Azaan to be more lyrical than anywhere else I have heard in India. You go to the temple or the mosque and you will be transported to some other world. If somebody who has skill with live sound-recordings come to Varanasi and records the kind of voices and instruments there are, her(is) hands will be full and its sure to be success wherever s(he) screens that. There is lot of varied soulful singing and instrumental there.

This is the same thing I observed or rather went on a journey with her. While Ms. Amonkar was infamous for her tantrums, she was equally beautiful when she was in her flow and more than that, once she started singing, soon your eyes would be closed and you are transported to some other world. The same quality I have seen in some of the other great artists too.

The best thing of her show and shows of other classical artists who perform late at nights, the audience, at least the Pune audience has learnt the art of soundless clap. ‘Soundless clap’ means after the performance is over, you leave in silence. Instead of clapping, the silence is more treasured by the artists who understand the significance. The same thing happened with her, I was out of this world, when I came back I found I was only one is the entire auditorium and there was nobody else. I came out and while there were street vendors doing brisk business, most of the business was without sound as if nobody wanted to break the magic spell. I went to a tea vendor, by signal asked him for tea and something to eat, paid him and slowly came back home and slept.

The next day I shared this story with my grandpa, my mother’s father and he shared he also liked classical music in his time and in their time, the people had more time. There used to be such musical festivals which went for days 24×7 . That was one of the first times I felt a tinge of regret that I was born today instead of some 50-60 years back although he had his fair share of challenges in his life as well. He had been a witness to the British and Indian rule. He’s no longer with us, god rest his soul.

In the end while Ms. Amonkar left us too quickly and suddenly, I do wish and hope that she did enough that she goes beyond this karmic life and death dance . If however, there is still some more things to be worked out, I hope she is again born a woman with the same passion for classical singing as before. With that I bid adieu the queen of musical spell 🙂

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