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Kishori Amonkar: Innovator Who Saw Music As Path To ‘Happiness’


Kishori Amonkar: Innovator Who Saw Music As Path To ‘Happiness’

NEW DELHI, (IANS) – Blazing her path to becoming one of Hindustani music’s foremost virtuosos, she did not achieve her status with just her incomparably melodious voice, but also her willingness to shake up things a bit by questioning age-old precepts of the tradition, especially the ‘gharana’ system, the training of young musicians, and the treatment of female practitioners.

Kishori Amonkar embodied innovation, being taught directly and indirectly by stellar proponents of her Jaipur gharana, including her mother and renowned classicist Mogubai Kurdikar (1904-2001) but never remained bound by its traditions in her sparkling career.

Eclectic in outlook, she was also versed in nuances of Western classical music (deeming Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata akin to the Indian tradition), and fond of light Indian classical music too. Here, her favorites included Noor Jehan, Begum Akhtar and especially Jagjit Singh, whom she admitted to liking watching on TV.

But there was one innovation that Amonkar, who was born on this day (April 10) in 1932 and passed away just a week before her 85th birthday in 2017, shied away from and that was a crossover to Hindi film music.

She had been convinced to do the title song for V. Shantaram’s ‘Geet Gaya Pattharon Ne’ (1964) but this had angered her mother, who even reportedly told Amonkar that if she continued in films, she would be forbidden to touch her tanpura.

However, Amonkar herself (as per T.J.S. George’s biography of M.S. Subbalakshmi), said that her mother had told her that if she wanted to enter the film industry, her teaching would go to waste and that she “might gain money and fame but lose much more.”

It was only in 1990 that Amonkar composed and sang in a Hindi film – all four songs of Govind Nihalani’s ‘Drishti’. But this time, her mother had no objections.

Amonkar was exposed to music even before her birth as her mother was training with ‘Gaan Samrat’ Alladiya Khan, the founder of Jaipur Gharana, when pregnant with her. She thus imbibed her art from both her mother’s guru and her mother, who brought all her three children up after her husband’s untimely death.

Initially not keen on following her mother’s path, she wanted to be a doctor, but medicine’s loss was music’s gain, and instead of curing ailments of the body, she began ministering to the soul.

A good and capable student of music, she also excelled in studies and sports (field events and table tennis), but a case of sore eyes, when she had to take the medical entrance exam, dashed her hopes, and led her to devote her life to music.

Even a spell of losing her voice did not stop her and she plunged into it with gusto when she recovered. (She had a precedent – Ustad Alladiya Khan had also reportedly once lost his voice – and developed some features of the gharana’s style to compensate for this).

Amonkar was taught by her exacting mother in the exacting style of the Gharana, characterized by correctness and purity of grammar and structure and balance between ‘swar’ and ‘lay’, and admitted that her mother, who had other students too, never gave her any preferential treatment. In fact, her mother was rather strict and demanding with her, she recalled.

She also learnt music from a wide range of teachers, including Anjanibai Malpekar of the Bhendi Bazar Gharana, Anwar Hussain Khan of Agra Gharana, and Sharadchandra Arolkar of Gwalior Gharana while Pandit Husnlal gave her instruction in lighter music. Hence, her inclination to not remain bound by the dictates and style of a particular Gharana, which she even likened to the caste system.

She was also very particular about her rendition – singer Manna Dey recalls she was liable to cancel a performance if she felt she was not prepared enough – or if the audience was not well-behaved. She also wanted equal respect for female performers, citing how her mother, when called for concerts outside, received lesser remuneration, travelled in third class, and had to find her own accommodation.

And there was her habit of usually performing with her eyes shut, leading her to be named “the blind artiste”. Amonkar contended that this had developed due to her concern about whether she could connect with her audience.

“How many souls can you communicate with? How many atmaas can you please? It used to worry me… until I found the solution. Sing for God. If the Parmatmaa is happy, ordinary souls will also feel that happiness! That is why I usually sang with my eyes closed,” she had told a music scholar.

Thus was the crux of the Amonkar magic, for despite the pain in much of her singing, music was always a path to happiness, never the destination.

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