Jasraj to Perform Without Percussion

In an exclusive interview, Hindustani maestro tells City Express about his early struggles, his romance with a filmmaker\'s daughter, and the miracles a temple visit wrought on his life

Published: 25th October 2014 06:04 AM  |   Last Updated: 25th October 2014 06:04 AM   |  A+A-

BANGALORE: A month-end concert in Bangalore featuring Pandit Jasraj and L Subramaniam will have no percussion.

Pandit-Jasraj.jpgThey have tried the idea of performing without a tabla and mridangam in Chennai and some US cities earlier this year, and Jasraj told City Express they look forward again to the "spiritual experience of delving deep into the ragas".

One of the first memories Jasraj, who was born into the tradition of the Mewati gharana, is of his initiation.

"After lunch, my father (Pandit Motiram) would lie down, and I'd sit on his tummy. He'd sing a beautiful sargam from Ustad Abdul Karim Khan's records," he said over the phone from Mumbai.

His narrative breaks off as he renders his very first notes once more. "And he'd fall asleep in about 10-15 minutes," he recalls.

The four-year-old Jasraj would continue to sing, and make the same mistake each afternoon. "My father would smile lovingly, happy at a child's mistake," he recalls 81 years later.

After dad's passing

Only a few months after this, on November 13, 1934, Motiram died, and "they (the family) sent me to school", or at least thought they did.

Young Jasraj and his brother would pass by a tiny eatery playing gramophone records of Begum Akhtar’s Deewana banana ho to deewana bana de… which would bring them to a halt. "We'd sit on the footpath to listen. Then my brother, impatient, would tell me to get up," he says.

But Jasraj would sit there all day while his brother went to school. "And this became my education, my school," he says.

A teacher met his mother one day and asked her if all was well with Jasraj, and why he wasn't attending school anymore.

Maniram's training

Then his eldest brother Maniram took over Jasraj's musical training.

"And I was taught how to play the tabla by my elder brother Pratap Narayan, father of Jatin and Lalit. Others would find it difficult, but I picked it up fairly easily," he says.

By the time he was 14, he was playing the tabla for his brother and even accompanying other musicians. This became a major source of income for the family when Jasraj's brother lost his voice briefly.

Contrary to the popular belief that Jasraj felt slighted to be an accompanist, he says a careless jibe made him give up playing the instrument he so loved.

“Back in Hyderabad (where he lived as a child), tabla artistes were highly respected. Every third Nawab knew how to play the instrument,” he says.

But the brothers went to Lahore in 1945. “And there, at a concert, someone, a renowned musician said to me, ‘Tu mara hua chamda bajata hai.’” Translation: You beat dead skin.

Jasraj then pursued music with what he calls a God-given instrument, his voice.

Temple experience

Around the same time, his brother's voice too returned miraculously when they were paying Maharaja Jaywant Singh Waghela a visit in 1946.

"He was a Devi bhakt. He went into the Kali shrine in his palace and told my brother he would sing for Her that night, during Navratri. And his words came true," he says. Soon after this prediction, his brother sang from midnight till dawn.

The Maharaja also became Jasraj's spiritual guru, and told him never to fight with his brother.

"He also told me that I would have my first solo concert when I was 22, and yes, I sang for King Tribhuvan Vikram of Nepal in '52. I was paid 5,000 mohor for it, aur main khushi se behosh ho gaya tha (he fell in an ecstatic faint)," he recalls.

Walking the long path, he innovated, creating hundreds of bandishes and the Jasrangi—a form of jugalbandi rendered by one male and one female voice.

Shantaram's daughter

Besides listing his accolades, his website, Panditjasraj.com, talks about his music composer-son Sharang and daughter Durga, who runs a music company and provides a platform for new talent.

Madhura, Jasraj's wife, stands supporting them out here. "She lived in Mumbai and I in Kolkata. A student of music, she first heard me in 1955, and started coming backstage to compliment me. It was not until '60 that she decided I was the one she wanted to marry," he says.

She told her father, the respected filmmaker V Shantaram, who sent his secretary to ask about Jasraj's income —  Rs 2,500 to Rs 3,000. And he told Madhura, if you can manage, go ahead. "She said she could, and though coming from a rich home, she has," Jasraj says.

Madhura's mother wasn't too happy with her daughter's choice of groom. "She didn't believe in me in the beginning, and that pushed me harder to work on my music," he says. Only after 10 years did he hear words of appreciation from her.

Bangalorean audience

On performing in Bangalore, he says, he finds the audience here highly knowledgeable. He doesn't have a plan for the concert. With Subramaniam, he will create as they perform.

"Sometimes, when we start a raga, it feels right and we sing three or four pieces in it. If not, we move on to something else. Of course, there are some ragas I always love — Darbari, Jog, Bhairav, Puriya, especially for riyaaz," he says.

(Premaanjali, Christ University Auditorium, Hosur Road on October 31, 7 pm onwards. For tickets, contact Calypso 4121 0889, Sapna Book House, Sadashivnagar  2344 6444, Super Market, Brigade Road 2558 1248, Hotel Tadka Singh 97393 91080)

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