Humility and Hameer don’t come easily to the best of maestros. One is a habit and the other, a melody. But Dharwad’s Pandit Venkatesh Kumar, who recently performed at a music festival held in the Capital, is a beautiful exception.
He surpasses all odds being Hameer’s hero would bring upon a vocalist. He will tell you with an amazing sense of pride that he was Pandit Bhimsen Joshi’s ‘second choice’ for the Sawai Gandharva Utsav in 1993; the first choice being Ustad Rashid Khan. Tell him that his Hameer, in its demeanour, sound, sense, expression and presentation is probably as gorgeous as Pandit DV Paluskar’s and he will accept it most respectfully.
“Hameer is quite a tricky melody when it comes to controlling the uncontrollable. It gives you a huge canvas for expression and that’s where things tend to go wrong,” he says.
“There is a temptation to over-do the emotion bit in the bandish. Being a sampurna raga gives it immense power that immediately dwarfs the vocalist. Plus, the fact that Hameer has been sung by the greatest vocalists makes it a tough choice.”
Kumar’s immaculate control on mood, matter and melody makes him a very valuable artiste. He keeps strictly to a concert plan, giving attention to details in the vilambhit khayal, and leaving the drut khayal for emotion and taans. There are times when Kumar settles for surgical precision in taans and gamakas. But that happens without the bandish drowning, or its rasa drying up in the process. Why doesn’t he ever go wrong with the rules? “I keep off the temptations while singing. This helps me walk the prescribed line in the melody. The moment you lose focus, you make mistakes. It would be a shame to make these mistakes, because you have marred a melody and its structure with temptations.” So now you know why in a decade’s time, organisers of festivals in India and abroad have realised that Kumar is unique.
Kumar was fortunate to have observed the greatest vocalists from Gadag and Dharwad, like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Puttaraja Gawai and many others. “At the gurukul in Gadag, we would be taught raag vistaar and paltas. The raga would be treated like a deity. Only after I moved out of Gadag, I realised what was waiting for me. Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur had assimilated a lot of ideas from other gharanas. It was mind-boggling. They knew what to apply to their gayaki, vachanas and devaranams, and knew what to reject. This broadened my view.”
Kumar, who teaches at the Dharwad University, tasks himself with delivering the best of lectures and lessons. He says, “What sets Dharwad apart is that there is no room for mediocrity, even at the University level. There’s immense attention given to a balanced assimilation of Gwalior, Kirana and Jaipur gayaki. Not everyone can live up to this artistic condition.”