Pandit Ajay Pohankar, doyen of Kirana gharana, is much celebrated for his outstanding contribution to Hindustani classical vocal music. In the city for a concert, the maestro spoke to City Express about his journeys with music, including his anguish at how Bollywood treated him and finding place with music lovers of all generations
The journey begins: I hail from a well-educated and musically-inclined family in Jabalpur. At the age of five, I started training in music under my mother Sushila Pohankar, an extremely gifted vocalist. She had great liking for Ustad Amir Khan’s form of music of Indore Gharana. I had the luxury of hearing some of the greatest musicians of the early 1950s in our palatial house.
The wonder years: My dad was a very successful advocate of his times and well-connected in the musical circles. I was exposed to music of Agra gharana through him.
I was ten, when I first got the opportunity to sing in the presence of Abdul Haleem Zafar, Ustad Salamat Ali Khan and Ustad Nazakat Ali Khan of Sham Chaurasia Gharana.
In 1959, I performed at Sawai Gandharva in Pune, amidst a galaxy of classical Hindustani maestros like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Amir Khan, Mallikarjun Mansoor, Gangubai Hanagal, Heerabai Badodekar and Dr Vasanth Rao Deshpande and a host of others. I sang Yaman Raag in Jhumra Taal for about 45 minutes and had the audience mesmerised. I was very happy to be acknowledged and treated with lot of love and affection.
Quick rise: Ustad Amir Khan was extremely excited about my talent. He recognised me as a child prodigy, thus marking my journey into the elite music circles of Kolkotta in 1960. Ustad Amir Khan and Pandit V G Jog were instrumental in putting together my first performance in Kolkotta, and I have never looked back since.
I was invited to perform all over India and consider myself very fortunate to have performed with stalwarts like Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pandit Omkar Nath Thakur, Nikhil Banerjee, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and Begum Akthar.
Genuine artistes found their way into the hearts of music lovers and it was an era of pure magic and real talent.
This is true for all genres of classical music, Thumri, Bhajan, Khayal and Ghazals.
Bollywood betrayal: A turning point in my career was the song Piya Baawari which was part of a fusion album produced by my son Abhijit Pohankar.
The making of this album has a very interesting story. The producers of the Hindi movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam approached me for a song sequence in the movie and I suggested a bandish Albela sajan aayao re that would be recorded by me.
I was surprised to learn that they used the bandish but went ahead with another artiste.
Abhijit was contemplating on a fusion album around the same time and he challenged me to prove my versatility by recording Piya Baawari. I love challenges and Abhijit’s offer was hard to ignore. We recorded and released the album in 2002 and the rest, as they say, is history.
Through Piya baawari, I could connect with the young upwardly mobile generation and yet hold my place in the minds of classical music lovers. I give full credit to Abhijit for my new found status.
Humbled by praise: Legendary musicians from Karnataka have showered love on me. It was touching to be felicitated by Gangubai Hangaltai on my completing 50 years in the world of music. I shall cherish those memories forever. I am indebted to the patronage I receive from music lovers too.