He cradles his sarod and closes his eyes. What rains out of the instrument is a ceaseless torrent of notes - the happy strains of glorious malhar. Keeping his strings in sync Partho Sarothy celebrates music in varying tempos, his flawless strokes creating a blissful stream of melody. A disciple of the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar and ‘a lover of deep ragas’ as he puts it, the renowned sarod artist was in the state for a concert organised by Kerala Gharana. “You don’t have to be a pundit to enjoy pure Hindusthani. Just give in to the flow of music,” he says.
Partho belongs to the Maihar gharana which reinvented Hindustani instrumental music under the tutelage of multi-instrumentalist Allauddin Khan. “Many gharanas are closed circles unwilling to share their art with outsiders. But Allauddin saheb was an exception sharing his craft with everyone. Maihar gharana gives musicians the leeway for improvisation rather than remaining a rigid and inflexible school. It’s a school that believes in spontaneity. You can play one raga for two minutes or two hours. When I play only five percent of my music is fixed, the rest 95 is pure improvisation,” he says.
Partho still remembers the day he got initiated into the world of stringed instruments. “I found the sarod lying in the almirah by accident and asked my father what it was. He was a first division football player and I never saw him practising sarod, but he said I can learn it if I am really interested. Since that day sarod has been an inseparable part of my life.”After learning the basics from his father, he had his first formal training under Ustad Dhyanesh Khan, son and disciple of Sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Later the legendary Pandit Ravi Shankar took him under his wings and there started an incredible musical journey. “Pandit Ravi Shankar started off with sarod and later switched to sitar so he was adept in both. I had the privilege of staying with him at his residence in Delhi and learning. It was more like the gurukul style of schooling. I also travelled with him across the globe giving one concert after another sharing the stage with him. It was with him that I came to Kerla for the first time. It was wonderful learning under an icon like him.”
As a globe-trotting musician who has given concerts in many European countries, he feels Indian classical music is well accepted and appreciated in the West. “I have been travelling for more than three decades. Outside India people are very open to the art forms from other parts of the world. Most of the concerts start with a full house end with a standing ovation,” he says.
His classical lineage doesn’t stop Partho from appreciation other forms of music. “I respect all kinds of music be it contemporary or fusion. I understand they are making an effort to bring out with something new and sometime it works. You can bring in variety, but not by destroying the basic matrix of it. Fusion should not be confusion, you can not mix gheer with biryani,” he winds up.