It is the season for monsoon raags at classical music concerts around the country. For centuries, these melodies have been heard heralding and accompanying the rain clouds. Malhar, the raag that signifies the season, has many variants such as Miyan Malhar, Megh Malhar, Sur Malhar, Ramdasi Malhar and Gaud Malhar. It is said that a virtuoso can invoke rain by rendering the notes of a monsoon raag. And once the rains are here, much like the peacocks that dance and the bulbuls that sing, artistes and audiences seem to rejoice monsoon through these ragas.
Well-known Hindustani vocalist Arati Ankalikar Tikekar recently sang on the first day of the Badal Raag festival at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal. As the main presentation, she sang Miyan Malhar, followed by her guru Kishori Amonkar’s Anand Malhar.
Arati, a performing musician for over 40 years, she must have sung these ragas innumerble times and yet, when she sang at this concert, it sounded fresh. Like the annual rains, the music may be familiar but it is never the same.
In a post-performance conversation, Arati spoke about her art, and the mindscape of an artiste.
What is the difference between your experience of music now vs when you began?
At first one is focused on the physical aspects, then you move to thinking about it intellectually, then there is emotion and expression and finally, you forget everything and the system goes into an auto-mode. After years of practice, you have activated a state where your brain has distilled the essence of the raag and you simply watch as it makes permutations and combinations. There is nothing to be done.
You learnt from so many renowned gurus. How did you come up with your own style?
What I sing now is a concoction, an unpremeditated mix of all the musical influences that I have had, that is my own. I could not have consciously come to my own style. With each guru, one has to adapt to the application of the voice, the way of thinking and that was challenging. Being Kishori (Amonkar) tai’s student was never easy but it was divine. Tai was born to do music and to that, she gave 100 per cent at every moment. I felt like I was under a spell and Tai could turn everything into Yaman or whichever raag that she was singing, like every form (sagun) was turning formless (nirgun). And that is the purpose of sadhana — to go from saakar to niraakar.
You say this music is not for entertainment. Who then, is your ideal listener?
There are many kinds of audiences. Some listen blindly, they listen only with emotion, and it is a joy to sing for them as they easily get overwhelmed. Then there are audiences who understand music, who scan the music intellectually, feel the emotion and go beyond it to accompany the artiste into a spiritual realm. That is the ideal listener that I want to sing to, a listener who will challenge me to draw him/her to my music, even if I was to sing every weekend.
What would you say to aspiring musicians in this age of technology?
What one needs is a degree of inherent talent, persistence and the kind of company that will facilitate your musical development. The new generation is very talented and tech-savvy. But reels and message alerts can also kill this music. I have seen accompanists on stage check their messages mid-performance. It is not a fault but it means you are not immersed in what you are doing. This music is so intricate, needs such balance of mind and body that if you don’t enjoy it, you can’t stay in it.
How do you see the guru-sishya equation evolving in contemporary times?
Our tradition has placed the guru on a pedestal. Once it has been established and acknowledged that the student has come to the guru because the guru has something to give, surrender to the guru is of the mind, and touching the feet and other social protocol should matter less. Ideally, a guru should teach the same way whether or not you display your devotion, but gurus are humans too. With my sishyas, I hope that some of the posturing around guru worship is replaced by true friendship.