February 12, 2014



An interview with Shruti Sadolikar

Shruti Sadolikar Katkar, one of the best contemporary exponents of the Jaipur Atrauli gharana, was in Kolkata recently. During a rewarding morning session organised by Sangeet Ashram at G.D. Birla Sabhagar, the erudite vocalist presented a bunch of less known raga-s. Pandit Vijay Kichlu, the director of the organisation, who believes in introducing the artist in style, played brief recordings of the legendary Kesarbai Kerkar and Vaamanrao Sadolikar, Shruti’s father-guru, to display the salient features of her school of music.

Bahaduri Todi – an uncommon variety of Todi that Shruti began her recital with – sports both rishabha-s. In Shruti’s interpretation, the suddha rishabha radiated valour, while the komal rishabha oozed pathos. The complex step-by step ascending order seemed to absorb these conflicting moods of the raga with superb clarity. The slow teen tala composition, slower than the usual Jaipur-favoured tempo, helped in etching the emotion-filled raga-roop more effectively.

The behlava-s, the taan-s, the medium-paced composition – all seemed to relish the features of the raga at an unhurried speed. A rare ‘Vibhas ka prakar’ with suddha dhaivata and a fleeting touch of nishada and teevra madhyama, a Hindol Bahar – with more Hindol than Bahar – and Khat (Sanskrit’s “shat” for six turns “khat” in north Indian dialects) were the other treats. Khat is a complex melody that blends six raga-s. Different schools treat this raga differently.

The canvas of all these raga-s sparkled in the light of Shruti’s crystal clear concept, strengthened by eloquent bandishes. All were aesthetically coloured by inspired improvisations that never wavered from the given order of ascent, descent, twists and turns. This long solo session reconfirmed that Shruti practises what she preaches. Shruti who is Vice-Chancellor of Bhatkhande Music College, Lucknow and a visitingprofessor at the Rotterdam Music Conservatory had given me an extensive interview earlier ( January 2006) during her stay in Kolkata as the visiting guru of ITC Sangeet Research Academy. The import of what she said then emerged more clearly now.

What is the secret of the uncluttered musicality of your khayal singing?

Shruti: Frankly Ustad Alladiya Khan, the founder of our gharana, developed a wonderful method of handling the complex gait of such raga-s. As you know,he was a dhrupadiya. As a result, clarity of the ragaroop was the most important aspect of his style. This came to me naturally as my father Vaamanrao Sadolikar was a disciple of the ustad and music flowed freely in our household.

Even abstract art follows a pattern. We should be sure whether we want to draw a circle or a square. Similarly raga-s need to be justified by their compositions.Raga-elaboration must follow the path exposed by the bandish. When unsure of the raga’s features, we must have the courage to admit it with élan by announcing that “this is a ‘prakar’ (variety) of a given raga”; or “after singing Yaman (with teevra madhyama only) in slow  tempo the fast tempo will be in Yaman Kalyan (with both madhyama-s)”.

Where lies the confusion?

We should be honest with our art. This frankness, springing from the assurance born out of solid taleem, pays its dividend because this way we can win the confidence of the audience. Since we do not get the erudite audiences of yore, we have to cultivate and educate our listeners all at once. But it is also true that path-breaking musicians like Kumar Gandharva or Kishori Amonkar have mesmerised one and all with their sheer conviction and inimitable style.

It’s a fact that a musician’s total personality gets involved with his music. An organised person is bound to present his art in an uncomplicated, structured manner while an eccentric’s music remains unpredictable like his personality. A sense of proportion makes or breaks every thing in life. Music is no different. I try to be organised in every sphere of life. I balance my career with my duties as a wife and the mother of a grown-up son. Earlier I had to balance my academics with my music. My mother encouraged me not only to learn music but also to study hard. Despite the house being filled with music and despite my natural attraction towards what was going on musically,I did my masters in music besides learning Marathi and English literature as major subjects up to graduation. I also acquired a ‘Sangeet Visharad’ from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya.

Do degrees help a performing artist?

Yes and no. ‘Yes’ because they give you the power of education, knowledge of scriptures or sastra, clarity of thinking and economic independence. And ‘No’ because musicianship is an ongoing process that demands constant learning and regular practice. Sastra has a very strange relationship with music. In languages, we listen, read and apply, but music is described as ‘karant vidya’ or practical application-based knowledge. I feel we must get closer to the scriptures as well. The times have changed. We have numerous ways to learn and discuss. Even guru-s are liberal and encourage questions. This was unimaginable earlier. So, we must fly, but only after constructing a solid foundation.

There was a time when the canvas of my khayal was small, but apart from my father’s guidance, I was singularly lucky to have learnt from Ustad Gulab Bhai Jasdanwala, an erudite disciple of Ustad Alladiya Khan and his son Manji Khan. He was respected among musicians for his enviable collection of traditional bandishes. He gave me extensive taleem for twelve years and, gradually, each raga started sparkling like a well-cut diamond in the light of dissimilar angles shown by different bandishes. It became evident that every raga is unique because of the place and timing of its notes. Rhythm and tempo play the most important part in raga elaboration.

Ustad Azim Khan, grandson of Ustad Alladiya Khan and son of Bhurji Khan, guides me still. This way, I have become connected with all the greats of the gharana. Gradually I learnt to take risks while experimenting with melodic phrases, rhythmic patterns and ornamentation of raga-s. All this, and life’s experiences keep widening the horizon of mymusic.

Any favourite musician?

Begum Akhtar’s emotive style tugs at my heart. Kesarbai Kerkar’s pure aakar is venerable. And I admire Kishori Amonkar for her ability to completely immerse herself in melody. I personally opt to root myself in the grounds of purity, though purity is a relative term. The treatment of raga-s differs from gharana to gharana! But once the gharana’s name and raga are mentioned, I must stay committed to that style and its specific version of the raga.

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