If practicing an art-form is a pleasure, meeting the legendary inspirations behind the practice is joy beyond description for an amateur. Such luck has been tasted by yours truly in the past with Kadri Gopalnath, Violin Kanyakumari, Aruna Sariram, Bombay Jayashree, S. P. Balasubramaniam, Yesudas, Ilaiyaraja and Susheela. Off them, SPB and IR are my idols and Susheelamma is the most special. Notably they are all connected to Tamil music and it may be considered natural to interact with.
But apart from these, I have idolized on 3 more (Ajoy Chakraborty, Haimanti Shukla and Hariharan), the musical styles of whom are predominantly non-tamil but have influenced heavily my own tastes, renditions and compositions. And as luck would have it, due to the generosity of Shampa di and Ashish Da, I met one of my idols - Haimanti Shukla – and here I recount the evening which has left an indelible imprint on my mind.
In the summer of 2005, Lalita introduced me the songs of Haimanti Shukla albeit unintentionally. Mesmerized by “Thikana na rekhe” I went on to dig more and more only to find a treasure trove of wonderful melodies which were great lessons in renditions for amateurs and professionals alike. My love affair Haimanti di’s songs continues unabated since then. In November 2005, with whatever first crumbs of Bangla I picked up, I dared to sing Haimanti’s song both on the blog and later on the stage.
http://swara.blogspot.com.au/2005/11/audio-post-thikana-na-bengali-song.html (warning – possible bad diction)
Not knowing bangla was not a deterrent to listen to her mesmerizing melodies which, even to a non-bangla ear, appeared to embody the true spirit of the words that adorned the lines. Buoyed by the sheer listening pleasure of this new genre, I have been hearing her since then ( bettering my own understanding of music and bangla diction as a positive side effect). Attending her live concert, if was a desire, interacting with her and discussing about music was a dream.
And it came true last friday. In the casual dinner hosted by Shampa di and Ashish da, I met Haimanti di whose charming personality only supersedes her splendiferous renditions. When I was introduced as the ‘south-indian’ fan of her songs, she warmly reciprocated with a beautiful characteristic smile. I ranted from then on to explain how it has become sort of a mission in my life to spread the joy of her songs and making my very talented singer friends learn some of them as well. Surprised probably by the fact I was referring to some of her wonderful songs in some detail, she asked if I could sing “Bhaalobeshe Jodi batha” – by biggest favourite among her innumerable melodies. My initial accompaniment was my nervousness which was pleasantly replaced by her awesome harmonium play to soothe my jitters.
"Sing noyone noyone rekhe”
-she said around the time I was contemplating not to sing the second antara since I thought I may be boring her with my childish exercise. And I continued till the end of the song. Her smile widened further as a gesture of appreciation and she was generous in her compliments.
Ok. So, Haimanti di played harmonium for me.
I guess the magnitude of this gesture is not apparent to my non-bengali friends. It is like Lataji (Lata Mangeshkar) playing harmonium for a mortal as hel attempted to sing. Now THAT is big. Ain’t it ? What more could one ask for ? That moment WAS salvation for me.
And then followed a very good discussion about south-indian ragams: i) A song “mone pore tomaare” composed by Pt. Ravishankar and delivered by her which has a scale similar to ragam kanakangi of carnatic which involved a discussion of my composition udalin thiriyaale ii) rag shivranjani which was later expanded as thumri in the concert iii) a discussion on rag marwa, and others which had the same notes but different prayog demonstrated by her iv) and a listening of a couple of my compositions barse badariya and haulse se in rag jog and varnarupini (shudhdha dhaivat vibhas) for which she had good words of appreciation (for Swati Kanitkar and Hricha Mukherjee). My dream had come true and that too in a very grand fashion – a discussion of music with one of the goddesses of music. With pleasantries exchanged the evening came to its customary end and Lalita and I drove back an hour.
The concert next day was well attended. Whatever bangla I could understand revealed a truly remarkable artist and a human being who seems to have only one mission in life - to sing. Her rapport with the audience and the way she treated them with respect and affection, shows why, apart from her obvious greatness in singing, she is loved deeply by the listeners. Her warm recollections about her musical experiences with Titans like Manna Dey, Hemanta Mukherjee, Shyamal Mitra and other legends like Naushad and Ravindra Jain revealed how much she remembers about each and every song that she has sung for them since she had immensely enjoyed the making as well. Her vivid description of such moments and her natural humour kept the audience alive for more than 3 hours which were dedicated to melody exclusively. Wonderful numbers like Thikana na rekhe, jaani na pabon ki, amar bolar kichu, akhuno saarangeeta and mone pore tomaare received their due respectful treatment as the notes of melody kept the vibrant, but attentive crowd in mesmeric appreciation.
Sydney's Indian ears were restored back to the state of appreciating true melodies with language and music accorded equal attention. For a listener like me who understood only part of the language, her music made-up for more than that was lost. I wish her repertoire grows even further so that people like me can be treated with more of melody.