“The concept of gharana in instrumental classical music is still in nascent form”. Sarod maestro Pandit Biswajit Roy Chowdhury was talking about instrumental Indian classical music as a genre. “It has a long way to go. So far the instrumental classical music has not been compartmentalised”, he said as we sat down for an exclusive interaction.
As a student of sarod, Roy Chowdhury was under the tutelage of both Pandit Mallikarjun Mansoor and Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan. Thus he was influenced by both the Maihar and Hafiz Ali gharanas. “Both the gharanas emerged from the great Wazir Khan of Rampur. He was a great teacher”, Roy Chowdhury said when I asked about his experiences with the two streams.
His father Late Shri Ranajit Roy Chowdhury had trained him in sitar and saord. “I cannot specifically say why I took up sarod”, the maestro paused for some time and then continued: “It just happened”.
Referring to passing on classical music to next generation, he said: “Though I am certain our musical heritage has a great future that would continue across generations and I do not need to specifically take up the task of spreading classical music, but would love to be associated with initiatives that try to spread the classical music among youth”.
I asked him whether the niche audience of Indian classical music would expand. Roy Chowdhury said: “I know the audience of our classical music has been steadily increasing, but I think classical music cannot be for the mass audience. To appreciate it, the audience must have special ear – full of sensitivity”.
And he found such appreciative audience in all major centres of culture across India and beyond. “ From Calcutta, Mumbai, Benaras to Paris, London, Berlin, New York or Los Angeles – connoisseurs are all there. Add to these centres the places where there are non-resident Indians”, he was specific about the places.
Roy Chowdhury would be inaugurating an international event in Paris on Gandhiji’s birthday on 2 October. As he mentioned this, I asked him about the westerners learning Indian music. “Sometimes I feel, they do it as a result of hype – being disciple of a guru, doing something – which they think is mystic”, I said. Roy Chowdhury goes back to the time of hippies. “May be that was the case in 1960s or early 1970s. But now it is not”, he was certain about the changes. Then, perhaps recalling his experiences all over the globe, he said: “Westerners who take up Indian classical music are mostly serious though there could be some exceptions”.
“Haven’t the audience changed over decades?” I asked. Roy Chowdhury smiled gently and clarified: “That has been a complaint in every generation. Yes…may be but that would happen”.
Mentioning the “massive technological changes” that have occurred in recent times, Roy Chowdhury was curious to see where it leads the acoustic quality in future. Looking outside, he said: “Zenith, possibly”.
I mentioned Rahul Sharma and Richard Clayderman’s collaboration. “Was it an attempt to commercialise classical music? Are these collaborations necessary?” I asked. “There are two questions there. I think they are not necessary to promote classical music, but this is related to the socio-economic changes that we witness all around”, he said.
Roy Chowdhury has been associated with All India Radio as an artiste since 1979. He passed the audition from Calcutta station and later performed regularly from the Delhi station. I bring in radio. He brings in the effect of television, specifically on the radio and said: “It is the visual that attracts people. I sincerely hope radio in India revives and continues the good job of airing classical music as it has been doing for decades”.
“But isn’t showmanship responsible too to? Why would an artiste need to dress up on stage and have an air of flamboyance when it is his or her skill that matters?” I quizzed him a bit. Roy Chowdhury agreed partially. “It is human nature to make everything presentable and pleasing to eyes. But if you ask me about the connection between presentation and quality of the music, I would say there is no connection”, he replied promptly.
Before wrapping up, he again referred to the “musical aptitude of Indians” and said: “Music of any kind would help younger artistes. Add to that the basic rules”.