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His music soothed traumatised souls

Despite his relatively late start, as Indian traditions go, Nagaraj Rao Havaldar's diligence and enthusiasm as a musician paid rich dividends, writes Harichandan A.A.


'While classical music has always had a limited following, in recent years, attending a classical music concert has become a fashion statement.'

"MY MUSIC was a welcome change for them. After the terrifying events of September 11, with television channels bombarding them with the distressing news, they were happy to forget the trauma temporarily, listening to Hindustani music.'' Nagaraj Rao Havaldar, Hindustani vocalist, could not have imagined that his recent three-and-a-half month lecture-demonstration tour of the U.S. would take place in a country ravaged by paranoia.

"Even though I mostly interacted with Indians, my hosts there, the undercurrent was palpable," he said. The music was more than it to his hosts. In India, 43-year-old Dr. Havaldar has been trying to popularise full-length "khayal" concerts in Kannada, adapting lyrics from the Vachanakaras and the Haridasas. He quit a secure job as an executive in All India Radio in which he started his career, to be a full-time musician. He had already caught music lovers' imagination when he teamed up with R.K.Padmanabha for a Hindustani-Carnatic "raga-tana-pallavi" jugalbandi. That was among the first of his many experimentations, some of them in the face of scepticism.

He continues to experiment, supported by a musical family — wife Sudhamayi has a degree in music, and sons Omkarnath, a pre-university student, and Kedarnath, who is in class eight, have already taken to vocal and tabla, respectively.

In the early Eighties, young Havaldar came to Dharwad to pursue an M.A. in History and Archaeology in Karnatak University. He followed it up with a doctorate in "The history of development of classical music in Karnataka". He was also accepted for the Sangeeta Ratna course offered by the university.

"Though I used to sing when I was a boy in Bellary, my place of birth, it was at the university that I seriously studied music; here was a place visited by greats such as Bhimsen Joshi, Basavaraja Rajguru, Mallikarjun Mansoor, and Madhav Gudi, a great musician, who is less known outside.''

Despite his relatively late start, as Indian traditions go, Dr. Havaldar's diligence and enthusiasm paid rich dividends. There were 32 candidates at the interview for the Sangeeta Ratna course. When Mallikarjun Mansoor, who was the honorary chairman of the Department of Musicology, selected Dr. Havaldar for vocal and another candidate for tabla, the then Vice-Chancellor is said to have objected, saying the UGC would not fund the course for only two students.

The great artiste is said to have retorted: "You run the course yourself. I will teach these children in my home.'' The Vice-Chancellor showed he had as much character by allowing the conduct of the course.

Dr. Havaldar studied the Kirana Gharana style under Pandit Basavaraj Rajguru and Pandit Sangameshwara Gurav, and the Jaipur Gharana style under Pandit Panchakshariswamy Mattigatti. After 25 years as a musician, he continues to learn, this time again under Pandit Madhav Gudi.

His interests have not been limited to singing or teaching music to his 15 or so "mostly software professional'' students. He has scored music for Girish Karnad's Taledanda, late P.Lankesh's Gunamukhastaged by the theatre group, Roopantara, the television version of Master Hirannayya's "Lanchavatara", and T.N.Seetharam's teleserial, Mukha mukhi.

Dr. Havaldar has chaired the textbook committee on Hindustani music. He has also released two audiocassettes of his music. A CD is in the offing.

"While classical music has always had a limited following, in recent years, attending a classical music concert has become a fashion statement,'' he said. Had the sophistication of the listeners come down over the years? He was not sure, as "there are several forums across the country in which serious music enthusiasts gather.'' "Once, at a five-day music festival in Varanasi, it was refreshing that several members of my audience came up to me to discuss the nuances of this raga or the technicalities of that composition,'' he said.

Dr. Havaldar and others like him represent the optimistic face of the future of our music, as they will inherit a rich legacy in time. There may never be another Kumar Gandharva or a Bhimsen Joshi many years from now, but there will be the Havaldars, who just might inspire us to listen, and listen again.

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