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Another milestone for Agra doyenne

Lalita Ubhayaker belongs to the rigorous Agra gharana in Hindustani classical music. This pioneer, who has many firsts to her credit, has just turned 75.



Lalita Ubhayaker: a full life — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

LALITA UBHAYAKER, the doyenne of Hindustani classical music in Bangalore, turned a gracious 75 last fortnight, and Bangalore's music aficionados celebrated the day with, what else, but a music recital by the renowned Gundecha brothers.

Visiting Lalita and Shivaram Ubhayaker at their bungalow on Palace Road, one is impressed by the tranquillity as soon as one enters the gate. But this can be misleading as this tranquillity is not an invitation to slide into a life of contemplation and repose. Rather, Lalita Ubhayaker's life is an affirmation of the joy of living, of giving selflessly to others, and absorbing herself completely in her task, which is now her mission in life — to build support systems, and reach out to senior citizens of the City through her organisation, Ashvasan.

Recalling her early musical career, Lalita spoke with feeling about her early days in classical music, when she first came to Bangalore as a teenager. She was among the first to introduce Indian classical music to the great Yehudi Menuhin, when she was invited to what was then called The Residency, and which is today the Raj Bhavan, to sing for the violin maestro. Her music was so much to the great man's liking that he asked for another recital the very next day.

Lalita belongs to the Agra gharana, and was initially trained by her mother, Parvati Bai Ullal. Thereafter, she underwent sustained and assiduous training by Bangalore's well-known vocalist, the late Rama Rao Naik, himself a disciple of Ata Hussain Khan and Swami Vallabhdas. She was also trained by the dhrupad masters, Moinuddin and Aminuddin Dagar.

In many countries around the world, she was the first Indian woman to perform Hindustani classical music; these countries included Germany, Sweden, Switzerland and Italy. The mementos she has collected and the reviews in contemporary newspapers from these countries remind us she and other pioneers put Indian music firmly on the world map. In fact, on her tours to the UK, she has been recorded by no less than the BBC. Going down memory lane, she remembers when the titans of music visited Bangalore. Ustad Fayaz Khan Sahib and Inayat Khan (Vilayat Hussain Khan's father) both masters of the Agra gharana, and Ravi Shankar, were among that handful of pioneers who gave Hindustani classical recitals to informal gatherings at the homes of the discerning and at school auditoriums, as Bangalore had no decent auditorium then.

In those early days, performance was a joy, an aesthetic experience. As there were no opportunities for performing Hindustani classical music, these had to be created with the help and assistance of one's own circle of friends and family members. Audiences had to be nurtured. Bangalore of the '60s — and even the '70s — was a nice city to live in, but culturally it was at a low ebb. There was nothing like the plethora of concerts and recitals that we are used to today.

Lalita is visibly excited about two areas of her life today that take up a lot of her time and energy. Devanandan Ubhayaker Yuva Sangeet Utsav, instituted in memory of her son, encourages young artistes below 25 years of age and those who belong to the most distinguished music schools. This is now an annual landmark in Bangalore's music calendar. Rashid Khan of Kirana gharana, for instance, is just one of the many who have made it through this festival to be a front-ranking musician.

Ashvasan, which focuses on the problems of senior citizens, reaches out to the aged and the lonely. This organisation operates through ten recreation centres in Bangalore, and a recently started daycare centre. Seminars, counselling sessions, and recreational activities are some of the inputs to provide a break from monotony that pervades the life of a senior citizen.

Lalita was the founder of the Crafts Council of Karnataka, which she did at the behest of Kamaladevi Chattopadhyay. She is also on the board of a number of government welfare organisations.

It is easy to see that her life combines gracious living and a sense of satisfaction generated by a life of accomplishment.

SANDHYA IYENGAR

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