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Finding his own voice

Most child prodigies do not make it big as adult artistes. Sanjeev Abhyankar is one of the few exceptions. The young musician, who was in the City recently, says he owes it to his parents and his guru Pandit Jasraj, who put him on the right track.

Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

Sanjeev is one of the leading vocalists of the country.

IF YOU play the tape of Sanjeev Abhyankar to someone who hasn't heard him before, the person is sure to confuse the voice for Pandit Jasraj's. Even those who have heard him before can, in fact, end up making the same mistake. So striking is the similarity between Sanjeev Abhyankar and his guru Pandit Jasraj, who, with his distinctive treatment to khyal gayaki, made Mewati Gharana so popular. Sanjeev sounds like an extension of Jasraj in every way — beginning with his voice to the treatment of raga, inflexions, and pauses.

Pandit Jasraj's music is marked by a lalithya. His singing, anchored with the phrase "Om Shree Hari Narayana", stresses on the emotional appeal of the raga, ornamenting each note and phrase with delicate nuances, making the melodic element central to his style. The Mewati style is also characterised by a devotional mood, an alaap that is paced leisurely, delineating note by note, with a generous serving of meends and sargams. On listening to Sanjeev Abhyankar, it is clear that while he has all these graces ingrained — of the maestro and a tradition — what is perhaps missing is a distinct identity of his own. One can note here that while Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, D.V. Paluskar, and Basavaraj Rajguru were all from the same Gwalior gharana, each evolved his own style and gave music a new dimension.

Sanjeev Abhyankar's voice is soft, mellifluous, charming, stylish, but with too much of Jasraj's gayaki in it. However, in his more recent recitals, there is a conscious effort to come out of his guru's shadow. Listen to his Malkauns (a 1996 recording) and his recent Lalit (2002) and this becomes evident. But does this "imitation" inevitably happen with an overwhelming person for a guru? Hasn't it happened to so many students of M. Balamuralikrishna, fans of Kishore Kumar and Rafi?

Sanjeev was in Bangalore recently for a concert, and in a chat, shared some of his experiences.

"I was very fortunate to have a Guru like Pandit Jasraji. He has always had special affection for me and has encouraged me. There was this constant pressure of learning under such a great maestro and live up to his expectations," he said.

Even before he became Jasraj's student, legends such as Hirabai Badodekar, Bhimsen Joshi, Gangubai Hangal, Vasantrao Deshpande, Jyotsna Bhole, and P.L. Deshpande had listened to Sanjeev and called him a "wonder boy". Many advised his parents to encourage him to take to music full time. Consequently, his mother decided to send the 13-year-old boy to Pandit Jasraj.

It was hard on him to stay away from his parents. "It was only because I enjoyed his music so much that I was able to control myself emotionally. I used to feel homesick. I had to get up at 4.30 a.m., for kharja sadhana. My voice was changing. Then there were the tensions of growing up. But all this was worth it compared to what I got in return," he narrates with a deep sense of gratitude.

Sanjeev is indubitably the foremost singer among the younger generation vocalists. He also belongs to a time when apart from knowing good music, the system makes additional demands of having to strike a balance between glamour and sadhana, with a smidgen of PR skills too. Unlike the old timers, young musicians don't come with a baggage of reputation. How then does a musician manage all this, or rather "package" himself suitably?

Sanjeev thinks that a musician ought to be an ashtaawadhaani. If s/he has the genius, other things will comfortably follow. However, only the extremely talented musicians should take it up as a profession. "Material satisfaction is relative. Nothing compares to the creative satisfaction and the love one gains from the rasikas. It is invaluable," he reasons.

Maharashtra has produced some of the finest musicians of the country — Bal Gandharva, Vasantrao Deshpande, Prabhakar Karekar, Jitendra Abhisheki... So much so that musicians of other regions also settled down in Maharashtra. Didn't our own Bhimsen Joshi settle down in Pune? For many years, the annual Sawai Gandharva festival at Pune featured musicians mostly from Maharashtra. Today, sadly, there isn't a second line of musicians. In this context, the only musician who has made it big is Sanjeev Abhyankar. Curiously, there still are a number of young women musicians Maharashtra. "A male voice needs more time to mature than a female voice," he explains.

Arguing that there are many talented musicians who have not been discovered, he says one cannot deny fact that that the place of "a great vocalist" has remained vacant for a long time. It is perhaps the ability to adapt to the changing requirement of a musician, at a time when classical music has been redefining its position within the blitzkrieg of commercial proliferation, that musicians like Sanjeev Abhyankar become important. Like his guru, he is open to the idea of trying out new forms and experimentation. He has sung for films such as Maachis, Godmother, Nidaan, Sanshodan, and Dil Pe Mat le Yaar. The Jasrangi experiment, a simultaneous rendition of two different ragas, has been popularised by him and his gurubandhu, Trupti Mukherjee. Even as he is evolving his own idiom, he cannot escape criticism of sounding too much like his guru. Sanjay protests: "This is like comparing the beauty of Madhubala and Madhuri Dixit! Incidentally, both of us have God-gifted rich and melodious voices with a wide range. Both of us have extraordinary aesthetic abilities. Since I follow the path of melodic aesthetics shown by him, there is bound to be an impression of the father on the son. It is very natural."

DEEPA GANESH

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