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Ahoy Ajoy!

Ajoy Chakraborty's music is as unique as the musician himself



Ajoy Chakraborty: `There are few compositions that can actually carry the weight and demands of a raga.' — Photo: K. Gajendran

ONE SELDOM associates Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty with designer kurtas or with a carefully constructed mystique. His music does not need the props of eccentricity or affectation to legitimise itself. Neither does he boast about his performances.

Despite being one of the finest Hindustani classical vocalists, he feels that the division between light music and classical music is a false one. "Why can't we openly and enthusiastically say that Ashaji (Asha Bhosle) is one of our greatest musicians?" he asks. His answer to the question is equally candid: "Most classical singers cannot say that Ashaji is one of the greatest because many of them cannot sing as well as her." Ajoy Chakraborty is an unusual musician.

He was taught by such illustrious gurus as Ajit Chakraborty (his father), Pannalal Samanta, Kanaidas Bairagi, Pandit Gyan Prakash Ghosh, and by Ustad Munawar Ali Khan (son of the legendry Bade Gulam Ali Khan). But today he says he feels like learning from everyone. "There is no end to the extent to which I learn from youngsters," says Panditji, and goes on to illustrate his point.

Word quibble

He once heard Zainul, a young scholar in the ITC Sangeet Academy, who had been taught by Ustad Latafat Khan, singing a composition in Yaman. "Zainul, teach me this bandish," requested Panditji. Zainul protested saying why use the word `teach'. "I said, whether one uses the word `take' or `teach', in the end it is learning. Whatever touches the mind and the heart and if one yearns for it, never mind what word you use, it is still learning," says the maestro.

There was a time when Ajoy Chakrabarty sang exactly like Munawar Ali Khan. One day his father said to him, "Where is your own singing? I want to hear your own music. Khan saheb's legacy, his food, his biryani, his notes, his father — none of that is yours. You must sing whatever you have learnt in your own way." This comment made the young Ajoy think and work towards creating a style of his own.

A postgraduate, he feels that education is crucial to becoming a good musician. Why? Because a good education is like an inner guardian, an inner police, an internal critic. It gives the inspiration and impetus to develop a sense of limits, a sense of modesty, and an impulse to contribute.

Panditji contributes to music education today through his school of music, Shrutinandan, where he has simplified the instruction and rationalised musical education. His inspiration comes from an extraordinary insight into the structure of ragas. "No artiste can sing a raga. All you can do is to surrender yourself to a raga, and, then the raga will tell you what you must do," he says emphatically.

Having said this, he springs a surprise. "If you are Zakir Hussain and you sit in a Mercedes, you will look nice and can carry it off." He pauses. "Similarly, there are few compositions that can actually carry the weight and demands of a raga. Everyone sings Darbari, but where are the compositions that do justice to the raga?"

Raga Darbari

What about the famous Darbari renditions by legends like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Amir Khan? "Their focus was on the rendition, the gayaki, not on the composition. There are few compositions that bring out the character of a raga."

On being complimented for his impeccable rendition of Raga Jaijaiwanti, he gives the credit for it to the earlier interpretations of the same by great masters.

We return to the question of a musician being an eternal student. "We have before us the great masters," he says, and then adds to the illustrious list with his characteristic generosity the names of young and popular musicians. "Listen to them, and take what you want from them. But sing in your own way."

What happens if you manage to develop your own individuality and style?

"Even if you become a lion or a tiger, you will still not get a place at Saraswati's feet. You have to be a swan to be at her feet: drink the milk like a swan and leave the water out."

JYOTIRMAYA SHARMA

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