Date:18/10/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/2005/10/18/stories/2005101800520200.htm
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Kerala

Reinventing tradition



Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt

"People always ask me, why did you choose this instrument? And my answer is always that, God chose me to do this!" says Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the maestro of Indian slide guitar about how he invented the Mohana Veena.

Mr. Bhatt, who broke through the rigid tenets of the Indian classical music through his invention of the innovative musical instrument fusing the characteristics of the western slide guitar and the Indian veena, still apparently believes in the magic that led him on.

Mr. Bhatt, who was in Kochi on Saturday to present a concert organised by Raksha, an organisation catering to the needs of challenged children, spoke about the lack of experimental spirit that was limiting the possibilities of Indian society.

"You see what is happening these days.... May be because of our orthodox society, we are afraid of doing anything new. Nobody takes the lead to do things in a different way," he points out.

"We are not deviating from the tradition; that is the problem with our people," he says.

The maestro says that he named the instrument as `veena,' purposely for breaking the notions ruling Indian approach to classical music; to prove that even this instrument, a hybrid of the West and the East, could become part of the vast inventory of Indian classical music instruments.

Mr. Bhatt grew up in a musical family. "Music was kind of a family tradition. My mother, my father, my brothers.... The vocal tradition was there. But, then I started out doing something else. And, the result is Mohana Veena !" says this disciple of the sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar.

"My mother, now 96, still teaches me," he points out. "She still composes for me, making compositions, ragas... she also writes songs." And, to prove his point, one of the compositions for the evening's concert held at Hotel Avenue Centre had lyrics written by his mother. Addressed to the children of Raksha, it was a lullaby, as if sung by a mother.

He spoke of the recording session of `A Meeting by the River,' with the American guitarist, Ry Cooder. "The recording was completed in just one take. It was recorded at a chapel, in Los Angeles. I had kept the composition open as I wanted to have it a spirit of our music, in the manner that I wanted." The album went on to win the Grammy Award in 1994, making him the second Indian to win the prestigious award after his guru, Pandit Ravi Shankar.

His elder son, Salil Mohan Bhatt, is already setting off on his own musical career. "He is in Germany, at present. In four days time, we will travel to London for some concerts together." His second son, Saurav, is also a composer and a sound engineer. But, his wife is not into music. "There should be some one to listen," he quips.

A book titled `Vishwa Mohan Bhatt - The Musical Messiah,' written by Kanchan Mathur, was released just last week. The volume chronicles his life story, incorporating all the `fusion' concerts, the performances, aspirations and inspirations that made up his life.

Interestingly, his new work veers around the figure of Jesus Christ. Just two days ago, Mr. Bhatt was approached by a friend, who wanted him to give music to a film showing Jesus Christ reaching India and meeting gurus here. "It's bound to be a controversial film," he declares. And, he is planning to do a mix of traditional Indian as well as Rajasthani folk tunes for the film.

Renu Ramanath

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