It was love at first sight. Though nearly forty years past, I remember it as if it was yesterday. An innocent 7 year old sitting in the lap of her favorite uncle, a handsome, sombre recluse with only 3 vices…a smoking hot tobacco filled pipe, a glass of rum and cola and a ear for music like no other. I watched as he blew over the LP, and placed it on the ancient turntable. The needle touched the spinning disc, and lilting strains of a strong Maharashtrian-Konkan accent sprang forth. Divine vocals absolutely mesmerizing! Kishori Amonkar… he whispered.
Her Mother’s daughter
Kishori Amonkar’s musical journey began under the watchful eye of her mother, renowned classicist, Mogubai Kurdikar of the Jaipur- Atrauli gharana. Mogubai was a doting mother but a daunting guru. A task master who expected nothing short of perfection. She would sing the ‘sthayi’ and ‘antara’ twice at best and expect Kishori to mimic her without fault. Much of the discipline and single minded concentration Amonkar imbibed was thanks to this early influence and upbringing. Any ambitions of becoming a doctor was soon left at the way side as she dived neck deep into the appreciation and pursuit of Hindustani raag, khayal and thumri.
Music Knows No Boundaries
During the course of her career Amonkar was one of the strongest critics of the strict guru-shishya restrictions that the gharanas laid. She found the age old parampara binding and destructive to the growth of Hindustani music. Breaking away from tradition, she attached herself to gurus from diverse gharanas. Anwar Hussein Khan of the Agra gharana, Anjanibai Malpekar of bhendi bazar gharana, Sharadchandra Arolkar of Gwalior gharana and Balkrishnabuwa Parwatkar from Goa, all who left an impregnable mark on her growth as an artiste. Losing one’s connection with one’s gharana was considered blasphemous, critics labelled her arrogant, a rebel! Amonkar cared a hoot!
“There is nothing called a gharana. There is only music. One should not teach students to limits their art for honestly there are no boundaries in music,” she firmly maintained.
All along her loyalty remained simply to her music. Her sadhana or devotion was singularly focused on honing the ‘raag’, perfecting the ‘khayal’, mastering the ‘bandhish’, tightly balancing the ‘swar’ and ‘lay’.
“How many souls can you communicate with? How many atmaans can you please? I sing for God. If the parmatmaa is happy, ordinary souls will also feel the happiness.” It’s no wonder then that Amonkar sang with her eyes shut, deeply connected with the Almighty at all times.
Frank and Outspoken
Kishoritai as she was fondly called never played to the gallery. Not one to mince her words, there are many a tale where the legend pulled up someone from the audience for disrespect or threatened to walk out of a performance for lack of decorum. An interesting anecdote dates back to the Gulmarg Golf Club, where in front of the then chief Minister, Farooq Abdullah, Kishori admonished an industrialist’s wife who had the audacity to order a paan during the performance.
“Am I a kothewali to you?” she shrieked! No one was spared the heat of her wrath, peers, patrons, politicians, journalists alike.
Rest In Peace
To quote tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain– “Her music is like a painting that embodies every detail of someone’s life. There is great happiness, great sadness, great anger, great frustration and desperation. And yet it all comes concentrated in a little piece.”
Alas, a career spanning 7 decades came to a close this wretched past week. Padma Vibhushan- Sangeet Samragini- Gaan Saraswati Kishori Amonkar passed away in Mumbai, on the 3rd of April, 2017, after a brief illness. Undeterred, fearless and way ahead of her time, this rebellious inimical musical doyenne will continue however to live in the hearts of generations of music lovers to come.
Listen once to her eclectic renditions of raag Bhoop and Bageshri, and bhajans of Meera and Kabir to understand just what I mean.