It is important to acknowledge the role every teacher played in my life- and here is a brief documentation about each, even if my association with them be limited. They were a part of my learning and at times if I did not learn anything concrete, I learnt to discern.
I started learning music when I was about nine years old- the year was 1981. A lady came dropping leaflets in the neighbourhood for teaching music and my parents immediately engaged her to teach all three of us -singing. That did not last long (for the teacher simply ‘vanished’ one fine day from her rented accommodation) and within a few months papa found his own former music teacher and invited him over to our house. Within a short time he came and we started, the trio again. That was around 1982- his name- Sh R C Sharma- an indefatigable man and a good teacher, though could not sing himself!! Its amazing how in spite of that he could teach music- as I later found out a lot of his students all over the city who sang quite well, no doubt because of his teaching.
Me and my sister learnt with him for long – I cannot recall how much. But exam pressures, which we were as silly about as anyone else, made us take a break from music for several years in our mid-teens. Anyways, by then we had at least learnt music for about six-seven years.
In college I was learning with Dinanath-ji, who was an eminent singer in the Punjabi language and was keen that I should sing light music, whereas I was keen to do the classical bit! We always argued over what I ought to be singing. I could not stay with him for too long as my heart lay in classical music whereas he was not keen on that at all. I learnt with him for a few years and then veered towards the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya in Delhi. The year was 1997. I already had a six year-diploma in music, was unhappy with the music learning I had done till then and I needed something more. In the Vidyalaya I enrolled into the VII year class- it was terrible. The teacher there- Pt.Jagdish Mohan-ji was a learned man, but not keen to teach, as he was keen to tutor privately. A big class of eight or nine women did not suit him or anyone- but there we were, learning ragas which seemed very complicated to me- Kalavati, Nayaki Kanada, Ramkali, Vibhas, Puriya Kalyan, Shyam Kalyan, Suddh Sarang…today all these seem such a different song!
After being there for a little over six months (from July 1997-Feb 1998) I was introduced to Sh. Hari Charan Verma; by Abhay, as I had requested Abhay to find me a teacher. Abhay K. Roy was the tabla accompanist we had in the class at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. He introduced me to Verma-ji and much later to Sh A Maheshwar Rao. I stayed with Verma-ji for about another eight months and I realized that though he was not taking any money from me, he was not teaching me either. Or maybe he was trying me out; to check my patience- but I do not know of any single person who has learnt with him seriously and can vouch for his teaching abilities. He is no doubt known to be a learned man, with a big repertoire and a mellifluous voice; teaching requires a different attitude though. I was to understand that later. At that time Hari Charan Verma-ji was the Chief Producer of Hindustani Music at the All India Radio, Delhi station- and his life was abuzz with many artists and musicians constantly flocking around him. I always wondered then, whether that made him egoistic and vain.
My thirst for music was such that I could not bear to wait for the teachers to teach me or try me out by making me wait…I simply had to move on- I was ill (that would be another story naturally) My father at that time ran into Sh.Asoke Kumar Dasgupta-ji. We knocked at his door- he did not want to take any money, but was firm that if I had to learn with him it would mean at least three days a week for minimum two hours a day. And we started- it used to be more than two and a half hours actually. He refused to teach me anything but the swara. It was a nightmare learning with him- he would make me sing the pancham for half an hour!! and that too when i was not a little girl but a young woman nearly 25 years of age (who has patience at that time?) after that he would go over ga-ma-pa-dha for the next half an hour!
He insisted that I learn the Shuddh Bani that he himself had learnt from his guru- Ustad Mushtaq Hussain Khan Saheb, the chief court musician of the Rampur Nawab and was a very eminent musician of the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana. My guruji learnt with Khan Saheb when Khan Saheb was 93 years old and he learnt for four years till he passed away at 97! After his demise Dasgupta-ji learnt with his eldest son- Ustad Ishtiaq Hussain Khan for the next 17 years till Khan saheb the younger also passed away. The latter was for most part living in Calcutta and teaching at the SRA and whenever he would come to Delhi he would teach my guruji…till it lasted.
With Dasgupta-ji I learnt the significance of swara and why not! with such training I am sure very few would lack the appreciation. I was not taught any khayals or ragas– just swaras– when my own hunger for musical learning was so huge. But guruji was firm. He insisted I learn the swara with him and then do any sort of singing- for in the shuddh bani everything would sound good. He even pointed out some of the people who sang in the style- there were not too many according to him. I understood the different sort of banis in music- Shuddh, Gauhar, Dagar and Khandhar bani. This was all based on shrutis– and I was taught to make out, by singing the most exact. I owe my swara-gyan to Dasgupta-ji.
Destiny was to bring me to the doors of Smt Madhuri Dandage after a few months- I had moved to another part of town and coming to CR Park where guruji stayed was difficult- I managed it till I could; which meant I would ride in buses for two and a half hours (one way) to reach his house. It became difficult as health did not permit and by the time the bus reached me, I would be so exhausted I had no stamina left to sing the swaras for long hours. That made me look and find Madhuri aunty who lived fairly faraway too- but she looked like an answer to my prayers.
She sang the Kirana Gharana style, was a discipline of Smt Malabika Kanan and Smt. Manik Verma and a very learned lady, a view I hold till today. I started with her and she was one of the most significant people in developing my musical thought and ideas. To reach her house I used to drive ( I had learnt driving by then in 1999-2000) nearly 35 kms in the morning. I would leave my home at 7:45 and dot at 9:00 reach her. My driving time was more than her teaching time! I would absorb her teaching like a sponge and yearn for more- it did not seem enough. There is a time when you are ready for so much more. I seem to have a very cyclical relationship with her as now, upon moving to Goa, I am doing some advanced learning with her, starting in June 2014 once again!
Due to distance or some other issues I could not continue with her and again Abhay referred me to another person- this one being Sh Maheshwar Rao, who used to work in the Doordarshan and had learnt with several gurus himself- he primarily sang the Gwalior style. I could not stay with him for too long either- maybe for six or seven ragas! Not much learning happened as his style of singing was something I could not really connect with, though he taught me some interesting things which had been taught to him by someone (Smt Veena Sahasrabuddhe’s elder brother) who had learnt it from Kumar Gandharva- another method of singing wtih Kana swaras. That was the most important thing I learnt from him. He was learned in Sanskrit and even sang a lot in the language- I could never learn that though.
I came back into my own self- I think I was ill by then again, there was a lot of Kabir in my life and maybe several other things like counseling diploma and so forth going on somewhere. The search for guru was not yet over- Shanti Sharma seemed like someone I wanted to be with. But she was undergoing a lot of suffering due to the premature demise of her own daughter and she kept on dilly-dallying about meeting me. I was already living in Faridabad those days- the year was 2003. I somehow, with the greatest difficulty took an appointment with her and it was for a week later. She lived in Gurgaon. On the appointed day, when I had gone most of the distance towards her house and I just called to check if I could still come- she declined. On the road I had covered more than 2/3rd distance and there! she simply said I should try another day-I could not gather courage for a long time after that.
That brought me to the doorstep of Smt Manorama Ahuja– a disciple of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb. Aunty lived in Faridabad only. I met her, she was very impressed to hear my voice…and I was impressed to meet such a person; but I could not go to learn with her,for more than a month. The style did not appeal to me- she could not sing like Khan saheb even remotely. My musical learning had been quite intense by then and I needed more depth.
So I knocked again at the door of Shanti Sharma- this time she gave me an appointment to meet in her home in Delhi; which I reached after some difficulty, but I did. And she was teaching a class of students there- it was a surprising way I felt; with male and female students all learning together!. Anyways, she was too disturbed to take on another student she said…and maybe she would refer me to her guru-behn. I myself could not sing in front of her, for her disturbed mind disturbed me deeply- my music froze. Naturally she did not know me from anywhere and she could not evoke my music enough to make me even sing properly something that I did everyday.
Somehow she referred me to her guru-behn; who turned out to be Amarjeet didi- the last of the gurus I learnt with. Didi had learnt withPt.Amarnath-ji and sometimes even Ustad Amir Khan stopped by at her house…didi is the senior-most disciple of Pt Amarnath-ji and Pt Amarnath was the only disciple of Ustad Amir Khan who Khan saheb himself acknowledged as his disciple, and the true inheritor of his style. I learnt a good amount of Indore gharana singing with didi, but she moved away, first to the east of delhi from the south, where we were closer by and then to Switzerland- we parted ways long back anyways. I was ill on and off and she had a lot of her own domestic issues to deal with.
Around that time I also briefly learnt with Sh.Bhola Nath Mishra (Benaras Gharana) as I was keen to understand thumri. (Oh yes! that reminds me, I had gone for two classes even to Smt. Malashri Prasad (who happens to be an IAAS officer, sings thumri beautifully. I have never been innately interested in thumri, except for enriching my voice culture and using swaras differently)After didi moved to Switzerland, I had a brief encounter withBindu didi– Pt.Amarnath-ji’s daughter and she clarified some of my doubts and even taught me the bandish in Raga Hamsadhwani Khan Saheb sang- but on the whole…meeting her was one of those experiences that one does not wish to anyone.
I actually quit active learning with gurus in 2005-06. Since the gurus had moved away those options also had withered in their own course too and coming to Faridabad in 2007 practically left me house-bound. I simply lived here by myself, with my three and then four dogs and did not much except music and writing/reading. Internally also I felt the need to mull over and work on those ideas which I had gathered. But strangely enough, over the years, whenever I had any doubts or clarifications I would knock at the door of Madhuri aunty- so though she moved to Pune long back, I went over and stayed with her on two occasions and gathered more musical fodder.
The last I went to Pune was in June 2011- I learnt three entirely new ragas for me- which I had never wanted to sing in my life, all these years. Now I wanted to see if learning with her did not make me change my point of view. It did somewhat- I am the richer for these ragas: Patdeep, Alaiya Bilawal and Hamir. In addition I went over a few bandishes in Shudh Kalyan, Poorvi and Todi– three ragas I love to sing anyways.
If I have to summarize the teachers who are responsible for my entire learning would be RC Sharma-ji, Dasgupta-ji for the swaras, Madhuri auntyfor giving clarity and thinking in ragas and Amarjeet Didi for creating a complex pattern of notes, developed in their gharana. I owe my everything to these teachers as also to my students- teaching whom I have seen many a new idea emerge and grow. Oh yes! one of the most important things I learnt was that women must learn with women because it makes their singing more sonorous and sweeter, as I have noticed the difference between those who have learnt entirely with men. Both is important, but women hone women better.
The greatest guru I finally prostrate myself in front of is KABIR and my own tanpura.
The reason for writing this piece is to put all the names of my gurus in one place and to refresh in my own mind which all doors I have knocked- someday this will help in writing something else, may be.