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Pt. Ravi Shankar will continue to be my guru: Tarun Bhattacharya

Pt. Ravi Shankar will continue to be my guru: Tarun Bhattacharya

21 Nov 2015, 08:05 pm
Pt. Tarun Bhattacharya has brought new dimension in the playing style of Santoor, creating patterns that were unprecedented. The maestro is a familiar name in the global music scene but recognition from his own country is elusive. In a chat with IBNS correspondent Sudipto Maity he opens up about his music, life and how he has been overlooked for decades now by his own country
How did you come by playing the Santoor? Why do you call it the Shata Tantri Veena?

My father Rabi Bhattacharya used to play the Sitar. As a child I was not at all serious about music but grew up playing the Organ, Sitar, Guitar, Tablas and the Piano as my father ran a music school in our Howrah residence. It was my father who not only introduced me to the world of music but literally pushed me to pursue music. It was a good 15 years before I finally decided to take up music, the Santoor, to be precise (his first year in college), under the guidance of Pt. Dulal Roy.  Yes I prefer calling my instrument the Shata Tantri Veena. The name Santoor is of Middle-Eastern origin, just like it is known by other names in different parts of the world. Shata Tantri Veena, the original name can be found in the Vedas, so why not use the original.  


Is it true that you were the only approved disciple of Pt Ravi Shankar in Santoor? Tell us about that experience

Indeed. It was a lovely experience. He was my Guru till he breathed his last and will continue to be so. I have learnt so much from Panditji. I used to stay with him, in Varanasi. I also visited him in Mumbai and the USA. You see, it is very important to have that Guru-Shishya bond, only then can you learn music. One should be able to follow his guru in all times. There is a difference between a teacher and a guru. Now you may say it means the same when you translate the word guru into English, yes it indeed translates into a Teacher, but, a guru is someone according to me that is, one who will not only teach you a lesson but will be able to mould your character. Panditji, my Guru, was that man. He would look at me and instantly he would know something was not right. He would speak to me alone and try and solve the problem. Under Panditji, I kept on learning and improving, till today I try and match his skills but it will take time to reach that level. There is only one Ravi Shankar, I doubt if there will be another one.


Do you think that Bollywood music eclipses Classical music in India? Who do you think is responsible for this trend?  

Partly yes. Look, I think we are responsible in a way. I am a very hopeful musician, I am a very positive musician, and I strongly believe in the art of presentation. I think we should have been a bit more careful while catering to the youth. It is all about horses for courses. When I play in college fests, I generally try and modify my style. Play a Bollywood tune; delve into it, try and play some ragas related to that tune and I have seen it works. Similarly when I am playing to a much older audience, my performance becomes a lot more raag oriented, a lot grammatical. I do it very professionally. So you see, we have to be a bit smarter in presenting ourselves. Make us a bit more appealing to the youth. I personally want to inculcate classical music among the youth. It is all about engaging them; spreading the music to the younger generation. 
Are you satisfied with the music scene of our country now?
No, I am not satisfied with the music scene of our country. Having said that I support all kinds of music, I listen to a lot of fusion music. But, I strongly believe classical music could have enjoyed a bit more success. We suffer from the lack of sponsors. Look at Bollywood music; you have MTV and other dedicated channels. Look at sports; even it has so many channels. The animals too have their own independent channels in this country, but classical music…none. No one wants to promote us. Be it radio or television, it is all about TRP and clearly classical music will not provide them that. Having said it all, the radio stations at times do their bit, but it is simply not enough. We need a major uplift.

How important is music for growth?

Music is a drug, a positive drug. This is what I tell everyone, be musical if you cannot be a musician. Personally I believe that music helps everyone overcome their stress. You can meditate using music; it is such a powerful tool. My music is currently being used in German mental asylums to treat people. I have seen people taking recreational drugs for fun, I tell you, leave those and for a change take this (music). You will spot the difference. You will feel so better, so refreshed, it is like magic. And once you put in this habit you will be so much better. Try listening to Pandit Ravi Shankar after you wake up from your night’s sleep and go to bed listening to Ustaad Bismillah Khan. Within a month’s time the drugs will be gone. Our body functions like a machine. The mind is its software and the exterior self is the hardware and just like a machine both the software and the hardware needs to function well in order to keep things going. Listening to music will upgrade our software, the mind. And when the mind is stable, the body will run smooth, free of malpractices.   


You have performed in so many countries and in so many lovely venues, if you are to pick out the top three, what would they be? (He performed at the Royal Albert Hall too) 
Since you mentioned about the standing ovation I will share a small story. It was my first tour and it was Canada. There were three of us. We were sent by ICCR and they were top notch venues but our first performance was special. We played a small piece as instructed by Panditji. He told us to shorten our pieces, play a piece for half an hour each and not prolong it any further like we were used to in India. So there we were, the three of us, just finished a piece and right afterwards every one, all 2000 people stood up and clapped. We were new and thought that was it, these people are leaving. So we too packed our instruments and left. Moments later the manager arrived and asked us why we left and we told him that we were under the impression that the audience were leaving. The manager looked at us and said we performed extremely well and that was a standing ovation as a result. So that was it, my standing ovation story. That was the first time I experienced the thrill of entertaining a large crowd. Now I was performing in Spain and the caption of that event was ‘Om Shanti’. Right after I finished, everyone in the crowd chanted ‘Om Shanti’ and they were in meditative state. It was a strange encounter. Back home, I was performing in Santiniketan. They applauded by chanting ‘Sadhu, Sadhu’, it was such a lovely experience. I once performed in Varanasi and you won’t believe what I witnessed. The 2500 odd people together chanted ‘Har Har Mahadev’; it was a spine chilling affair. So you see, every place I have been to, it has been a different experience. I have enjoyed it all.    

Why aren’t you scoring for movies?

I have done the background score for many Bengali films. But I am sure you want to know why I am not scoring for any Hindi movies and the reason is the lack of good projects. Yes I have been offered projects before, but I would love to score for a love story, that will depict real love, not only lovey-dovey scenes but pain as a form of love. And so far I have not found anything substantial.

People are returning their national awards in India to protest rising intolerance as they say. Do you believe that returning of awards will help?

No, I do not think what they are doing is right. By returning the awards you are in fact embarrassing your own motherland and what good is it to anyone. Look, our country is like our family and just like in our family, differences exist, but to wash one’s dirty linen in public is uncalled for. There are ways in which you can protest, but this is no way. Returning of award is simply a trend. Some people are riding it. People are doing it to get attention, I think these days getting an award is not that important as the returning of them is (he laughs). I would personally never return an award, however I will protest in other forms. Maybe by writing a blog or doing something that will not create such hype.

Is politics hampering art and artists?

Yes, it is. Musician or any other artists need years of concentration to reach a certain level. If you are busy doing other things other than practicing your trade you are bound to falter and that is what is happening with many people I know. Politics itself is not a bad word. Politicians are also not bad, for example, Khudiram and Netaji gave up their life for this country. They were politicians, but it’s the state of politics now that I am afraid of. They tend to curb away your power and I am against it. I am against anything that will direct me to compromise on my music, for me it comes first, others follow later.

Looking at the number of awards you have received from the government so far, do you think you have been overlooked?

Now that is a big question you have asked me. I would not hide anything either. Yes I am disappointed. I do feel I have been overlooked. There are others, less superior, whose work simply fails to match mine, who have been awarded while I have been largely overlooked. I don’t know why. Having said that I am not boasting about myself, and I don’t want people to misinterpret what I am saying, but think for a moment. I don’t get it, how do you give away these awards, there must be a standard protocol and a proper body who will judge every artist according to his or her merit and then decide. There must be something right, something that will act as the yardstick, which if you fulfill you will then be handed over the award. I have done some philanthropy work, for years now I have campaigned for the polio eradication and now I’m involved with the cornea donation campaign. I also run a small school in a village in Howrah’s Domjur area where I teach people Santoor free of cost. For years now I have also performed in so many places, my country have been lauded along with me but when it comes to the awards I have not been given any. Yet I will never say no to one when I will get one, if I do. I will continue to play music and continue to learn till the time I’m breathing.    

(Images by Subhodeep Sardar/IBNS)
(Credit to images and writer mandatory) 

Pt. Ravi Shankar will continue to be my guru: Tarun Bhattacharya

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