Published and written for the Hindu Metroplus/Friday Review in July 2011.
The season of the rains are filled with romance, abundance, greenery, playfulness and youthfulness. Barkha Ritu is the Hindi equivalent, and also the name of the festival that has now brought Hindustani classical artists to the city every year for five years. Inaugurating its fifth edition were vocalist Ashwini Bhide Deshpande and santoor maestro Pandit Shivkumar Sharma.
Playing to an audience of more than 200 fans at Chowdaiah Memorial Hall, the evening’s music covered the sombre, meditative moods, but also transformed into a celebratory mood with quick-paced dhols.
Ashwini Bhide Deshpande sang and played tanpura along with accompaniment from additional tanpura, harmonium and tabla. She sang in the Abhogi raga, praising the monsoons. Before beginning, she said that the abhogi raga capitulates the spirit of the rains. Indeed, it was soulful and reached out to every sense; goosebumps-inducing notes were reached by her. Through the lyrics, the rain, oceans and the breeze were all visually invoked.
Being influenced in the tradition of Atrauli-Jaipur Khayal Gayaki, Ms. Deshpande sang next in the Miyan Malhar raga, combining Bollywood song ‘Bole re papi hara’ and ‘Kar Ladali’. The themes of yearning for the beloved wistfully during the monsoons were evident.
She concluded her performance with a fast tempo ektaal rendition of ‘Sham jhule hindola’. She sang of the playfulness, youthfulness and sweetness within people that the season brings out.
Pandit Sharma looked to entertain the audience not only with his performance, but also with his usual wit. He joked about the tag of “legend”, saying it was “just an adjective” people used to introduce him on stage. He announced that he would play in the Megh raga, saying it was one of the most ancient ragas of the monsoons.
The clarity of every mellifluous note reverberated through the auditorium, as Pt. Sharma began with his solo alap, jhala and jor. The pace and intensity of his playing varied throughout the perofrmance, but the alap conveyed a slow, reflective tone.
His santoor was accompanied by the well-known tabla player Yogesh Samsi. The two performed as though they were competitors, often trying to out-play each other, but really, they were complementing each other’s skills brilliantly. They truly shared an amazing, admirable and magical chemistry.
Pt. Sharma’s jhaptal took some time to capitulate the audience’s attention, but that did happen slowly but surely. At times, It seemed as though he was playing more than one instrument – very skilfully, at that. He clearly enjoys what he does, even at this age.
But the maestro certainly ensured that the listeners left the auditorium only after experiencing the peak of his performance. As tabla joined in for the concluding short dhun there was a lilting, reminiscent quality that could evoke the memory of a rainy day. The show ended on a slow, descent into calm and serenity to its end.