Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil: the busiest Hindustani vocalist?

With upwards of 50 concert appearances a year, straddling Khayal and Natya Sangeet genres, Manjusha Kulkarni-Patil could well be the busiest Hindustani vocalist today.  Alongside, this 42-year old Pune-based vocalist nurtures a teen-age daughter, and runs a Gurukul and a Foundation, both named after her primary Guru, the late Sangitacharya DV Kane.  She is now a disciple of the contemporary maestro, Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar. On March 6, 2015, she spoke to Dr. Shreyas Masrani about her life in music. EDITOR

My grooming in music began early as my parents were deeply interested in Hindustani music. From age of 12, I was first trained in the semi-classical forms such as Bhajans and Natyageets by Chintubuwa Mhaiskar of Sangli for two years. I was then spotted at a singing competition by Pandit  D V Kane. He accepted me as his disciple. He was confident of my future in music. So, he allowed me to do an MA in music, after I completed my B.A in Hindi. I secured a gold medal in my MA exams. 

Kanebuwa had received talim from Pandit Vinayakrao Patwardhan and Mirashibuwa (Yashwant Sadashiv Mirashi)  of Gwalior and from Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan of the Agra gharana.  He was also deeply influenced by the music of Jagannathbuwa Purohit and the Jaipur-Atrauli maestro, Ustad  Bhurji Khan. Thus he assimilated musical values and principles of three gharanas -- Gwalior, Jaipur and Agra.
With Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar

Kanebuwa saw my bold aggressive and competitive traits as a person, besides the fact that I was gifted with a robust clear voice. His Gwalior-Agra background suited my own tendencies very well.  Kanebuwa’s talim was rigorous. It comprised two hour sessions in morning and evening daily apart from prolonged sessions on the tanpura when Kanebuwa trained other disciples.  I would travel daily to Ichalkranji from Sangli and stay over at Kanebuwa’s house on weekends and all holidays. My talim over 12 years from 1984 to 1996 made me the musician that I am today.

Stylistic influences
I am fortunate to have a great guru in the early part of my talim when I was too young to judge the merit of a guru. Later on, as I matured, I could evaluate and imbibe good musical values from other sources. Also the talim needed at different stages of an artist’s musical journey is different. When I was learning from Kanebuwa, he would encourage us to listen to many good artistes such as  HIrabai Badodekar, Kesarbai Kerkar and Pt D V Paluskar. Later on Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar’s recitals impressed me deeply as they integrated good features of the Agra Gwalior and Jaipur gharanas. After Kanebuwa passed away I received guidance from Pandit Vikas Kashalkar but it was evident that all that was missing in my music would now need the guidance of Ulhasji.

One can never stop enlarging one’s repertoire or stop growing. I had a stint with Prof. Ashok Ranade studying forms of popular or folk music, mainly Baithaki-chi-lavani. Ulhasbuwa has enouraged ne to learn Tappa, as he feels it will suit my voice. But, I did not get talim of Tappa from Kanebuwa. So, it may be some time before I am comfortable with the musical form. 

I like all forms of good music and have even done a music video conceptualised and composed by Shri Ashok Patki. I am also interested in what can be done with fusion. But my base and my chosen calling is Hindustani classical music.

On individuality
Nobody is interested in the Xerox of a Guru. Kanebuwa’s talim was such that we had to improvise and form our own phrases after he taught the rudiments of the raga. So we never ended up imitating or copying him. Besides, he – and now Ulhasji -- encourage us to listen to other great artistes and adapt the appealing facets of their music to our styles. 

For instance Raga Bhoop sung by Kishori Amonkar is an important benchmark and reference for me in presenting the raga. Another unique thing that Kanebuwa did was to make us sit on the Tanpura while he trained other disciples sometimes 3-4 hours at a stretch – and would reprimand us if we even yawned. Also he instructed me to do Riyaz in front of a mirror to prevent dosha of “mudrabhinaya”. Thus I evolved a stage presence and an individual style as a singer after assimilating various styles.

A musician’s relationship with her art should be sacred. That is what I understand by spirituality in music. I do have magical moments while practicing. But one has to come back to ground reality as one is performing in public. Apart from my spiritual guru, Kanebuwa and Ulhasbuwa have also given a spiritual orientation to my music. But, I am not yet a sufficiently elevated soul to fully grasp the spirituality of our music. 

In the profession
Politics exist in every field of life; and music is no exception. I welcome healthy competition but things do get unfair and vicious at times. One has to be tough to ignore all that. As a lady artiste the challenges are even greater. My spiritual guru’s blessings help me to maintain my equilibrium in such situations. If you have good talim and work hard, ultimately you will find a place in the market. 

It was my performance at Sawai Gandharva festival in Pune for the first time in 1998 which brought me into the limelight. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi personally prepared the list of artistes and I was chosen. An even bigger honour was my second performance at the same festival 4 years later. Elevation as a Top grade artist for All India radio in 2014 also is a significant event, which the concert circuit respects. 

What I have observed in almost two decades in the profession is that only genuine musicianship survives. Gimmicks give temporary success or fleeting limelight, but cannot last long. I was never tempted to resort to gimmicks because by and large my recitals were
With the Kirana stalwart, Dr. Prabha Atre
well received. Besides I have the guiding example of a serious performer in my guru Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar whose recitals have a full audience comprising classes as well as masses.

Classical concerts are not as lengthy any more as they were 50 years ago, therefore it is necessary to pack as much melody as one can within the confines of a raga. Also, the audience profiles vary at different places, so the aesthetic appeals have to be accordingly different. It takes years of contemplation to reach a stage where every second phrase will elicit a response, and I have to wait for my time. So, it is a task in evolution. 

When you have hit the concert circuit at a very young age, your evolution is taking place under public scrutiny.  There will be criticism of all kinds. I welcome criticism but am also aware of biased mind-sets which I have to ignore. My husband being untrained in classical music was a neutral listener. He used to say that he wanted relaxation - “sukoon” – from my music and a certain entertaining quality in my music. This also influenced my approach to music, and has given me popularity. 

Some degree of marketing is also required today. Especially on the Internet.  I am not very tech-savvy; so my husband Sandeep Patil, a software professional, handles that aspect. I am in the process of cutting new CDs as I have realized that people ask for my CDs after my recitals. Self-promotion is not my comfort zone but I am gradually overcoming my reticence in this matter and now I understand the power and reach of social media in today’s times.

A home-maker’s life in music
Of course, it isn’t easy. But, it is not impossible, either. My parents and my husband have always supported my career and I am very lucky in that respect, even my teen-age daughter understands my professional demands. Besides Kanebuwa had told me that an artiste is a part of society like everyone else and should live by norms in society. Also if one lives as a recluse, one’s example cannot be emulated. Your students should know that a harmonious family life can be balanced with a career in music.

Who is a good musician?
A good musician is a good human being first and a good performer next. He knows how to win over the audience. Also he has to have an unique attribute in his music. His music  should not be one-dimensional but multi-dimensional – assimilating the good musical features of several gharanas and their stalwarts. Also he should be able to transmit his “vidya” to the next generation.

A good musician will always be a respected musician irrespective of his commercial success. For instance playback singer Mukeshji was a successful musician but Mohammad Rafi was a better musician. Thus a successful musician need not be an equally good musician. A notable example is my guru Kanebuwa. He was a very good musician, and a respected teacher; but not very “successful” on the concert platform.

The “Pandita”/ “Vidushi” title has recently become common usage for lady musicians. My view is that a musician’s title should not be self-proclaimed. It should be conferred by people who understand good music. A Pandita or a Vidushi cannot be in her twenties or even thirties; she has to be senior – above 40 or 50. That’s when a musician is mature enough to be judged for his/her place in the music world. 

The Gurukul
People in cities have access to good artistes as Gurus. This is not so in the hinterland or rural areas. Sangli being my hometown and also being near Ichalkaranji –  Kanebuwa’s  karmabhoomi, I chose to establish a small Gurukul there. I personally train students on weekends and the talim sessions are 2 hours each morning and evening, there are other teachers too imparting basic training. Currently we are training 10 students in the age group of 8-15 years .

I do not define definite goals for myself in terms of  professional success. I want to keep growing as a musician, and want to be known as a good artist with the masses as well as the classes. As a teacher, I also want to leave a legacy behind of good artists who will keep the essence of Hindustani music alive.

© Dr. Shreyas Masrani  2015