By MOHAN NADKARNI
The Economic Times, October 8, 1989
Three good reasons prompted me to attend the sitar performance by the Calcutta-based Bimal Mukherjee under the auspices of Sangit Mahabharati at Juhu, in North Bombay, on September 24.
In the first place, this was Mukherjee’s concert appearance that came after many years and, on the few occasions that I had heard him in the past, he had struck me as a virtuoso with a high degree of professional attainments without being a professional in the conventional sense.
Second, the connoisseurs’ admiration for him was all the greater – and rightly – because till he retired form the government service, he was a top IAS official, who had held positions in the highest echelons of administration, including those of Food Commissioner, member of the Board of Revenue and chief secretary of West Bengal, and yet achieved eminence among today’s instrumental veterans.
Finally, it spoke of Mukherjee’s standing in the professional field that his present visit to the city had brought him a series of four solo concerts and an equal number of lecture-demonstrations at other music circles.
Strange but true, this particular programme evoked mixed reactions in my mind. It was, at best, a programme which turned out to be like the curate’s egg, good in parts. It was neither a full-fledged sitar solo, nor a complete presentation in lecture-demonstration, but a curious mixture of both and, therefore, not a relishable experience to me.
True, Mukherjee is also a scholar and researcher in music, besides being a performing virtuoso, having had the benefit of thorough training from several noted instrumental and vocal maestros of yesteryear, like Abid Hussian Khan and Faiyaz Khan of Baroda. His grounding in the aesthetics of Hindustani music has invested his lecture-demonstrations with the stamp of authority.
Even so, it is pertinent to remember that performance and lecture-demonstration are entirely two different types of musical presentation, which should be enjoyed separately and independently in their own right. The sponsors had announced that this was a solo concert on the sitar. To be fair to the audience, therefore, the artiste, should have adhered to the nature of the programme announced by the sponsors.
As it happened, Mukherjee’s solo performance was restricted only to the opening item – a maginificent exploration of the seasonal raga, Goud Malhar, in alap jod and jhala movements. Predictably, it swept one off one’s feet by its shimmering glory. As usual, it had behind it the unimpeachable evidence of a strenuous cultivation of the sitar music. It embodied a brilliant synthesis of many musical virtues – a tasteful sense of design, charm of expression and fecundity of imagination. In sum, it reflected the beauty, grace and vigour of the fast-vanishing sitar baaz of old masters.
I hardly knew that I was in for disappointment when the artiste proceeded to depict Yaman. It did not take one long to realise that Mukherjee had somehow changed his mind and switched over to present a lecture-demonstration, with appropriate verbal comment. We were then treated to brief bandishes he had acquired from luminaries like Barkatullah Khan and Faiyaz Khan explaining, in the process, their aesthetic beauties and refinements. In between, he played another bandish of Barkatullah in Bhoop and then reverted to playing two more compositions in Yaman.
We next heard a string of bandishes, depicting different varieties of Kanada, as they were visualized by the Ustads like Kallan Khan and Faiyaz Khan. This was followed by alap in Mishra Khamaj and then a gat composition credited to Wajid Ali Shah. The over-all impact of the evening programme was such as to evoke mixed feelings, as mentioned earlier. Young Nayan Ghosh on the tabla lent splendid support.