Monday, 12 May 2008

Radhika Mohan Maitra: His Life and Times - IV

[Continued from Part III]

8. Radhubabu Turns Pro

After Partition Radhubabu moved to Calcutta: he realized that there was no future for him in Rajshahi even though his father, Brajendra Mohan, clung to his life there. Because no property had been acquired in Calcutta, Radhubabu faced the prospect of life without the support of his ancestral riches. He started practicing Law in the courts in Calcutta as an Advocate. His degree in Law entitled him to do this but interlocutary practice was an activity he disliked even more than teaching at Rajshahi College. Gradually he realized that the only course open to him was to become a professional musician and for the first time began to charge fees for teaching nusic and performing in concerts.

The instinct of being a patron however did not go away completely. With his friend the great tabla player Jnan Prakash Ghosh, he started a music club where members paid a monthly fee and could attend concerts held at Jnan Prakash’s home in an atmosphere which approximated the ambience of a zamindar’s music room. Because the organizers were respected musicians and most of the audience true afficianados most performers would rise to great heights in the concerts they gave at the Jhankar Music Circle.

This institution survived almost unchanged till the middle of the sixties but thereafter changed character when a more “forward looking” management took over the running of the club. Such an organization cannot exist in the present day since monthly subscriptions of a few dozen music lovers will not suffice to cover the fees of even a moderately rated professional musician.

9. Radhubabu Enters the National Arena

In the 1950’s Hindustani Music received a new impetus from an unlikely source: the Government of India. After the first General elections in 1952 the Cabinet minister in charge of Information and Broadcasting was a music lover and Sanskrit scholar, B V Keskar. He had a somewhat grandiose vision of making classical music the choice of the masses and Sanskrit a language which everyone in India would use!

He started a new initiative of special broadcasts of classical music over All India Radio including the weekly Saturday night National Programme of Music and annual Radio Sangeet Sammelans (Music Conferences) held in various centres around India. Although most of Keskar’s other ideas like the banning of Bollywood music and the harmonium from All India Radio have been discontinued the National Programmes and Radio Sangeet Sammelans have endured.

The National Programmes had a major impact: they brought almost instant national recognition to several fine musicians who while highly regarded in their own regions were not known to the public all over India. Amongst the musicians who benefitted from such exposure were Radhubabu and a host of Marathi musicians like Gajanan Rao Joshi (a singer/violinist).

Within six months of Radhubabu’s first National Programme he was being invited to perform in Bombay, Amravati, Nagpur in Maharashtra and places like Indore and Gwalior in Madhya Pradesh. Such invitations continued almost throughout his professional career: as has been explained, Radhubabu felt more at ease amongst the audiences in Western India and probably gave a better account of himself at such venues.

There was a tradition in Maharashtra of listening to a single artiste for a whole night! As the performer for the soiree would sit down the senior members of the audience would declare that “We will only go after listening to Bhairavi” (a morning raga)! To lessen the burden of playing all night on these journeys Radhubabu often took with him young disciples like Buddhadev Dasgupta, Arun Chatterjee (Sitar) or Kalyan Mukherjea. He also on a few occasions took with him young promising tabla players like Shankar Ghosh and Shyamal Bose as accompanists. Thus not only did Radhubabu make his own music known but gave currency to the “Calcutta style of tabla playing . This style came to dominate the music scene in the sixties and seventies because both Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar used representatives of this style for accompanists in many of their recordings and concert tours.

10. The Years of Decline

By the middle of the fifties, Radhubabu had become an established figure in the Hindustani music scene. In the late fifties and sixties he was making concert appearances all over India and had a very large coterie of students. He had gotten over the trauma of Partition and was living a comfortable upper middle class existence, seemingly content with his life. His parents, for the most part, lived with him though Brajendra Mohan kept going back to Rajshahi in order to continue a legal battle seeking compensation from the Pakistani authorities for the estate he had lost.

An indication of Radhubabu’s satisfaction with his life during the fifties is that for the first time he, the arch-traditionalist, created new ragas and even a new instrument! The first of these ragas, ‘Lalitamanjari’ (dedicated to his wife) was perhaps the finest of his creations. The singer Pandit Chinmoy Lahiri adopted this raga, contracting the name to ‘Lalita’. (Lahiri’s disciple, Parween Sultana recorded this in one of her early LP albums and this preserved it for posterity.)

I mention a few more of his melodic creations most of these are named after his close friends:
  • ‘Madanmanjari’ named after Dr. A. V. Madangopal, an eminent opthalmologist of Amravati;
  • ‘Chandra Malhar’ created in honour of Dr. S. R. Chandra who will appear in our story a little later, and somewhat untypically;
  • ‘Shahi Kanada’ created for a recital in the court of the late King Zaheer Shah of Afghanistan.
Starting in the early sixties Radhubabu turned his attention to the design of instruments. He modified a Sarod, by replacing the skin covering of the drum by a thin piece of wood, and replacing the knife-edge bridge of the Sarod with a wider bridge as in the Sitar. He christened it the ‘Mohan Veena’. In 1960 he devoted half of a National Programme to this instrument, playing an alap and a short gat in ‘Mian Malhar’. This was appropriate since the Mohan Veena sounded very much like a Sursringar — an instrument reserved for playing alap only.

Why did Radhubabu create this new instrument? Perhaps Radhubabu felt somewhat guilty that he never gave recitals on the Sursringar in spite of having learnt it from Dabir Khan and owning a beautiful instrument which had reputedly belonged to the great Ustad Mohammed Khan. He did design a few other instruments but these were not as successful as his experiment with the Mohan Veena.

Radhubabu’s cup seemed to be overflowing when he bought a comfortable house in Jadavpur, one of the Southern suburbs of Calcutta. For a person who “owned” an estate of several thousand square Kilometres, the necessity of having to live in rented premises must have been difficult, to say the least.Notwithstanding all the positive aspects of his life in the early sixties, a few perceptive observers noticed an undercurrent of dissatisfaction.

Radhubabu may have preferred music making to lecturing at Rajshahi College or practicing Law as a means of making a living, but never felt comfortable in his new position of a “peddler” of an Art of which he had been a patron. This strongly influenced his attitudes towards the music world and led to a gradual deterioration of his market appeal. He never approached any of the organizers in Calcutta asking them to feature him in concerts they arranged and indeed was often hostile towards them when they met him to negotiate terms. Also he never learned the artifices of playing to the galleries. If asked in concerts to play in a lighter vein (thumris or dhuns) he would acquiesce but on such occasions gave the impression of being bored.

This was particularly true when he was playing in Calcutta, his home base. As a result, though his appeal remained strong in Northern and Western India his appearances in Calcutta became less frequent. Though he never mentioned any such feelings, the fact that during the busy “music conference season” in Calcutta he would perform only occasionally must have been galling.

A steep decline began when one afternoon while on his way to teach a student, his car was hit by a truck and Radhubabu sufferred substantial injuries including broken ribs, a fractured collar bone and a dislocated shoulder. Fortunately one of the best orthopaedic surgeons in India, the late Dr S R Chandra, was a personal friend and he received first rate care and made a complete recovery in about six months. But this meant that he had to forgo all concert engagements, particularly the outstation ones. So music organizers all over India got to know that Radhubabu had suffered grievious injuries, but not that he had recovered completely!

Radhubabu prepared very carefully for the first concert he broadcast after his accident. It was a truly memorable performance: Shankar Ghosh recounted that he listened to the late night rendering of Chhaayaa-Bihag in the company of Ali Akbar Khan who remarked that he had not heard Radhubabu in such a lyrical mood for a very long time!

Radhubabu was hoping that the Radio Sangeet Sammelan concert in November 1962 would help restore his national reputation anew but the entire series of concerts were cancelled when the Sino-Indian border dispute led to a short but disastrous war in October. Naturally ’63 and ’64 were somewhat lean years. Another setback came when the Radio Sangeet Sammelan was cancelled in 1965 because of the Indo-Pak war. His concert appearances dropped sharply from this point.

During this time there were other disappointments. One of his senior disciples, Nemai Chand Dhar, passed away at an early age. another of his favourite disciples, Kalyan Mukherjea, went abroad to pursue an academic career. Kalyan’s style was perhaps closest to his own; Radhubabu’s mother often mistook Kalyan’s playing as her son’s! So while Radhubabu was happy about Kalyan’s scholastic achievements he was sorry to see him go away. In 1967 his mother to whom he was very close died and perhaps his most loving and stern critic was no more!

By this time the first generation of bureaucrats who had controlled All India Radio and had brought Radhubabu into the limelight were being replaced by new faces and Radhubabu, of course, made little effort to cultivate a personal relationship with these new “baboos”. As a result National Programme broadcasts declined in frequency and his market shrank even further.

By the early seventies Radhubabu had become somewhat bitter about the small measure of recognition he was receiving. Even the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award in 1972 failed to revive his spirits substantially. Early in 1973 his wife, who had been ailing from a cardiac problem for many years, finally passed away. This was followed by the untimely death of his dear friend, Justice A K Mukherjea. At that time Radhubabu wrote to the judge’s widow that he felt alone in the world and no longer felt enthused about music.

[Continued in Part V]

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