141st Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan
Rather than going into the details of what went on during each performance, I’ll try to summarise the experience of attending the 141st edition of Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan.
This was the third time I was attending the festival – the first one being in 2012. Although, I love how the whole festival caters music to esurient and yearning music lovers who come from faraway lands to be a part of this legacy, but I do have to point a few things that I feel could have been better. I hope that someone from the management reads this part and takes it in the right spirit. There is no denying that the management works tirelessly to organise this festival. I have heard that only putting up the tent takes about ten to fifteen days. The tent is great, there are heaters all over, the lighting is great, there’s a big screen for people at the back, sound’s also good most of the times, the set and decoration is done by people with good aesthetic taste, even the sponsor advertising is not outrageous. Also, the food served is too good. All this is great.
But you see, whoever comes here from far away comes for the music and when that turns out to be appalling, then there’s nothing else that can fix that problem. This was probably the first time I witnessed a good number of people not deserving of this stage on this stage. I don’t really know how a management with such good musical education can allow that to happen. I have listed down the culprits at the end of this writeup. Apart from this, I saw a difference in the outside catering this time. This was nothing like the last two times I had been here. Last time, there were several food, book and music stalls just outside the performance area. I have no idea why that was scrapped this time. Another observation – the security shouldn’t stop people from entering the Z block when there are a total of 50 people in the tent premises. You shouldn’t be stopping people from entering when you’re pleading everyone to come and visit you from different parts of the country. And, by the way, there’s no security check. Never was my bag checked. The security people allow or disallow you to enter on the basis of a card which says Z block. Fortunately, someone from the management, who has been my single point of contact at Harballabh since 2102, gave me the cards at the end of day 1. I met him just after finding out that my slip-ons were stolen from the shoe area. I didn’t wear chappals or shoes for the rest of the two and a half days I was there. That didn’t hurt. But the bad music really did hurt.
The good thing was that the amount of good music was more than the amount of bad music. Surprising discoveries were made. One of which was made in an outrageously talented and prepared/tayyar Harmonium player called Tanmay Deochake, who was supposed to accompany the tabla duo Shubh Maharaj and Sukhwinder Singh Pinky at around 8 pm but missed his flight from Delhi and the program was shifted from 8 pm to 11 pm. He reached Jalandhar by road. I’m so glad that he didn’t miss Harballabh.
Then there was an underrated Sitar player Harvinder Sharma who played from the treasure of Vilayat Khan. He played a beautiful Pilu. Later on finished with a Meera Bhajan in Pahadi called Paayoji Maine Raam Ratan Dhan Paayo. I’m not really a fan of Sitarists singing while they play but it didn’t sound bad when he sang along. I had the good fortune to meet him after his performance and told him that I loved how and what he played and it reminded me of Vilayat Khan’s play, which I have only heard in the form of audio and video recordings.
The performances of Tejendra Narayan Majumdar’s Jaijaiwanti, Santosh Nahar and Satvinder Pal Singh’s Vachaspati and Satvinder Singh Pinky and Shubh Maharaj’s Teen Taal were captivating. Satvinder Pal Singh on Sarangi was another discovery. It’s a pity that he didn’t accompany vocal artists in place of the ghastly Devendra Verma. Life is cruel.
Of the vocalists, I think only three gave very good performances. The first one being Prasad Kharpade, who is a disciple of Rashid Khan and has appeared in the prestigious music production on TV called Coke Studio. He rendered a beautiful Kaunsi Kanada. While he was getting the instruments tuned, I actually thought he would sing Darbari but that wasn’t the case. No one sang Darbari. Well, at least not on the stage. I had the good fortune to listen to Iqbal Khan’s alaap in Darbari in his room along with a few other people. Iqbal Khan, who is a disciple of Sayeeduddin Dagar, started with Jog – because it happens to be one of my favorite ragas. Then moved on to Darbari – which his one of his favorite ragas. Dhrupad can both be serene and haunting. Deadly combination, believe me you.
A few years back I posted on Facebook a playlist of the songs that I was listening to and one of the rendition was Kaushiki Chakraborty’s to which a person responded how can you listen to an hour long rendition of Kedar. Although, I was far less educated in the art of listening to classical music than I am now, I still think that Kedar is definitely worth over an hour. I don’t think it’s a ten minute raga. It all just depends upon on the khayal and imagination of the renderer. In this, Shantanu Bhattacharya’s rendition of Kedar at Harballabh this time was really good. What I heard was something that can be immediately identified at Patiala gayaki. Shantanu is more of a copy of Ajoy Chakraborty than a copy of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan though I saw hints of both of those singers in Shantanu.
The Kedia bros played a seldom heard raga called Chandranandan, creation of Ali Akbar Khan.Their rendition was fairly good except for the last two to three minutes where it seemed it bit off. Apart from the Kedia bros, Shubha Paradkar and Mallick bros also showcased their art decently well. Shubha Paradkar’s Shahana was really good. Shahana is a raag I dearly love. I must admit, though, that I did not enjoy Mallick bros performance as much as I enjoy Dhrupad performances in general.
The festival ended with a beautiful performance by Upendra Bhat, a disciple of Bhimsen Joshi, who sang Komal Rishab Asavari, followed by a bandish in Lalit Bhatiyar, a thumri in Jogiya and finally, keeping the traditional, Basant Bahar and Bahar. The festival ended on a good note, literally.
The bad thing about memory is that it remains especially when you want to forget something. There were performances that I would rather unsee but that can’t happen. Remember that I said I’ll come back to the culprits who performed horribly and did not deserve the stage. One example was a Harmonium player called Deverndra Verma. His Pandit licence should be revoked immediately and he shouldn’t be allowed to play at Harballabh. I have never seen such a bad harmonium played playing with a Khayal musician. I only listened to Chandana Dixit from my room at the Dharamshala. Couldn’t make much of it but I don’t think she was also deserving of this platform. Suresh Gandharv wasn’t that good either. Manu Srivastava wasn’t as bad but I think he should have waited for this stage for a few more years. If you see closely, though, amongst all the below average or bad performers, one guy was common – Deverndra Verma, the Harmonium guy. I think that says a lot. Think about it. Ronu Majumdar was worst of all. He wore the worst dress that anyone could wear. It was so red in color that my eyes couldn’t bear it. Inspired from Milan Kundera’s book title, I could write an essay on how bright the red was. The essay would be called the unbearable brightness of a being. Maybe he thinks of himself as the Lady Gaga of Indian classical music. I assure you he is not. He chose really beautiful ragas to play but played them with unneeded haste and audible disgrace. Or maybe, this is what those ragas demanded. Obviously, he knows more about this form of music than I would ever know but I didn’t like his play.
Suggestions for the management
- Have morning and noon sessions too – If needed break the spree of performances into two or three everyday so that Jaunpuri, Sarang, Ahir Bhairav etc. also get a chance to be heard. It’s a democracy, right!
- Keep your sessions flexible – The 1.5 hour time limit for all artists is a bit harsh – sometimes for the artist and sometimes for the audiences. It is harsh for the artist when someone amazing is performing. It is harsh for the audiences when someone terrible is performing.Give more time to the artists who deserve more time. This only happens once a year and the audiences and the musicians both deserve the time.
- Include demonstration sessions too. This will give the students a chance to learn what an artist has learnt and how he has learnt whatever he has learnt. You could call popular people like Gulzar etc. who could communicate the magic of this music in words just like the artist does with his voice or his instruments.
- Do recognise the fact that Indian music involves both Hindustani and Carnatic. I didn’t see any Carnatic performer here.
- Also, there are other forms of classical and light classical music that you should think about like – thumri, dadra, tappa, qawwali. These should not be just ornamental to a largely khayal performance. I mean to say that people who specialise in these forms should have been called to perform. Ask yourself a question – would you like to hear a thumri from Shobha Gurtu/Begum Akhtar or would you rather listen to a thumri by Kaushiki Chakraborty!
- For the sake of good music, please be really careful while selecting the accompanists. Also, there should be more Sarangi accompaniment.
- One of the presenters brought up rates at which you call artists to perform. Don’t bring up rates of performances on stage, even as a joke. It’s highly distasteful.
- Harballabh Vandana – Understand this problem. If you allow any Tom, Dick or Harry to get on this stage, then you are diminishing your own standard. Everything is on the internet now. Everyone would see who performed at Harballabh. If these colleges sponsor the festival somehow, make sure that whatever they are performing is up to the mark.
This festival can have the same craze as there is for Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Music Festival. Currently, this isn’t the case, believe me.
P.S. (on a personal note) – On the eve of 22nd December, me and my sister flew from Bangalore to Delhi. It was a late night flight. I had the great pleasure of being in air on my birthday. Flying, literally. As soon as I reached the airport, my mom was there to pick me up and a few other friends came separately with a cake. Mom had also brought a cake. Two of my friends gifted me a Ibanez Ukelele. My mom and sister got me t-shirts painted with my favorite people’s pictures in acrylic paint – amazing stuff. The people happen to be Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Jaun Elia and Bob Marley. Straight from the airport, we left for Jalandhar to attend this festival. Such was the plan. Despite a few disappointments, I think it was more than worth it.