The Guest Post Series on “My Favourite Things” has contributions by those sharing my interests in travel, books, music, and on issues that I am passionate about. These posts are not always by fellow bloggers, and the authors are always those who have interesting experiences to share.
Today’s guest post is by Ajinkya, who writes about the challenges that the guru shishya parampara faces in contemporary times. He is a student of Dhrupad and learns at the Dhrupad Gurukul in Palaspe, Panvel. The Gurukul is run by the legendary vocalist, Ustad Zia Farid-uddin Dagar, and his illustrious rudra veena playing nephew, Bahauddin Dagar.
“Alap entails the search to get the most perfect pitch of every note….”
– Ustad Zia Farid-uddin Dagar
It is 4:30 am.
The trucks low through the thick of an outskirt town’s sleepy oblivion. Somewhere, a chai wallah starts to wash his vessels and the clank of his kettle dissolves noiselessly into the tired rattle of bus tires and bumpers coughing though the dusty highway. Hidden away on the side of the road is a small cluster of houses lost somewhere in the limbo between Bombay cityscream and the undisturbed solace of Palaspe village. A tramp wraps his newspaper a little more tightly around his skeletal frame and huddles into a ball. Mosquitoes circle his body like vultures hankering for a dying man’s last sigh. The dim darklight of a morning taking angdai falls lazily on a dilapidated board saying “Dhrupad Gurukul”.
The D hangs half lit like a symptom of an era. The same old debates circling around the romance of a lost time and the preservation of an art come to one’s mind. Scratching away at the surface of recycled intellectual trash these irrelevant speculations are quickly forgotten as one approaches the gurukul.
The air is still. The slow elegant ripples of the tanpura foreground a deep male voice falling gently down the well of the saptak and resting gently on the kharaj shadja. A student is doing his riyaaz. The dogs, by now used to the unusual ways of the Dagars and their shagird, lie quietly listening. They snicker to themselves as the student falls asleep and his note slips like a taut rope suddenly snapped mid sigh; dangling aimlessly. His guru is not there to watch him as he surreptitiously tries to catch a few winks.
Indeed the guru is not always there to watch. The shishya is one immersed in the mahaul of the gurukul; sometimes even a mere spectator in the mehfil — but a silent and watchful one. He can choose whether he wants to flow in the current of his Ustad’s passionate surrender or get caught in the foliage of uncertainty, unable to move.
As a form, Dhrupad is said to be one of the most meditative kinds of classical music. My favourite metaphor to try and describe it’s special place in the spectrum of music and ras is that of music and vices; that if music was to be compared with the ‘vices’ then Dhrupad would have been the joint — the charas. It’s a different experience altogether!
The Guru Shishya mode of pedagogy is not simple. Learning is slow and measured. The student is ever alert, the teacher omniscient. He is doused in supreme indifference and timely wisdom. And Music is a gift.
As I watch my guru bhai practising, I contemplate the particular location of this site — the Dhrupad Gurukul — a page torn out of the diary of another world and thrust into the garbage that is today’s existence. It is almost a capsule, a glimpse of romance and nostalgia trying to survive the heat of chaos-driven existences, petty financial pursuits, a city caught in transit — bursting at the seams, ready to implode. It is as if the Dagars have quietly put a foot into reality’s door and are letting a sliver of art and history slant towards the dark basement that is today’s world.
This small one-storey building holds within its confines a community of artists and rasikas at the edge of the urban sprawl like the curiously colourful fungus that lodges itself on the end of a wet branch — slightly different and parasitic to the untrained gaze but still beautiful. Truly, the Bombay Dagars and their shagird are a funny lot — doused in their music they slowly oscillate between functional reality and the transformative experience that is Dhrupad. Here you will find the deep sonority of the rudra veena strings making way for a Jet Li action movie; a student’s riyaaz drowned by an animated conversation taking place about the ills of the UPA government (over a cup of chai and Shibhu’s steaming pav vada).
The Gurukul becomes a site of dual tendencies — a strange mix of the contemporary and the timeless; and the fusion is sometimes harmonious, difficult, downright funny but not always pleasant. The act of knowledge transfer — the creation of a shishya, the evolution of a child into a dhrupadiya is a slow, gradual process. The epiphanic moment of artistic abandon and Blakelike Truth is elusive. Setting out in search of it is like waiting under a tree for the mango to fall. It emerges in the gradual immersion of the student into music and the life it brings along with it. Yet, it can envelop the shishya so suddenly that he cannot but surrender to the taste of Dhrupad and the dhrupadiya’s way of life.
Students of every kind come to the Gurukul. There is the “part-time” student, the “hobby” student, the “tuition” student (who comes in once or twice a week, as opposed to staying in the gurukul) the “foren” student who comes in once or twice a year for short durations, the student who learns only to learn and not to perform, the “full-time” student, and even the “full time pass” student ! The Shishyas often try to negotiate day jobs, or other gigs along with their passion. It is a place where students go in and out and let themselves be carried by the tide of the music and yet live in the “real world”. There are those who spend most of their time in the Gurukul — they are the “full-time students” who have decided to give their lives completely to the art.
The Dagars walk that tightrope between commercialisation, the gallery and their art. They negotiate their way through it and end up on the other side tottering. Still, they go on without compromise. Indeed, sometimes, I find it hard to believe that a site such as this exists at all!