After the celebrated Padma Bhushan Sharan Rani there have not been any outstanding women sarod players. It’s a difficult instrument to master and associated with vigour and a certain robustness. That looks to change now, with the prevalence of a handful of women sarod players slowly working their way up to mastery. It is interesting that the Senia- Shahjahanpur gharana seems to have enticed young women, despite the style of playing of this school adhering more to a virile, stroke dominated approach. Dr Chandrima Mazumdar, Debsmita Bhattacharya, and Rajrupa Chaudhary are all disciples of the same school.
Delhi-based Mazumdar has also written a well-researched thesis on the doyen of the gharana Pt. Radhika Mohan Maitra. Rajrupa is based in Dhaka but was in Delhi recently for a concert. I spoke to these women sarod players. Excerpts:
Sarod is not considered as an instrument suitable for female artists.
Chandrima: I didn’t know about this when I thought of learning sarod. We used to hear a lot of sarod recordings in my childhood. I first heard a live concert of sarod in Lucknow. I was totally enamoured by the sound and decided to take it up. In fact, my parents bought me a sarod even before I started learning!
Rajrupa: Initially, every instrument is difficult to handle but one gets used to it. A common misconception is it is difficult to hold during pregnancy; I personally never found it difficult. I think the hold (pakad) needs to be correct then it’s easy.
Did you miss out on fun activities while growing up? Are there any regrets?
Chandrima: I wouldn’t say I missed out because I myself withdrew from a lot of social gatherings, family functions, hanging out with friends as music was, and still is my best friend. I found all that they discussed (films, boyfriends, girlfriends, gossip) quite uninteresting. I did enjoy movies and theatre and shopping sprees and yes, gardening.
Rajrupa: Not really. My day was quite structured so I managed to go out, enjoy with friends too, and watch movies like any other kid. My mother helped me a lot in being disciplined. My friends started attending concerts with me.
How do you juggle responsibilities towards your family while practising?
Chandrima: The first two years after my son was born were difficult. And when I was working full time — it was indeed a challenge and it was a constant juggling act. Today my son is also learning how to play the sarod. My husband and mother-in-law are very encouraging and have supported me.
Rajrupa: I play sarod early in the morning, then get my son ready for school and handle the household. At night, I do riyaaz. My family is very supportive.
Is music filling a vacuum in your lives despite your hectic schedule?
Chandrima: True. Music has filled up every aspect of my life. I practise, teach, learn, read and think about music. Also, write and listen to a lot of music of all kinds. My jobs in the past have also been in the field of music so I feel truly blessed.I try to maintain the purity of the raga during my performances. I don’t want to do anything dramatic on stage — I just want to continue the tradition. However, I do take care to present different compositions each time, even within the same raga — different “layas”, (time cycle) or even to stress different aspects of sarod “baaj” (style) in each concert, sometimes more “jor”, sometimes more “bol” (stroke) work.
Rajrupa: I feel music transports you to another level. My mother deserves full credit for seeing this potential, or rather this need in me, and making me work really hard towards it. I started playing from the age of six, yet did my graduation in commerce of all things. Later, I realised music is my true calling and I studied it at the post-graduation level at Vishwa Bharati University where I met my guru Pt Sanjoy Bandhopadhyay. I feel playing the sarod is not about showing my technical mastery but of creating something uplifting that transports my audience. This is what I strive for. I feel in music the pauses are as important; there should be drama in the presentation.
Your musical taste include...
Chandrima: I listen to everybody from Mogubaiji to Kishoriji, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Kumar Gandharva, Mallikarun Mansur. I personally think Pt Radhika Mohan Maitra, my guru’s guru was a real genius — his very fast “ekhara dir” taans have enriched the repertoire of the gharana.
Rajrupa: I revere Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan, Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Pt Jagdish Varma. Amongst my gharana, of course Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt Radhika Mohan Maitra and Pt Budhadev Dasgupta. I also love Western classical music and jazz. I believe it’s important to be a rounded, well-exposed person to have the ability to absorb different cultural influences so your vision of art is not unidimensional and blinkered. My husband and I also watch lots of international cinema and I think this is important as well.