Four regions, four musicians, four questions, four perspectives — yet a common thread of positivity and introspection running through them all. Regardless of their ages (Abhishek Raghuram is in his 30s, while Pandit Ajoy Chakrabarty is touching 70), all the musicians have made the best of the pandemic, taken the restrictions imposed on them in their stride, dealing with the huge changes in their world with grace. One is left struck and impressed by their spirit of philosophical acceptance.
Biggest takeaway from the pandemic
It is not to take life for granted. That was the message that this writer walked away with after interacting with the four musicians. But for each individual, the lens through which they viewed their experience and reached this conclusion was different. If it was friendship for one, it was the body and its changing dynamics for another, and nature’s wisdom and the spirit of humanity that binds us for the remaining interviewees. As Pt Ajoy Chakrabarty, vocal maestro from Kolkata, reflected: “For me, foremost, is the realisation of how ephemeral life is. So many great musicians have been snatched before their time. I have to admit, the amount of time I spent at home has been a huge blessing; it’s something I have never done before. Also, there is increased awareness of the need to help others, preserve Nature, respect others.”
“Foremost, the pandemic has taught [me]”, Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar, dhrupad maestro from Delhi, “about how precious good health, hygiene and, indeed, life is”. “My first reaction to the pandemic was that it's a very useful and wonderful time to spend with your Art. But, gradually I realised how important it is to have interaction with others, to have that human touch. Not through the screen but from a body reaction,” Wasifuddin said. “In one way, it is absolutely right that you do your art for yourself, but it is very important to get the audience feedback spontaneously, rather than only reading the applause on the screen,” he explained.
Pt Yogesh Samsi, the famous tabla maestro from Mumbai, warned: “It’s high time we realise we have to respect Nature, respect what we have got in terms of resources on this planet and learn to look after it, to respect and value it. The amount of abuse Mother Earth has gone through due to the onslaught by humanity — be it social, economic, political or through technology. It has led to such an imbalance that probably it has led to a situation where Mother Earth is trying to heal itself. Across the globe, we have all been taught a huge lesson.”
Vidwan Abhishek Raghuram, the Carnatic vocalist who happens to be based out of Chennai, offered, “The pandemic has brought in all of us a strong reassertion of the faith that humanity comes together in support of each other, for the larger cause, when the need arises. I also feel the pandemic has taught us to pick our real needs from what we have assumed them to be so far, almost irrationally!”
The most productive activity during the pandemic
Riyaaz and retrospection emerged as common themes. “My music. I spent 10-12 hours on my music, something I have never been able to do,” was Chakrabarty’s reply. It coincided with Wasifuddin Dagar’s view and he said: “Definitely, doing my own riyaaz, and what I had never done before, teaching online. Also learning to handle these modern gadgets of communication, like laptops and mobiles; I am still learning.” For Samsi, “it was having all the time in the world to think of my music — almost like a rewind of my life. All the aspects I had difficulty in doing earlier, reviewing all I had learnt from abbaji (Ustad Alla Rakha Khan) these last few decades. Then pondering on it — chintan, mannan karna, aur riyaaz karna. Apne khud ki sadhana, be it yoga or meditation… I got to give a lot of time to myself, something that I had never done in the last 25 years, due to my professional travels”. Abhishek Raghuram, too, spent a lot of time introspecting into his art and his career trajectory. “With the changed routines, I have a lot more opportunity to retrospect clearly and deeply to my journey so far and my course ahead. This, I feel, has been very beneficial to me as an artiste,” Raghuram said.
Things most missed during the pandemic
This time, the answers were very varied. Ajoy Chakrabarty “really felt bereft at the loss of so many good friends from the world of the arts”. “Great musicians from the Hindustani and Carnatic music world have left us,” he lamented. Wasifuddin Dagar was more situated in the present. He missed “live concerts, panel discussions, normal human interaction other than with my family, travelling and, most of all, driving! “It’s therapy for me,” he added, referring to this hobby. Yogesh Samsi longed for “getting together with my students, teaching sessions, and meeting with intellectuals; satsang with like-minded people”. Abhishek Raghuram rued the loss of “the ability to meet and interact with co-artistes, friends and the larger family”.
Do you believe the music world will return to what it was, pre pandemic?
No investment in the new normal, for these musicians, who were almost unanimous in rejecting the much-tooted idea. All four artistes replied to this question in the affirmative, although Ajoy Chakrabarty qualified his response with conditions. He said, “Yes, though there will be changes; for one, I think the online stage will remain for good. Teaching online will remain too, though as far as I am concerned, I had always taught online, in fact have been doing so for the last 11 years, so that’s not been new for me.” Wasifuddin Dagar sounded more emphatic. He said, “I am an optimist, what has become the ‘new normal’ will again be replaced by the old ‘normal’, Insha’allah, but don’t quite know when. I pray, soon!” Yogesh Samsi felt “the process will be slower, but eventually concerts will happen”. “We need to be patient, and not try to hurry things up,” he said. “In fact, my faith is that it will resume in a fashion larger and stronger than before. The world is as anxious as we are about the gap the pandemic has brought upon us,” was Raghuram’s confident observation.
Bonus responses: Lockdown or no, did these masters stoop to perform domestic chores? Wasifuddin shared candidly that the chore he has most hated doing was tidying his room, which he kept leaving for others to do! Abhishek endearingly said every chore he has had to do has been a pleasure, which he will miss once he again has less time!
Shailaja Khanna writes on music, musicians and matters of music...