Today, if I had my druthers, I would be on my way to Varanasi to attend the 2009 Ganga Mahotsav. To listen to classical musicians on the banks of the Ganga under a full moon would be bliss indeed. Ustad Bismillah Khan played here; as did a host of other luminaries.
I go through phases when listening to Hindustani music. For a while, I listened only to sonorous men: the Ali, Mishra and Gundecha brothers. The latter’s Shiva Shiva Shiva available on YouTube is a particular favourite.
Recently, thanks to my niece, Sangeeta, I have switched to listening to women. Sangeeta is 11 and one of the particular pleasures of my life is listening to her sing and hum as she practises her taans, her young voice as clear and transporting as a bell through the mountain air.
Whether it is Kishori Amonkar’s Hey Govind Hey Gopal, Shruti Sadolikar’s Har Har Deva, or Ashwini Bhide’s Gayeeye Ganapati, there are few things as sweet as the female voice. Men’s voices offer depth; women’s voices offer unadulterated honey. The problem in Hindustani music is that depth is valued more than sweetness. In Carnatic music, we call this gaathram, which means ‘body’ in Sanskrit. I am sure that there is a word in Hindustani music for this rough deep texture of a masculine female voice. D.K. Pattammal had it, as did Gangubai Hangal. Or maybe it was simply that they practised more than their sweet-voiced contemporaries to make up for their presumed poor voice, and achieved a level of expertise far above the norm.
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