1 min read.Updated: 08 Feb 2013, 06:07 PM ISTShreya Ray
Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha learnt 'dhrupad' together and are now the most active champions of this ancient musical tradition, saving it from extinction
Close to midnight, on an unusually chilly night in Kolkata, the by-lanes around Nazrul Mancha—the open-air auditorium in Ballygunge—are lined with cars. The Dover Lane Music Conference, no longer able to contain itself in its original location in Dover Lane, now packs into this 4,000-seat venue. This musical event is into its 61st year and audiences are preparing themselves for another history-making all-nighter. Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is wrapping up his tilak kamod, and up next are the Gundecha Brothers.
Inside the greenroom, wearing identical Tussar kurtas and Nehru jackets, Umakant and Ramakant Gundecha are engaged in last-minute preparations. Umakant nibbles on Marie biscuits, while Ramakant fiddles with an iPad for a tanpura-tuning app. A student comes into the room and mutters “maru bihag". “We are just keeping a track of what artistes performing before us have sung, we don’t want to repeat. At such festivals, you can’t pre-decide what to sing," says Umakant.
Alongside their music education, the brothers were also completing their formal education. Umakant did an MSc, and Ramakant, an MCom—“Hum shuru se hi buddhu nahi they (We weren’t stupid to start with)," quips Ramakant. They both took up jobs in Nagda in Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh. Within five months, they won a scholarship, and both started their dhrupad training under ustads Zia Fariduddin and Zia Mohiuddin Dagar. “Our day would start at 4am with kharaj sadhana, or the practice of the lower notes. (This) is the most critical to training as a classical musician as it increases the base in your voice, gives you better range and builds resonance. Before sunrise is when the yogic chakras related to your vocal chords are most active," says Umakant.
A DEMOCRACY OF TWO: Ramakant: It depends, but we discuss everything before taking a decision.
WIDE ANGLE, SHARP FOCUS: Umakant: Ramakant is the tech-savvy one who takes charge of communication, tour dates, while I handle the rest, from travel logistics to buying vegetables.
CROSS-CURRENTS: Ramakant: There are disagreements over everything, from what raga to sing to what dates to travel, but we usually get over those quickly.
DO NOT OPEN: Ramakant: There’s nothing as such. We both are open to discussing everything.
The one thing they share in equal measure is their love of literature and poetry. “Many of their compositions are pieces of poetry they have loved and set to dhrupad style," says Sarbari. In fact, this use of poetry is now a hallmark of their style. The performance at Nazrul Mancha in January was no different. They opened with a new composition, a poem by Swami Vivekananda which they had set to the dhrupad format. Umakant’s base balancing out Ramakant’s lighter voice, the two brothers paid tribute to Vivekananda, the saint dhrupadia, in perfect unison.