Could you see Zakir Saheb? I overheard the voice of an exhilarated mother asking her son the moment the God of tabla stepped on the stage, the pair of tabla-bayan in hand. As I turned back to look at them, I saw almost 3000 beaming faces along with theirs. The hall was jam-packed with onlookers along with eminent musicians and genuine tabla-lovers. Even otherwise, Kolkata boasts of its latest craze the solo tabla. It is a sure way to attract hoards of young musicians; as a result most soirees culminate with one. Someone as charismatic like Ustad Zakir Hussain and his solo is a magical combination for all concerned.
No wonder, even the tight security arrangements could not dissuade the fans when all roads led to Nazrul Manch, Kolkata, where Kajalrekha Musical Foundation, an initiative of tabla maestro Subhankar Banerjee, organised Pranam. Dedicated to the loving memory of his mother and mentor Kajalrekha Banerjee, this was the 20th annual presentation by his Taalsen Academy. As such, this had to be solemn and special.
In keeping with the mood, the Ustad selected Rupak, with a pensive character highlighted by the khaali right at the starting point of this seven-beat tala cycle. Supported by ace harmonium player Ajay Joglekar, the alaap like elaborations during his 35-minute-long peshkar, the Ustad apparently addressed students of serious music across all gharanas. Grounded firmly on the chosen tempo, it displayed umpteen varieties of rhythmic variants and bol-patterns. The faraway look of his eyes while weaving patterns were apparently focused at a point from where he could see an entire universe of slow, slanting, swaying or running fractions between the two beats and his magical fingers etched their beauty through unparalleled nikas (execution) which gradually warmed up with thickly woven mnemonics and built the crescendo that ebbed with a tihai.
Next, each of his kaida displays arrived with different aural effects emanating out of the aesthetic emphasis on a set of chosen bols, replete with numerical patterns, both in slow and fast tempi. Compositions by legends, including his fathers came with such clarity that one could feel the impact of raining pearls of different hues. Those who couldnt, the master had something for them too!
From this point the showman in him took charge. To cast his spell and to entertain the lay listeners, he now created several stories such as Traffic signal, Hiran ki chaal and Damaru and Shankh around traditional compositions studded with diversely complex rhythmic designs. At the end of this one-and-a-half hour recital, a spontaneous and thunderous standing ovation greeted him because even a layman could understand that such wizardry was possible only due to an exemplary combination of dogged devotion to ones art with unparalleled skill laced with ready wit and humour.
Unlike most classical artistes, this disarming streak of Zakir Sahebs persona brings him very close to his admirers. He blessed Subhankar, the devoted son of his Ma, by adapting the voice and mannerisms of a centenarian. It brought comical relief to a heavy emotional ambience.
Earlier, the evening commenced with Chaturanga, a well-coordinated musical presentation by a team of students of Taalsen Academy under the direction of gurus Subhankar and his vocalist wife Nibedita Banerjee. Apart from this melodic offering, the couple also paid tributes to their Ma, who nurtured a strong mind, loving heart and artistic temperament within her polio-stricken body, by distributing scholarships to physically challenged but talented music students and by handing over Chhanda (special medical assistance card and priority health card sponsored by a reputed hospital) to one hundred musicians, represented by stalwarts like Tejendra Narayan Majumdar (sarod), Kushal Das (sitar), Chandana Chakraborty (principal, Shrutinandan) and Shrikanto Acharya (poplar singer).
Another heart warming endeavour of the Banerjees is to offer moral and monetary support to those veterans who were leading lights of their generations but are out of sight and out of mind now. This year a purse was offered to Pandit Chandrabhan Shrisunder.