Kishori Amonkar passes away: Highlights from the renowned vocalist's last interview
Editor's note: This article was originally published on Firstpost in December 2016. Amonkar, 84, passed away on 3 April 2017, at her home in Mumbai after a brief illness.
Titled 'The loneliness of being Kishori Amonkar', the Indian Express' interview with the noted classical vocalist, that appeared in print on Sunday, 11 December 2016, is a rare one.
Rare, because Amonkar doesn't believe in giving out too many interviews — as it takes away time from her daily riyaaz and teaching.
It is also rare because Amonkar, after agreeing to the interview (thanks to the persistence of the writer, Suanshu Khurana) opens up a fair bit about her life, music, and what being on stage means.
Here are highlights from Khurana's conversation with Amonkar:
1. She turns the tables on Khurana
After being turned away from an interview opportunity with Amonkar in Delhi, Khurana is told she may consider a chat at her home in Mumbai. But when the writer does turn up at Amonkar's door, she (Khurana) is subjected to a light interrogation by Amonkar on the extent of her knowledge about classical music. Only then, does the conversation proceed.
2. Amonkar discussed how her mother imparted musical lessons
Amonkar's mother was the late, great Mogubai Kurdikar and it was under her mother's expert tutelage that little Kishori learnt music. This required her to be a dedicated and devoted pupil. She says, in the interview with Kurana: “My mother wouldn’t talk about music. She would sing and I would repeat. I would copy her without asking her anything. Aai was so strict that she would sing the sthayi and antara only twice and not a third time. I had to get every contour of the piece in those two instances. That taught me concentration. The guru needs to be this good. You cannot have a guru who constantly wonders, ‘When will my student sit on the stage and do a programme? Will she go abroad?’ That person can be a teacher, not a guru."
3. Just as she distinguishes between a teacher and guru, Amonkar differentiates between sadhana and practice.
Sadhana, according to Amonkar, is about seeing a step ahead and moving further. She says, "You have to walk and run on your own. The guru gives you strength to be able to do that. If you don’t, then you remain ordinary. My mother made sure I wasn’t ordinary."
4. Seeing the way her mother was treated by organisers made Amonkar determined to always demand her due
Women artistes weren't treated with a whole lot of respect back in Mogubai Kurdikar's day — even if they were legends like her. Amonkar says she was determined to be treated better when she saw what her mother put up with in the pursuit of her craft: "I saw this shoddy treatment of a legend like her. It hurt me deeply. But my mother had three children to bring up, so she continued [Amonkar's father passed away when she was six]. I decided that when I become a musician, I would never allow any of this. And I don’t. I always stay in a proper hotel suite, I make sure that I am provided with a car, which is available at all times, and that all the payments are made properly."
5. She's very exacting of her audiences
Khurana highlights in her piece that Amonkar won't accept any bad behaviour from her audience. Once, she stopped singing when a platter of peas was passed around the audience (which included then J&K Chief Minister Farooq Abddullah) at a concert in Kashmir. At another time, an industrialist's wife who asked for a paan during Amonkar's performance was roundly castigated. Amonkar also des not allow any lights to be trained on her face when she is on stage. "I need my audience’s help, not their interruptions. People have to understand that music isn’t entertainment. It is not to be sung to attract the audience. Which is why I never play to the gallery. The audience cannot disturb the loneliness of an artiste," Amonkar tells Khurana.
6. She isn't keen on the Bharat Ratna
Amonkar — who has been conferred both a Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan by the government, is acerbic about also being honoured with a Bharat Ratna. “It’s been given to Sachin Tendulkar. If that’s the decision the government has taken, it’s better that they do not include me in the same category,” she tells Khurana.
Read the full Indian Express interview here.