By Deepa Gupta
In a move that shocked his family and friends, Padmashri Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt donated the Mohan Veena that had traveled with him to more than 70 countries and was used in his Grammy-winning album A Meeting by the River to Nagaland’s Hum Music Society. “They wanted it for their museum”, he says, “And I thought it will be nice that people can view this musical beauty. But I now realise that no one is happy with my decision”. His son Salil Bhatt wrote on the maestro’s Facebook page:
"Lost the most important artefact, it's like loosing a part of our existence so quietly . I can't comprehend this and am shocked and..... Very angry and very angry indeed" (sic)
Bhatt has enthralled the world with his musical compositions for the last four decades. The internationally acclaimed creator of Mohan veena recently made improvisations to this fascinating instrument that is the result of the Indianisation of the western Hawaiian guitar with an assimilation of the sitar, sarod and veena techniques. It is the uniqueness of Mohan veena that beautifully blends the East and the West producing a faultless legato that lends his music much appeal.
“I have added one more feature to Mohan veena whereby I have three octaves playing together,” he explains. “In Indian classical music usually there is a solo sound but this improvisation helps me use the octave effecter which provides three sounds especially in the jhor-jhala part. This makes the music more sonorous and interesting”. With further beautification of music, Bhatt has simply made technique his slave and can weave magic with his fingers even as he manipulates sounds on his divine creation.
While his sons Salil and Saurabh have collaborated on albums with him, he feels his grandsons Satvik (15, son of Salil Bhatt) and Atharv (nine, son of Saurabh Bhatt) may carry his legacy forward. “I personally do not insist that they pursue Mohan veena. I let them take their decision. Both children have a passion for classical music and play the Mohan veena,” says Bhatt.
Bhatt’s three solo albums — Vishwa Ranjini, Moods and Vihaan — were released in 2015 and two more — Main Hoon Meera and Sitar Lounge 2 — were launched with his younger son Saurabh.
Bhatt credits his wife Padma for his complete devotion to music and laughs when he talks of the time he met her. “Padma is from Chennai. I used to take music classes initially in Jaipur. Padma's mother was a great violinist and she suggested that her daughter enroll for music classes. I began to teach her.
"Once when she was suffering from typhoid and was absent from classes for about a month, I decided to pay her a visit. She was surprised to see me and later in class after the visit we found mutual admiration and soon love blossomed," he chuckles. “She has definitely played a major role in the upbringing of (our) children and I have been able to follow my passion without any hindrance."
The coming months shall see him perform in Spain, The Netherlands, UK, Australia, USA and Canada. He especially looks forward to his concerts at the Rietberg Museum in Zurich and at the Belgrade Music Fest in Serbia. “I love to perform in Switzerland. It’s a haven with its natural beauty and vast greens," he says of his favourite place to let the music flow from his soul.
Having performed all over the world, is there some place where he has still not had a concert and would like to play the Mohan veena? “I would love to play the Mohan veena in the mystic surroundings of Egypt and photograph the Pyramids there," he instantly says. “It’s my dream to play in this lovely country."
Talking of his love for all genres of music, Bhatt says that he enjoys good music but rues the fact that the younger generation needs to understand this art form to be able to cherish it. “I do see their enthusiasm for classical music especially when I visit various schools and colleges for concerts and talks but they do not have the right exposure. They are attracted to the glamour in Bollywood and classical music cannot compete with this. Like films, lyrics too need to be censored”.
And yet Bhatt says he has students from all over the world come to him to learn classical music. “In India, most of my students are from Bengaluru, Bengal and Bihar. Also, Maharashtra and the South of India have more respect and greater awareness of classical music than the North which is losing its culture gradually," he states.
With at least 22 concerts in a month, Bhatt is constantly on the move. “My life is entirely for classical music," he says even as he furtively mentions photography as being his hobby too. And yes, he loves taking selfies!