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Meeting Kishori Amonkar: Conversing with Tai was just like listening to her music — exhilarating

It was a frantic, coffee-spilling-out-of-the-mug kind of Monday with New Yorkers lost in their thoughts, books and phones, preparing for the week ahead. Something seemed amiss but I couldn’t figure out what. Rushing through the chaos of the morning, it was only when I sat down for lunch at my desk that my Twitter timeline informed me that Kishori Amonkar was no more.

I’d heard her beautiful rendition of Raag Todi just that morning, the divinity of her notes — as always — helping me transcend to another world. And in another co-incidence, just this Sunday (2 April 2017), I had been recounting to a friend my meeting with Kishoritai in Mumbai a few years ago.

I interviewed Kishoritai in 2013, in my capacity as (then) arts and culture correspondent for The Asian Age. As I read the reports of her passing away, the memories of that afternoon came flooding back. I had to take a few minutes to sit still, come to terms with the loss. I wanted to express my shock and grief to someone, but with everyone engrossed with deadlines, I slipped on my headphones, cued Raag Bhimpalasi on my mp3 player and walked to Bryant Park, listening to Kishoritai’s voice.

Kishori Amonkar passed away aged 84 on 3 April 2017. Image courtesy Network 18

Kishori Amonkar passed away aged 84 on 3 April 2017. Image courtesy Network 18

The magical quality of her voice was well-known, but what I found surprising — this was something she mentioned — was that it came from isolation of the soul and mind, with years of riyaz spent perfecting each note.

The details of the day I met her are very clear in my mind: Kishoritai had come to felicitate students learning Hindustani classical music at the PL Deshpande Sabhagriha in the Prabhadevi area, close to where she resided. I had heard various stories in classical music circles — not only of her brilliance, but also her erraticism and sternness. She was known to be very strict in terms of discipline and conduct. To my surprise, however, she was quite the opposite in her interaction with me. More of a loving parent, who was stern, yet strangely affectionate. Unlike some other legendary classical musicians I’d interviewed, there was no pretense about Kishoritai; she just spoke her thoughts, loud and clear — whether or not that made anyone uncomfortable.

What came across in that meeting was her passion to keep ethics, purity and certain practices alive, in music. And her disregard for labels of any sort. Her extensive vocabulary of the ragas and depth of knowledge of every note, every breath, every move was astounding.

RIP Kishori Amonkar: Raag Bageshri to Bhoop, listen to her best performances available online

Kishoritai spoke about the seven notes as though they were her children: Every note had to be reared, studied, practised, nurtured. It takes years to just get the ‘sa’ right, she said, explaining how just ‘sa’ had a world of its own. You could sing it a million times, and still find something better when you revisited it. Perhaps that’s why Kishoritai expanded so much on the vilambit in her concerts. Her dialogue with her notes during a concert was intense, and as much as she loved the notes they seemed to love her more. There was something truly brilliant — and unfathomable — about the range and capacity of her breath and voice. Then there was the other side — where she also seemed fairly ‘chill’ about music. At the end of the day, music is just another language and has to be simple too, she maintained.

Kishoritai believed it was up to musicians to maintain the sanctity of music and render it with seriousness versus making it audience-friendly. It was the audience that needed to be trained to be better listeners of classical music — treating it as meditation.

She must have been 80 at the time I met her, and I still remember her posture — striking, graceful — her frail, delicate frame enveloped in a silk sari, as she spoke about notes, ragas, taal, and what moved her. We’d spent close to three-four hours in her magnetic presence, but I wished she’d go on and on. Up until that point, I had never taken photos with the celebrities or artistes I interviewed, but somehow I mustered up the courage to request Kishoritai to pose with me. I was afraid she would refuse — instead, Kishorita hugged me and obliged me with a picture that I have treasured ever since.

Like her music, meeting Kishoritai was the experience of a lifetime.

Updated Date: Apr 04, 2017 12:48 PM

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