My brother, the maestro: Dhrupad meant everything to Ramakant Gundecha; so did the pursuit of excellence
I can say with confidence that my brother Ramakant Gundecha's biggest dream and singular passion — of training professional Dhrupad artists and enthusiasts — has come to fruition and will continue to grow beyond his wildest dreams | Akhilesh Gundecha writes
Dhrupad was for sure the most important thing in the life of my brother, Ramakant Gundecha.
However, I believe he would have been the same kind of human being had he done something else with his life.
He would have chased excellence no matter which field he would have chosen.
The year was 1981. My older brothers — Ramakant and Umakant Gundecha — had been working in Nagda, near Ujjain, after completing their post-graduation. Ramakant was employed at a post office and Umakant taught music. About six months after they had started their respective jobs, it came to their attention that Bhopal’s Ustad Allaudin Khan Sangeet academy was setting up a new Dhrupad Kendra. Both my brothers applied, and were awarded scholarships by the Kendra.
At the time, our father was working as a teacher in higher secondary school Ujjain. My brothers asked him if they should quit their jobs and join the Dhrupad Kendra. His reply to them was: There are thousands of music teachers and post office clerks, but there are not even a dozen Dhrupad singers.
With our father’s unwavering support, my brothers quit their jobs and shifted to Bhopal, to study Dhrupad under Zia Fariduddin Dagar and his elder brother Zia Mohiuddin Dagar.
The scholarship amount was Rs 350 per month. I used to travel from Ujjain to Bhopal regularly and witnessed their struggle firsthand. Despite the hardships, my brothers found happiness in what they were doing and left no stone unturned in their pursuit of excellence.
In the Kendra, Pt. Srikant Mishra from Banaras was appointed as a pakhawaj player. Ramakant thought that I should study the pakhawaj, so that all three of us brothers could pursue and perform music together. I would travel to Bhopal to study pakhawaj with Pt. Mishra.
By 1985, my brothers began performing Dhrupad at various concerts and festivals around the country. Within just a short period of time, their popularity grew in leaps and bounds. With that came a flood of students from all over the world, who wanted to study and pursue Dhrupad. It has been my brothers’ passion to spread Dhrupad and restore it to its former glory. Since the art form of Dhrupad is niche and practised by very few, their task became even more difficult.
They were also determined that none of their students would face the struggles they had in acquiring this knowledge; their students' struggles would only be limited to their own riyaaz. To accomplish their dream, they set up a traditional Gurukul on the outskirts of Bhopal.
Land for the Gurukul was purchased in 1999; the first building was completed after five years of work. It was inaugurated by Bharat Ratna Pt. Bhimsen Joshi in 2004. My brothers had been teaching for a long time even before the inauguration of the Gurukul, but after the inauguration, their dream truly started taking shape in the manner that they had envisioned. As a result, we have now taught over 250 students from more than 35 countries, and many of them have gone on to become professional Dhrupad artists in all three fields (vocal, instrumental and percussion), who are now performing and teaching all over the world.
Therefore, I can say with confidence that Ramakant's biggest dream and singular passion — of training professional Dhrupad artists and enthusiasts — has come to fruition and will continue to grow beyond his wildest dreams.
As an older brother, Ramakant always made sure that I was taken care of, as well as everyone else in the family. He single-handedly took care of so much work that we barely knew what was going on. His family reaped the rewards of his hard work and vision.
He was perhaps the most radical and revolutionary musician of our generation. He did not like conforming to the traditional ways of Indian classical music. His biggest contribution to the world of Indian classical music was his scientific approach: he experimented a lot with the already existing content and on top of that piled a lifetime of research to develop a totally new sound in Dhrupad…a sound that was unheard of before Gundecha Bandhu.
As a guru, he made sure that his students did not become his carbon copies. He worked really hard and kept finding new ways to make his students discover their own unique identity and individuality. His mantra was, “Never believe what the ancestors, traditional texts or even your own guru have said blindly; apply it, experiment with it, experience it and only if their truth becomes your truth should you accept it. If not, discard it no matter who said it or in which book it was written”.
For over three decades, he put his life and soul into teaching his students… ignoring his own health for the same. His philosophy in life was exactly the same as his music and his teaching. He was the same man inside and out in all situations. Each step he took was for a singular purpose — i.e. the 'vistaar' of Dhrupad.
I believe just like his music, his life's mantra was never believe anything blindly, no matter how impressive the source of the information is. Continuous experimentation, practical application, and experiential knowledge were his ways of discerning whether the information he was receiving through his senses was worth keeping and sharing with others or it needed to be discarded. He respected everyone but did not allow anyone's personality to overpower his own. Especially being an outsider to the musical fraternity, he was even more protective of his individual identity then most others.
Dhrupad was for sure the most important thing in his life. However, I believe he would have been the same kind of human being had he done something else with his life. He would have chased excellence no matter which field he would have chosen. And that is apparent by the fact that he involved himself so deeply in things that seemingly had nothing to do with music or teaching or his performing career or his students. He chased perfection in everything that he did.
In my opinion, it was not about being the best Dhrupad artist or teacher; for him it was always about doing the right thing morally and maintaining his integrity. My brother Ramakant Gundecha lived and died with his head held high and taught the rest of us how to do the same.
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