Dhrupad virtuoso Ramakant Gundecha, 58, passed away in Bhopal following a heart attack on Friday. His departure leaves behind a void in the world of Indian classical music at large, and in the layered and nuanced tradition of Dhrupad music, in particular.
A highly stylised and structured classical form, and a predecessor of the more popular ‘khayal’ genre in the Hindustani or north Indian classical format, Dhrupad calls for rigour and intense understanding of notative movement as well as an acute understanding of the time cycles to which its compositions are set.
Ramakant and his elder brother, Umakant, both student vocalists of Dhrupad masters – vocalist Zia Fariduddin Dagar and rudra veena exponent Zia Mohiuddin Dagar — had made it a goal of sorts to take the Dhrupad tradition far and wide not just across India, but the world. For Ramakant, building awareness about this north Indian classical music genre was almost a life purpose.
The Dhrupad Sansthan, a gurukul set up by both brothers in Bhopal, today houses students from across the world, in order that they imbibe this music in the traditional guru-shishya parampara where the student remains under the constant care of the teacher, often sharing meals and conversations together even outside the classroom. Ramakant was said to be so emotionally invested in the well-being of students at the gurukul that he was known to waltz into its kitchen to whip up meals himself, dice vegetables, or even temper a dal.
His generosity extended not only towards members of his music fraternity but to listeners and programme organisers. Sharad Kanmadikar, a well-known music connoisseur in the Bhopal music fraternity and a family friend for over two decades, recalls how the younger of the two Gundechas bailed him out of a sticky situation even while both artistes were on tour overseas. A vocalist who was to perform at a concert in Bhopal organised by Kanmadikar was visibly upset on learning that she couldn’t be given a set of twin tanpuras that were adjusted to her scale for the recital. Distraught, Kanmadikar reached out to Ramakant, who immediately directed the gurukul to allow for his personal tanpuras to be used at the recital, saving the organisers from embarrassment in time. In another instance, Kanmadikar explained how he was particularly touched when both brothers attended a ghazal recital dedicated to the legendary ghazal exponent Begum Akhtar. “Usually, classical artistes are very dismissive about light music,” said Kanmadikar. “But not only did they grace the occasion, they also sat back and enjoyed the entire two-hour presentation,” he added. “Music is music, whatever be its nature,” is what Ramakant often said to Kanmadikar.
A distinct facet of Ramakant’s personality was his sense of oneness with Umakant — an element that was visible at the very onset of their careers in the late Eighties. The singular music entity that was the famous Gundecha Brothers, began to soar in popularity by the early '90s. It is said that when Ramakant was asked what if only he, and not Umakant, had been presented with the Padmashri, he replied: “I would have politely turned it down.” Both were awarded the national honour in 2012.
Known for often displaying such honesty and simplicity, Ramakant was also one of those artistes who was openly critical of the use of the harmonium as an accompanying instrument for classical vocal recitals. Being staccato in nature, the harmonium has an inherent physical limitation in that it cannot make audible the ‘shruti swaras’ or microtones within an octave, unlike a glide instrument like the sarangi, which can sustain sound better. Shruti swaras are crucial to maintaining the authenticity of certain Hindustani ragas such as Darbari, Rageshri or Todi, and Ramakant, therefore, often lamented that the harmonium diluted this.
This writer remembers being transfixed listening to one of the Brothers’ performances in the '90s at the famous music conference, the Indian Music Group’s Jan Fest, held annually at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai. It wasn’t just their clear tonality or prowess in range and power — both natural outcomes when one follows the Dhrupad discipline — that left one bedazzled. It was also the seamlessness in performance and clarity of thought in music that both brought on stage, together. The way they blended in to each other’s presentation of ‘nom tom’ — a typical Dhrupad nuance in which syllables like ‘ri’, ‘ta’, ‘na’, ‘tom’ are melodically strung together as the raga begins to unfold — like distinct shades of the same colour swirling together in a palette, left one mesmerized and wonderstruck at the same time.
Ramakant was cremated with state honours in Bhopal on Saturday. He has now taken with himself one half of the music. For lovers of Dhrupad, therefore, the Gundecha Brothers will forever be well and truly missed.
Updated Date: Nov 11, 2019 16:09:17 IST