His ear for detail is phenomenal. And he has always been a stickler for perfection. He has never believed in half-measures in whatever he has done in a musical career spanning over 55 years. Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty, a legendary name in Hindustani classical music, has regaled his audience across the globe for more than half a century. Chakraborty’s mastery in the ‘khayal’ genre is legion, but just as well-known are his qualities as a human being. He wins you over as much with his humility and generosity, his mild-mannered nature, as with his vocal renditions.
Just ahead of his live concert in Dubai this weekend, Gulf News tabloid caught up with him at Shrutinandan, Chakraborty’s musical school in Kolkata. Following are excerpts …
The Padma Bhushan – India’s third-highest civilian award – has recently been conferred upon you. How important are awards? Do these matter?
I always believe that one must be honest and sincere in one’s work. And there ought to always be an element of self-criticism in whatever one does. What I do as an artist is not with the aim or intention of winning an award. I do my work with sincerity and humility. The rest is for people to judge. All my life, I have tried to discard my shortcomings and imbibe the virtues that I see in others.
You have been under the tutelage of several stalwarts in Hindustani classical music. How important has the role of ‘taleem’ (Urdu for ‘education’ or ‘training’) been in your life as an artist?
If you know how to eliminate darkness then only attaining enlightenment is possible. The role of a ‘guru’ or master is to help his or her ward or student to emerge from darkness and enter the realm of light or enlightenment. ‘Guru’ is the person who helps us differentiate between light and darkness. And that’s what ‘taleem’ does. In India, majority of parents still do not have enough faith in art, culture, literature and music. They still prefer their children to run after money-spinning career options. This has to change. Let each one of us be allowed to follow our dreams.
Though primarily a ‘khayal’ maestro, you have shown just as much expertise in the lighter genre such as ‘thumri’, ‘tappa’, ‘kirtan’ and even film music. How did you manage to master such a versatile range?
There have been occasions when I have had to interact with the prime minister. And there are times when I have to communicate with my domestic help, the neighbourhood rickshaw-puller and the driver of the bus that I commute in. Now I cannot say that the prime minister is more important for me so I’m not going to interact with the rest. You must develop a sense of respect for each and every creature on this planet because each one is an expert in his or her field. Versatility is all a part and parcel of this ability to be able to show respect towards one and all.
Shrutinandan, your music school in Kolkata, has earned a lot of respect and recognition. What inspires you in your role as a ‘guru’ or teacher …
As a teacher, what matters most to me is being able to make my students master all those skills that I myself had failed to learn. That is the challenge and that inspires me. It took the finesse of a bard called Rabindranath Tagore to make a poet as accomplished as even a Kalidasa to pale in comparison. You cannot just make a claim to fame by trying to obliterate someone’s legacy. Real claim to fame and greatness can only come through one’s work. As a teacher, my job is to help my students realise their true potential. In my conscious and even unconscious state, I think about music.
Your daughter Koushiki is an acclaimed Hindustani classical vocalist. As a father and guide, how do you evaluate Koushiki?
Koushiki has some extraordinary qualities in her as an artiste, but she still has a long way to go to achieve true greatness. Her process of learning has just begun.
You will be performing live in Dubai soon. Your thoughts on your upcoming concert …
What fascinates me about Dubai and the UAE is their ability to welcome the whole world with open arms and with so much inclusivity. That is truly remarkable. I would also like to express my gratitude to all those who patronise and follow these musical shows and other cultural events in all sincerity and with so much interest.
Don’t miss it!
Tickets to the show start at Dh100 and are available on bookmyshow.com. Doors open at 7.30pm. Show starts 8pm.