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Improvisation is the soul of Indian classical music, which has kept it alive through the ages, believes Pandit Shivkumar Sharma.

The santoor maestro, who performed at Ductac, in Mall of the Emirates, Dubai, on Friday evening says music, whether Indian classical or from any part of the world, is all about emotions and one does not have to be a trained musician to experience it.

“You don’t have to understand music or go into the technicalities of raga and swara, you only have to experience it,” he says.

Since I first attended his concert more than two decades ago as a university student, I see little change in the maestro. He has the same candour in simplifying classical Indian music for an untrained ear.

Santoor is a stringed instrument similar to hammer dulcimer and its name is derived from the sanskrit word ‘shatatantri veena’, which means ‘veena with a hundred strings’.

Pandit Shivkumar Sharma has modified the instrument, which now has 31 bridges and 91 strings. The maestro uses twin mallets made of walnut wood as he also plucks the strings and sometimes muffles the sound produced for effect with his palm as he improvises on the rendition of different compositions.

The maestro entertained the audience with a variation of vachaspati raga first with Bhavani Shankar on pakhawaj (a percussion instrument) for a jodh and then with Ramkumar Mishra on tabla (twin percussion instruments) in rupak taal. The uninitiated like me might ask what vachaspati, jodh and rupak are but, as the Pandiji says, one need not go into the technicalities, just stay tuned to experience the emotions.

Finally, to end the two-hour session, he presented the much sought-after Pahadi, a pastoral musical rendition that transports you to the countryside where you visualise all the sights and sounds of rivers and vales.

After all these years the only difference I noticed is that the maestro’s dark crowning glory has given way to silver hair. One student back then had asked him why he hadn’t tried to enter Bollywood as he was as tall and handsome as Amitabh Bachchan, the superstar. “I will start acting in films the day Amitabh starts playing the santoor,” he replied.