Man and music enjoy a sublime connection. Novelist, and music savant Amit Chaudhuri has just the same magnitude of connection with the world of Indian classical music. In conversation with Oliver Craske on the Nehru Centre platform, the composer crescendos through the notes that made his heart skip a beat.
Our mothers and fathers open our eyes to new endeavours. In Chaudhuri’s case, his mother Bijoya Chaudhuri’s exceptional taste in devotional hymns and written by Tagore and his contemporaries like D.L. Ray and Atul Prashad account for some of his earliest musical encounters.
“By the 60s, Tagore’s songs had become sacrosanct,” explained Chaudhuri, on the difficulty that came with tampering with the style.
From recitals to having a wide array of recorded work, Chaudhuri explains that his mother’s approach to music was what captivated him into Indian classical vocals: “Tonality and tranquillity in the way she dealt with the notes.”
Chaudhuri overtly expressed, “I wasn’t attracted to the Indian classical music overheard on AIR (All India Radio). I wouldn’t have understood it as a child.”
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“I didn’t pay much attention to Indian classical music until the beetles began to recommend Ravi Shankar.”
As an aficionado of rock music, the twelve-year-old strung his guitar to his own lyrics that eventually brought him his radio broadcasts on AIR between 1978 and 1982.
“As a 17-year-old, I began to withdraw from college and was going to drop out as I was getting more deeply into Indian classical music.”
Witnessing his mother’s bhajan or lessons with Pandit Govind Prasad Jaipurwale, Chaudhuri sensed that he was ready to devote himself. “There was a quality in his singing of complexity and difficulty coming together with beauty and subtlety that drew me.”
Pandit’s ‘true disciple’ noted, “I am beginning to think of music in a particular way because of my exposure to what the notes do in Indian classical music.”
Chaudhuri deciphered his understanding of music: “The devotional content in Indian music where the third person swiftly moves between human and divine.”
“Other forms of songs from Bengal are ostensively raag-based”, he construed.
As his song ‘Shame’ fades in the background, Chaudhuri expounds the uncertainty of whom the song is being addressed to.
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“You can’t sing without practising. It is an ongoing practise.”
While in England, the artist had parted ways with western pop music that once got his feet dancing. “When I turned towards Indian music, I began to behave like a convert and began to disown the music of my youth - pop, rock, blues.”
Segregating the musician and writer within him, he says, “when I am singing , I don’t have any memory of being a writer”. He goes on to say, “they are connected in some ways: I cannot listen to anything passively as a writer or as a musician.”
While connecting writing and music, he says, “elaboration and improvisation is necessary evasion.”
Unhappy with silence: “Sounds form a big part of my imagined world when I write about it in my novels. The overheard has always been what interests me.”