Meet the real Kishori Amonkar

Kishori Amonkar doesn’t like to mince words. She likes to keep her conversations straight and crisp. In a rare interview opportunity with the legendary vocalist, this correspondent learnt a lot simply by observing her silence. Her pauses, her sudden silences, the warmth in her voice and thorough knowledge of her art, gave an insight into what music means to her.
Known to many as erratic and eccentric at times, the Padma Vibhushan recipient comes as a complete contrast. She is more like a loving mother who gets angry when her children don’t listen to her because she knows that her knowledge and education will simply help them and is for their betterment. Even while asking her student to sing a few notes, Amonkar displays a rare sense of affection and attachment. As we speak to her, she doesn’t hesitate to say that she is happy being the way she is.
“I’ve always been honest about everything whether one likes it or not. There are no two ways about anything. It’s either this or that. I don’t leave any room for ambiguity or confusion in my world of music. Probably, this is why things affect me more than they do to others. I am not scared of anyone or anything,” she says looking straight in the eye.
She speaks extensively about music at the announcement of Kanth-Swar Utsav, a three-day festival of vocal music from February 12-14, 2013 at Pu. La. Deshpande Maharashtra Kala Academy in the presence of the rising stars — Suchismita Das, Prasad Khaparde, Sayali Talwalkar and Sanjeev Chimmalgi and Suprabha Agarwal.
Known for her rendition of bandish, thumris and bhajans, Amonkar says that she doesn’t believe in the “gharana” concept of music. She draws an analogy with the caste system. “Just like the way I don’t understand the meaning of the caste system, I don’t get the idea behind segregation of gharanas. Music is the study of human existence. If Brahmins are supposed to propagate knowledge, how have they served by justifying the caste system? Brahma is present in every human being and every person is capable of music. So to me, the gharanas don’t really serve a purpose. At the end of the day, all music is one and they have to spread the knowledge of music and not selective knowledge,” she says.
We ask her what music means to her. Her slightly droopy eyelids suddenly become wide and her face lights up as she utters the word “music”. “I generally don’t get bored while talking about music, maybe while performing I do,” she laughs adding, “Music is simple. It is a language. A language of notes. Music is universal. You need to feel it, get lost in its magic and feel at peace every time you sing. I feel at peace whenever I sing. It is about staying in the world of trance and not consciously rendering notes. They need to come spontaneously. For that we need to approach music with a different perspective from the way we usually do,” she says.
So how does one actually look at it? “I believe students shouldn’t start their training by jumping to raagas in the early stages of
training. You have to live in the world of just notes for some time. Somehow people have come to believe that some ragas are simple. We keep thinking about our audience, the difficulty level of raagas, our efforts and our hardwork. We need to understand that. We speak a language to convey something. Music is a language and everybody needs to spend some time in the world of notes. Even a sa has a world of its own. You have to say sa maybe a million times to understand what it actually means. We need to travel with the note, extend the time, and feel its presence. This follows for the other six notes. And at the end of the day, it all means the same,” she explains.
“You can’t explain the difference between Shudh kalyan rishabh and Bhupali rishabh. You have to practically understand it by knowing the note. We first need to master our notes. We need to master it to such a level that you can give an extempore performance. Try your own permutations and combinations. I’m known for superfast taan, something that you have to train for years together. But that is not music. Raag is a miniscule part of music. But the knowledge of notes is extensive and you have to give it time. By that I mean years and years of hard work and perseverance. These days nobody cares to know,” she adds.
So how does one understand ragas then? “If you want to practice raagas, leave bandish. Try and befriend a raag without the bandish. You will then realise what it means. Practice with just plain notes. You will automatically see a vision. The taal system is not required every time. Test yourself without giving yourself the taal. It is just an aid to the raag,” explains Amonkar.
The singer delves into the concept of an artist and the role of the audience. “An artiste is an individual who wishes to express. Then what you express is essential. I don’t think that the audience is responsible for not being able to make them sit in one place. It will be possible to make them sit only if you can convey the peace in music. We have to be very careful about what we express. Of course, there are times when the audience is not ready to concentrate. Musicians are responsible for that.
These days how many of us get lost in a note and its world? Do we have that kind of music anymore? We cannot fool our audiences and we have to be honest with ourselves,” she says.
Technology has changed the way we look at things. But Amonkar believes nothing can change the foundation or core of music. “We just have to accept technology. I think it is useless at times. I would rather sing without a mic, but that is not possible. So we do have our own limitations, but the larger picture is to surpass all electrical obstacles and stick to atmosphere of raagas.”

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