Friday, April 30, 2010

King of Indian Classical Insturments

Next generation saves Ganga - The Telegraph (February 4, 2010)

The master is no more but his sons have ensured that the sweet sounds from the Ganga flow again. Ustad Amjad Ali Khan’s beloved instrument, which was damaged by Air India handlers while being flown from Ahmedabad to Mumbai last month, has been given a new lease of life by Calcutta’s Sen brothers whose father Hemen Chandra had made the sarod 34 years ago.A delighted Amjad Ali told The Telegraph: “It took around 10 days to repair. I am very happy with its sound. In fact, the sound has become better than before. The concert at Dover Lane Music Conference (on January 25) was the first event at which I performed with the Sarod. I performed for nearly four hours, from 3am to 7am that day.”The maestro has since criss-crossed the country regaling audiences with the sounds emanating from his beloved Ganga.“I performed in Delhi on January 29, in Mumbai on January 30, and Bangalore on January 31. God is great,” he said.The Sarod was damaged on the Air India flight despite being neatly packed in a hard box with several “fragile” stickers pasted on it. The maestro did not check the instrument immediately on landing in Mumbai on the morning of January 14.Later that evening, minutes before a concert in memory of vocalist Pandit C.R Vyas, he was shocked to discover that the sarod had suffered a damaged drum and its skin had torn off.The incident occurred barely two weeks after Hemen Sen died at the age of 87 at his south Calcutta residence on January 2.

The 19-stringed instrument, made of the finest Burma Teak, was the first the ustad had acquired from Hemen & Co.’s tiny Deshapriya Park shop in Calcutta.“Our father wouldn’t let us touch the instruments of any of the maestros,” said elder son Ratan Kumar, who learnt the craft from Hemenbabu along with his younger brother Tapan. “He would just let us watch as he repaired or fine-tuned these instruments.”This time around, the sons had to take on the task of repairing the ustad’s beloved Ganga. “He sent us the sarod the very next day, on January 15, and told us that it would be the one he would play at the Dover Lane music festival on January 25,” said Tapan.At the Hemen & Co. workshop, Ganga was rebuilt step by step, from the bare basics. In nine days, the brothers offered a sarod to the maestro that looked and sounded the same as the original Ganga.

“We built a new drum to be fitted with the headstalk — it had to be a seamless fit — and put on new keys, new skin and new strings on the instrument,” said Ratan.The task was a huge challenge, given the scarcity of the material used for the ustad’s specific design. “Burma Teak is not only expensive, it is quite a rare breed of wood. And then, it has to be seasoned wood, at least four decades old. People often have to wait for six months before a sarod made of this wood could be completed. Fortunately, we managed to acquire both the wood and the goatskin used as the playing face,” said Tapan.Even the goatskin has its specifications — it has to be of an animal that has been sacrificed at the Kalighat temple. The reason? The skin of an older animal wouldn’t do and the temple sacrifices only younger ones.Typically, Amjad Ali’s sarods are 19-stringed instruments, comprising six main strings, two chikari strings and 11 sympathetic strings. He also uses either a chrome or nickel-plated cast steel fingerboard.While the shop puts on Roslau strings from Germany on all their instruments, Khansahab usually makes changes to the strings according to his needs.

The maestro lavished praise on the Sens. “Though Hemenbabu is no more, his two sons Ratan and Tapan are equally competent. There are many sarod makers in Mumbai, Delhi, and Calcutta, but they (the Sens) understand the right kind of sound or swar. Sarod ki atma ko yahi log samajhte hain aur swar hi ishwar hain,” Khansahab told The Telegraph while taking an evening walk.The ustad, whose two sons Amaan and Ayaan are seventh generation sarod players of the Senia-Bangash gharana, said he owns nine instruments, all manufactured by the Sens.“I have named the sarods after different Indian rivers like Ganga, Godavari, Janhavi, Jamuna etc. Like air, which creates sound, water is also one of nature’s elements. Nature is important, and the last day of Dover Lane Music Conference was dedicated to environment,” he said.

Outllok Magazine (July , 2009)

People from New York have come to acquire a sitar from Hemen & Company, because stories of his unrivalled craftsmanship have travelled across the seven seas. Says Sen with justifiable pride: “Many people come from across the world looking for me. Sometimes they come with a map, but they look at the shop and go away. Then they return, confused, because they were expecting something grand, not this little hole in the wall. Then they look at me,” he chuckles, “and think this cannot possibly be the man they are looking for.”

According to Hemen Sen, the quality of a musical instrument depends not just on carefully selecting and fashioning the wood (which is usually toon or teak) and the gourd (which is specially grown for its size and shape), or attaching the strings in a particular way, but also on the maker’s understanding of music. “It’s as much about being able to tune it, for which you need to have a gift for music,” he says. At 13, Hemen came to Calcutta from Kumillah, East Bengal (now Bangladesh), and became the disciple of sitar player Ustad Ali Ahmed Khan, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s uncle. On Ali Ahmed’s suggestion, he started making musical instruments to make a living. Soon, orders came flooding in through Ali Ahmed and his disciples. His first sitar sold for as little as Rs 6; today a piece starts at Rs 15,000 and can go up to Rs 70,000 depending on wood quality, string quality, workmanship and special features the buyer may demand. Sarods, in which he specialises, start at Rs 26,000 and go up to Rs 65,000. Today, he gets regular orders from the Ali Akbar College of Music in California, and says that the recently deceased maestro himself would visit the shop whenever he happened to be in town.

My input

They are my neighbours. I once bought a small string (Hemen was alive then) from thier shop in 2005 for Tukuda when I was in Siliguri, for his Sitar. In 2010 I went to his shop with Anindya and saw that 0ne Sarod is being made for Aman Ali Khan. Only 20% has been completed.However if somebody wants cheaper variety, of course one can buy it from shops near Lalbazar (Calcutta Police Head quarter) for even 5,000-6,000/-

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Holi at Purulia


On 26/02 night we(Isabella,Vidyut and me) left for Adra,Purulia to spend our holi/Dol at Purulia (Chelyama,Bandhar Deul). Vidyut joined us at Howrah station. It is an overnight journey.


Train to AdraAdra Chakradharpur or Rupasi Bangla or Purulia Express — from Howrah.
We went by Adra Chakradharpur express to reach Adra station, early in the morning on 27.02.2010. The journey takes around 5-and-a-half hours.

Dol or Holi is celebrated in a unique way in some parts of Purulia, at Chelyama in Raghunathpur-II .

Our stay was arranged by a local organisation, Manbhum Sanskriti Kendra in colloboration with During Holi/Dol, they organise car pick-ups from the station. A 45 minutes drive later, we arrived at our destination, Chelyama.

We were thrilled that we would be staying in tents pitched amid tall Palash trees. The tents turned out to be bit too hot, complete with mattresses, blankets and pillows.

The beauty of the place lies in the fact, that there is forest all around that place. Isabella was scared of Vidyut's snoring, so we managed to get her a separate tent. Vidyut and I shared a tent with an employee of - Bikashda. In the morning we wandered around the place through the forest and went to the villages.

After having our lunch we went for sightseeing @ Rs 150/- per head. We went to see some dilapidated temples and the river Damodar.We were told that number of Rekh Deuls (Orissa school of temple architecture) were submerged under water after the Dam was erected by DVC. Even today some of the Rekh Deuls are under water. For the first time I saw/understood the problem caused by those dams.

We saw the villagers ferrying illegal coal from mines, nearby.

Terracota temples

In the evening the whole area was lighted by halogen lamps wonderfully.

We saw some cultural programmes. I was particularly impressed by Natua dance. We saw tribal bonfire too! The night is quite cold there.

Chhau dance- folk dance of Purulia by Bina Dhar Kumar's troupe - Amitabh Bachchan of Chhau dance

The next morning, waking up to the sound of birds and the rustle of leaves, I stepped out of our tent to be greeted by a crisp sun and baul singer Sasthi Baul strumming his ektara and singing: “Bhenge mor ghorer chabi, niye jabi ke amare!” It was a moment to cherish.

The Holi/Dol festival is organised around a magnificent temple dating back to the 8th century — Bandhar Deul. Villagers say the deity was stolen many years back and no one now knows which God the temple was dedicated to. In the morning we started playing with abir to the tune of baul songs and drumbeats.

Isabella and Sasthi Das Baul

Sasthi das Baul wasted no time in flirting with Isabella - whom Isa referred to her boyfriend! Subhas Roy at the background.

Famous Baul Sasthi Das Baul with 'heavenly' looks after drinking Mohua

This is what happens to ordinary mortals after drinking Mohua

There were around 250 visitors from Calcutta and beyond, and we all enjoyed the festival together. Famous singer Anasuya came to see the festival. Smeared in colours of every hue, we sang and danced throughout the morning.
A group from "Sappho for Equality" also came to enjoy Holi.

We sat beneath a tree to listen some Baul song. I also took 2 glasses of "Mohua" - famous local brew ! Fiery red Palash trees added to the festive feel.

The organisers had thankfully set up a dozen temporary bathrooms and in the afternoon we put them to good use, scrubbing away the day’s work! After lunch we brought our bed sheet and settled beneath a tree,beside a pond (since the tent was very hot) and Isa,Vid and I chatted till it became dark. It was really enjoyable and refreshingly cool.

In the evenings, we enjoyed chhau, jhumur and various other folk dances and baul fakiri songs. The bauls had come all the way from Asan-nagar in Nadia district. About 10,000 people from nearby villages came to watch the evening performances, giving the place the feel of a huge mela.

A Calcutta-based organisation, banglanatak dot com, founded by Amitava Bhattacharya, has helped the local people develop a community-led heritage folk tourism during Holi.
Set amid beautiful landscape, Chelyama also has terracotta and Jain temples dating back to 6th-8th century.

1/03/2010 (Monday)

In the morning we heard some Bauls song around the Rekh Deul.

Baul Nikhil and Prafulla Biswas

In the morning we wandered around the place through the forest and went to the villages.
Many people left for Calcutta. In the morning there was Kabi sammelan - "poetry get-together" - local people reading out their self composed poetry.

In the evening we saw some programme and left for Adra station around 9 p.m.
The tents were organised by Manbhum Sanskriti Kendra, Subhas Roy (9932780094).He is an authority of this region and doing his Phd based on local theme. One can also contact Siddhanjan (9831 38 26 72) of The organisers provide very good food (veg/non-veg) and mineral water. The food is not at all oily and it is obvious special care is taken about it.

Every year this Basanta Utsav is being organized . I strongly recommend it, instead of Holi at Santiniketan. They charge only Rs 1000/- per person. For pick up and drop service from the station they charge only Rs 300 - which is reasonable considering the distance.
We reached Calcutta on 02/03/2010 early in the morning. It was an amazing experience.
To see the pictures click

Chronological order