Thirty-six-year-old Sarod maestro Pritam Ghoshal’s musical journey shaped up the moment he had a tryst with Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. A glimpse of the master was enough to toss his nonchalance for music aside.
He tells me, “I grew up in a small town in West Bengal and was interested not in music but sports. But as a child, I heard a lot of music since I come from a family of musicians. One morning, in 1992, my father got a sarod and told me that I’ve found a teacher for you and you have to play this. I went for the classes because my father was an authority figure. This is when I was about 14 years old; so, in a way, I started quite late. I trained with my first guru Shri Pranab Naha for three years. But I never practised at home; and I can officially disclose it now that I even kicked my sarod to get rid of it!”
Life & learning
The twist of fate happened when Pritam saw his future guru Ustad Amjad Ali Khan for the first time. “In 1995, there was an advertisement in Anandabazar Patrika that Ustadji was going to conduct a workshop.
My father got interested and I applied. That was actually the beginning of my professional career. We were made to go through three rounds of tests in front of Ustadji’s senior disciples. Then he personally came; and I saw him. I was struck by his personality. I said to myself, you better practise hard now because this is the glamour that you can achieve!”
It was a momentous phase in Pritam’s life because, at the workshop, amongst the hundred young musicians, he was one of the five selected for the gandhabandhan ceremony, a ritual whereby a guru takes a disciple under his wings. “The ceremony happened to be on Rakhi Purnima on August 10, 1995. I was in Kolkata then and whenever Ustadji was not around, I practised with his senior disciple Debojyoti Bose. In 1999, I completed my graduation and Ustadji asked me to shift base to Delhi.”
Talking of Ustadji, Pritam says, “As a guru, he has never differentiated between his disciples and his sons Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash. He is tied to his students in the guru-shishya parampara. He not only guides them, but also reprimands them when a note is played wrong. We go to his house and practise for three to four hours. At times, I would be practising downstairs and he would be listening from upstairs; and when I would tire and stop, his voice would come booming from upstairs asking me to play something again. He would call up his disciples and ask them how many hours of riyaaz they have put in. Only then would he ask us to go over in person.”
And in a lighter vein he adds, “Sometimes when I had not practiced much, and I would still want to see him, I would lie and say that I’ve done riyaaz. But, of course, when he heard me, he would know immediately that I had lied and make me practise for extra hours.” Style of ‘gayiki’
Pritam informs, “If I am to associate myself with my Ustadji’s style, then we are from the Senia Gwalior Gharana, also known as the Senia Bangash Gharana. Bangash is Ustadji’s family name. The rabab — the parent of sarod — was first played by Mohammed Hashmi Khan Bangash, one of Ustadji’s ancestors. He was a horse trader in Kabul. His grandson Ghulam Ali Khan Bangash came to India, settled down here and modified the rabab into sarod.”
“There is an instrumental side to playing an instrument and there is a vocal or gayiki style,” he continues. “The Senia Gharana follows the vocal or gayiki style on the sarod. To mark a contrast, the instrumental style has been followed by Baba Allauddin Khan Sa’ab and his disciples like Ali Akbar Khan Sa’ab, Annapurna Devi, Pandit Ravi Shankar.” Developing as a musician
When I ask Pritam if he is working on his own style, he comes up with an important insight. “There are compositions in the raga, which we call the bandish. You can play the bandish, technically speaking, exactly the way Ustadji has; but you cannot exactly produce the feeling or environment he can. This is because your rendition is bound to have a personal touch. Ustadji has always said, the more you listen to, the more you will retain the music inside you. So when I listen to music, I don’t just listen to Ustadji. I also listen to Ali Akbar Khan Sa’ab, Bahadur Khan Sa’ab, and my contemporaries. So my ears are exposed to different styles; exposed to how one note can be expressed in various ways. This comes from listening to others and reflects in my renditions.”