Classical art losing charm

The only woman sarod player in Bihar Reeta Das rues lack of atmosphere of classical music

Classical art  losing charm

She has performed at Ganapathy festival in Shimoga in Karnataka. She has given live performances at Swar Sadhna Samiti music conference in Mumbai.

Accomplished in executing Tantrakari in the Maihar gharana style also, a highly sensitive renditions of melodies, she has regaled connoisseurs at Sur Singar Samsad music conferences in Mumbai, Gwalior, Kolkata and Patiala. But not many people know that the highly-talented artiste Reeta Das is the only woman sarod player Bihar has produced so far.

Whenever one talks of sarod, the inst­ant name that comes to mind is Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt Buddhadev Das Gupta, Brij Narayan and Amjad Ali Khan’s two sons - Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan.

Reeta Das is, however, the fourth woman sarod player in India – the other three being: Sharan Rani Backtiwal (who passed away two years back), Zarin Daruwalla and Shree Ganguly (she no more performs).

Music flows in Reeta’s blood as she was born in a Bihar family where classical art was given immense importance. At a tender age of seven, she started learning
music from her father Prof CL Das who has been a disciple of Acharya Allauddin Khan of Maihar gharana, and an eminent musicologist and professor emeritus of English literature.
Later, Reeta also received training in instrumental music under Bimalendu Mukherjee, ex vice-chancellor, Indira Kala Music University, Khairagarh (Chhattisgarh).

In the meantime, after doing her M Phil and doctorate in Maihar gharana from Delhi University, she completed her senior fellowship from the Human Resource Development (HRD) Ministry.

Now in her early 40s, Reeta’s forte is sarod playing in the Dhrupad and veena tradition of Maihar Senia gharana. One traces in her renditions of raagas the subtle nuances of the maestros Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Ustad Bahadur Khan in whose association she spent several years as a disciple.

An ardent votary of perfection, she continues to receive guidance from Ustad Ashish Khan, Pt Sunil Mukherjee and, of course, her father and her first guru, Prof C L Das assiduously assimilating the intricacies of her gharana.

A consummate artiste, Reeta Das has been giving performances for the last 20 years. Earlier last month, she won huge plaudits while performing at Lok Kala Manch in New Delhi. But the noted sarod player insists her road to success had not been smooth. “It’s true that I have perfor­med in all the major states of the country and have been applauded and rewarded everywhere. But my home State Bihar has always given me a step-motherly treatment,” rues Reeta while talking to Deccan Herald.

“One reason for this apathy, I believe, could be possibly because there is no
atmosphere for classical music in Bihar,” she hastened to add. She did not want to sound too critical. But, she did stress on how singers from Bollywood were roped in during the Bihar Diwas festival and paid a fortune and how the same Art and Culture Department of the State never deemed it fit to utilise the talent of home-grown classical artistes.

“May be in this era of crass commercialisation, there is not much scope for classical artistes like me. Kabhi kabhi bura bhi lagta hai. (At times, one feels bad. But this is life. We artistes don’t hanker after money. What is more important for us is audience’s appreciation. So, I usually perform wherever there is love and affection for sarod,” said Reeta, while dwelling at length on her recent Delhi performance.

Asked to shed some light about the instrument, the sarod player who has captivated Buddhist tourists at Rajgir Festival and Baudh Mahotsava, said, “The sarod is a fretless stringed instrument with an extended air chamber under the fingerboard. It’s different from other Indian stringed instruments such as the sitar or the tanpura, which have an air chamber only at one end. Combined with the skin covering on the drum end of the instrument, the extended air chamber gives the sarod a unique and clearly identifiable depth of sound.”

Presently working as head of the department (HoD) of music in a Patna-based college, Reeta argues that apart from her, the state has failed to produce a single sarod player of repute because it’s a very difficult instrument.

“It’s not only difficult, but an expensive instrument and time-consuming also. Normally, it takes five to six years to get complete diksha. In the present day environment, where there is no encouragement for classical art, no job avenues for such artistes, why would someone spend five or six crucial years of his/her life learning sarod. Nobody here wants to opt for classical art,” said the artiste.

“We had hoped things will change for better in the Nitish regime. But the scene remained unchanged. The Bihar government will support folk music artiste; its mandarins will invite renowned professional singers like Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik and Daler Mehandi for Bihar Diwas function, but will give a damn to classical artistes like us,” lamented Reeta.

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