Despite a packed schedule in the past few weeks - with not just concerts in several Indian cities including Banaras, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Bengaluru, but also a wedding in the family - legendary singers Rajan and Sajan Mishra look relaxed. "Music keeps us going. There's nothing more rejuvenating and relaxing than music," says Rajan Mishra, the elder of the singing-duo, as they settle down for a chat in their tastefully done home in West Delhi's Ramesh Nagar. These concerts are part of their year-long world tour - Bhairav Se Bhairavi Tak - that will see the Padma Bhushan awardees, famous for their khayal gayaki, performing across four continents.
The idea for Bhairav Se Bhairavi Tak inadvertently took root some years ago, when event organisers in Ulm (Germany) wanted the duo to introduce German music lovers to ragas that are bound by the different pehar (time) of the day. "People there were fascinated by this concept in our music," he says. Later, music groups in Pune and Mumbai, where they sang for over 14 hours, "replicated this concept of har pehar ke raag."
Time & tunes
In the ongoing music fiesta, they will once again be exploring the concept of time in ragas and are looking forward to touring Asian countries, starting with Beijing this month. "China mein log bahut aadar se dekhte hain hamare shashtriya sangeet ko. Some of our ragas like Durga and Bhupali, the ones in five notes, are popular there," he adds. Other than Laos, the brothers are particularly excited about performing at the Angkor Wat's Terrace of the Elephants where they will be the first Indians to perform. "Going by the beautiful promo that's been prepared, it promises to be a great experience," he adds, showing the short audio-visual on his phone.
His younger sibling, Sajan Mishra, whose son got married last fortnight, offers some shaadi-ki-mithai before adding how blessed they feel to be carrying forth their 350-year-old family tradition across the world. "Actually, when you have the great singer Hanuman Prasad Mishra as your father and the sarangi virtuoso Gopal Prasad Mishra as your uncle, there's an added responsibility."
When barely four, Rajan Mishra, now 67, was initiated into the Banaras gayaki tradition by his grandfather's brother, Pandit Bade Ramdas, with the formal ganda-bandhan ceremony. A few years later, he was joined by his little brother Sajan. "My father wanted us to sing together - saath gayenge to saath rahenge," says Mishra Sr.
It's this binding force of music that, the brothers add, makes their household a sterling example of a happy joint family. "We have one kitchen and harmony prevails - aur yeh sangeet ki den hai. It is, as the saying goes, 'Jahan sumati tahan sampati... (harmony and love beget peace and happiness) that is life's real wealth."
This love and respect is what reflects in their gayaki. "We are like two bodies and one soul," says the elder sibling, something starting with their dress code, that is evident to everyone watching them perform.
Remembering their early days in Delhi when they moved there in the early 80s, Sajan Mishra laughs while talking about their neighbours - brothers - who would often not just scream at each other but fight with sticks and knives. "There was a time when we even contemplated moving from here."
But with time, as the harmonious strains and vibrations of their music - their temple and riyaaz room was on the terrace - spread all across, "the fights magically reduced." And in a few years' time, when those neighbours had to shift base, they sold their house to the Mishras, who were looking for a bigger home not just for their growing families, but also for more space, for baithaks and practice areas for their students.
Ask them about their childhood in Banaras and they smile, "As children, whether or not one was in the mood, riyaaz was mandatory. Pitaji was strict about it," says Rajan Mishra, recalling the time when a wrong rendering of a note earned him a stinging slap - "it's imprinted stayed with me for more than a day - so, even though we were his sons, we couldn't take music lightly."
He adds how the importance of riyaaz would be subtly made clear to them. "Whenever pitaji felt we'd been playing truant, he would ask us if we'd eaten all our meals on time, and as we'd nod, he'd say, 'If you can't forget to eat, how can you forget to practice? Music is as important as food'."
Banaras, they say, has always had a great cultural tradition - with the likes of Pandit Ravi Shankar, Ustad Bismillah Khan et al hailing from this ancient city. "So, it dawned on us early that we were an intrinsic part of a great heritage and couldn't take it lightly," says Sajan Mishra adding that their mother, who, having been born and brought up in a family of music maestros, had a big role to play in their early training. "She would wake us up by singing the early morning ragas or correct us on wrong notes during riyaaz while doing her chores," says Rajan Mishra.
However, unlike most traditional families focused on the performing arts those days, in which education was not a priority, their father had different views. "Consequently, besides pursuing higher education from the Benaras Hindu University, we also pursued sports - and were captains of our respective cricket teams... pitaji felt that an all-round development would open our minds," says Rajan Mishra.
And in the field of music, while the family elders gave them their support, on the professional front, they had to go at it alone. "Even when we had to first come to Delhi for our All India Radio audition, our uncle - a renowned artiste who knew all the bigwigs - told us we must get selected on our own merit. And that's what we did. They were all very proud of us," he adds.
On the importance of encouragement, especially in the early years, the veteran artistes say, "It's imperative because that's what keeps youngsters motivated." And for the past decade or so, they have felt a renewed interest among the younger lot in classical music. "We've had IIT students tell us that they're fond of our music and listen to it during exams because it helps relax the mind," says Sajan Mishra.
What worries them, however, is the growing trend among many parents - of using classical-music training as a stepping stone for reality shows. "They must realise that fame and appreciation come with hard work and time. Too much of it too early can be a deterrent even for the talented ones."
About their brush with Bollywood, Rajan Mishra remembers recording about 10-12 songs with the music director duo of Lakshmikant-Pyarelal for the classical-music-based film Sur Sangam. Its 'Aaye Surke Panchi Aaye' and 'Dhanya Bhag Seva Ka', together with 'Baju Band' from Woh Tera Naam Tha, continue to be savoured by music connoisseurs.
But, going by audiences at their shows and views on online music videos, they are happy that appreciation for their khayal gayaki of Banaras remains as strong as ever.