Five decades of uncompromised music

Legends

Five decades of uncompromised music

Pohankar hails from a cultured family in Jabalpur, Madhya Pradesh. His father was an advocate and his late mother Dr Sushila Pohankar was a classical singer from Kirana Gharana. She was his first  Guru. He was also influenced by many different Gharanas because he grew up listening to many maestros.

He attributes his prodigious talent to divine grace and remembers gratefully, the fact that he  sang as a child with great musicians like Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Dr  Gangubai Hangal, Ustad Amir Khan, Pandit Ravi Shankar  during different music festivals.  

One of his most memorable performances was during the Sawai Gandharva festival at the age of 11,  when  Pandit Bhimsen Joshi called him on stage and made him sing.  He recalls, “I was very young during  that time but people came and told me later that it was as if divinity was singing through you. I could not react because I was very young. I was just singing.”

The same devotion to music has reaped rich rewards and he is one of the most revered musicians today. Some of the awards he has won  are  Sangeet Praveeram in Pune (when he was all of nine),  Surmani, Swarkaustav,  Government  of Maharashtra State Award and more.

Last year,  he received Swarna Parikrama from Government of Karnataka for completing 50 years in music.  A touching moment was when he recieved the Narayan Samman from the legendary Dr Gangubai Hangal who spoke warmly about Pandit Pohankar even though she was not in the best of health. Pandit Pohankar was touched deeply by this gesture and recalls,

“She came on a wheelchair and gave me the samman and then she left for the
hospital.”  Pandit ji  also shares that apart from being a musician, he is also an academician. He has a Master’s degree  in English literature and another in music. He has taught at the Bombay University.

 Though he has been an exponent of Hindustani classical music, his favourite   genre being Sankirtan,  he also loves singing Khayals and has been at it for over  three decades.  

He says, “Every note should have some meaning. You can sing from any Gharana  but you have to create your own identity. When you enjoy the process of  music then it becomes like worship. Riyaaz should not be a compulsion but an enjoyable process.” He expressed that some of his  favourite Ragas are Todi, Charukeshi, Bhatiyar, Marwa, Puriya, Yaman, Kausi Kanada, Malkosh and more.

He questions, “In gharanas there is a need for a discipline but if you are singing exactly the same then what is your contribution?  When people appreciate you,  they appreciate the connection, association they make with your music.  When Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan sing, you know the distinct style of each and their signature improvisations in the ragas.

With his distinctive style, Pandit Pohankar has also walked into the world of new age music with Bollywood superhits like Albela Sajan and the haunting  fusion music of Piya Bawari. About his tryst with the Hindi film industry,  he has some unplesant memories to share.

About Albela Sajan used for the film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, he says, “Albela Sajan is an old, existing composition. Nobody can take credit for it. I was to sing it for the movie and on the day of the final take, I had to go out of town. My accompanist sang this song in the film finally.I felt bad and then my son insisted that I should sing something versatile which is how Piya Bawari came into being.’’

Piya Bawari is new age music created by  his son Abhijit Pohankar, the only Hindustani classical keyboard player. Pandit Pohankar proudly says about his son, “He has brought my music to the world.He is now working globally. Because of my son Abhijit, I was able to reach out to the masses.” When asked about the making of Piya Bawari and his views on fusion music, he says that a musician needs both commercial and musical components for a successful album. He said “I am very happy that the music was enduring. The commercial bit was done for the mass appeal. I used to close my eyes at the sight of the video but I enjoyed the music.

Now I see many Bollywood songs have been copying Piya Bawari. If someone has taken any idea as an inspiration they should speak about it openly.  As long as there is no confusion, fusion is fine.’’  He said smilingly, “If a South-Indian girl marries a Bengali boy,  what is the problem?”

The musicians he admires from  the younger generation are, “Abhijit Pohankar, Niladri Kumar, Rakesh Chaurasia, Amaan Ali Bangash, Ayaan Ali Bangash, Rahul Sharma, vocalists  Meeta Pandit, Kaushiki Chakrabarty, Kalpana Zokarkar etc.
 
After his rousing performance at the Aurobindo school,  he exulted, “Some spiritual presence was here today. I was deeply touched. There was no compulsion from the teachers for the students to maintain silence but they were quiet. Even before the performance started, children were singing and engaged in the music.”

He also expressed his admiration for   the  audience in Karnataka and shared, “ All the maestros like Kumar Gandharva,Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur, Gangubai Hangal, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi have been singing in Karnataka and I feel this is a special space for artists.”

The maestro was keen to share some hard truths that musicians like him have to face, “There are a lot of people who call themselves  maestros. Many younger people who started late are getting  the Padma awards. Those who have started their career 25 to 30 years later than me have got Padma awards and more.

I have not even been recognised by the Sangeet Natak Academy inspite of my contribution to music for the last 53 years. Today’s age is about public relations.  Even if you are not an artist, if you have good PR, then you can get recognition. In musical fraternity, unity is important and they must recognise that someone is contributing so much to music.”

He was also a little critical of  musical reality shows, “These days, in reality shows, more than showing their musical talents,  people end up appealing for votes. People will never forget Lataji and Ashaji. Music should be a worship. When music becomes commercial, the divinity in it, is lost.’’

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