Manilal Nag – Live in Woodstock
This sitar master is perhaps the major living exponent of the Vishnupur gharana, a school of classical Indian music coming from the ancient dhrupad style of the aalap, the base of the North Indian raga. Among many other things, this is the concept that many listeners would recognize as the raga, with its slow tempo that gradually builds up to a sometimes hysterical speed. Manilal Nag was the son of sitar master Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag and like many other classical Indian musicians was a descendent from a long line of other distinguished instrumentalists, many of them sitarists. He studied vocal and instrumental music with his father beginning at the age of six, working an average of six to eight hours a day, definitely pushing the rules for practice established by one Pinky Das Gupta: “Never practice in one day more hours than the number of years in your age.”
A major focal point of his study was that the instrumentalists in classical Indian music should concentrate on learning vocal music and following what the voice is doing, before anything else. This concept of the relation between instruments and the voice in music has been similarly expressed in other genres of music, such as jazz, where tenor saxophonist Lester Young often expressed the exact same philosophy as put forth by Nag: “I have to follow the vocal music on sitar. The vocal is the vital point of any instrumental music in India.” By 1953, Nag had been selected to stage his debut concert at the All-lndia Music Conference, accompanied by master tabla player Pandit Santa Prasad. The following year, the young Nag (no insult intended, this is the rare example of it being good to be a Nag) performed as a hand-picked artist of the All lndia Radio. Nag won much acclaim performing at music festivals throughout India and abroad under the auspices of that radio’s international touring department. In 1973, Nag came to the U.S. for the first time to perform, as well as in England and several other European countries. He also performed in Bangladesh and Nepal. In 1985, Nag was invited to perform throughout Japan and in 1994 he made his New York debut as part of a program at the New School with Samir Chatterjee on tabla. Music seeped down into the bones of his own children, as he has both a 16-year-old son, Subhasis Nag, and a 23-year-old daughter, Mita Nag, who perform, the latter selected as sitarist for the All-India Music Conference. The elder Nag, however, seems to be discouraging them from becoming professional musicians, nagging them about the economic and social conditions in India. He also likes to nag in interviews about the lack of discipline among the young musicians in India, who he says now study only six years before beginning public performances. He holds a seat on the Indian government’s University Grand Commission, and in this capacity, as well as in his role as a board member for All lndia Radio and television networks, he helps select artists for its programs, so these young upstarts better start practicing up to the limit previously set by Das Gupta, if not up to Nag’s standards.
Este mestre do Sitar é talvez o maior expoente vivo do gharana Vishnupur, uma escola de música clássica indiana que vem do antigo estilo dhrupad do aalap, a base da raga indiana do norte. Entre muitas outras coisas, este é o conceito de que muitos ouvintes reconheceriam como uma raga, com seu ritmo lento, que gradualmente se acumula a uma velocidade de, por vezes, histérica. Manilal Nag era filho do mestre sitarista Sangeetacharya Gokul Nag e, como muitos outros músicos clássicos indianos era um descendente de uma longa linhagem de outros instrumentistas ilustres, muitos deles sitaristas. Ele estudou música vocal e instrumental com o pai começando com a idade de seis anos, trabalhando uma média de seis a oito horas por dia, definitivamente empurrando as regras para a prática estabelecida por um Pinky Das Gupta : ” Nunca praticar em um dia mais horas do que o número de anos de sua idade.”
Um grande ponto focal de seu estudo foi que os instrumentistas da música clássica indiana devem se concentrar em aprender música vocal e seguindo o que a voz está fazendo, antes de qualquer outra coisa. Este conceito da relação entre instrumentos e voz na música tem sido igualmente expressa em outros gêneros de música , como o jazz, onde o saxofonista tenor Lester Young muitas vezes expressa a mesma filosofia exata como apresentadas por Nag : “Eu tenho que seguir o vocal música em sitar, o vocal é o ponto vital de qualquer música instrumental na Índia. ” Em 1953 , Nag havia sido escolhido para encenar o seu concerto de estreia na Conferência All- lndia Música, acompanhado pelo mestre da tabla Pandit Papai Prasad. No ano seguinte, o jovem Nag (sem insulto pretendido, este é o exemplo raro de ser bom ser um Nag ), realizado como artista escolheu a dedo do Todo lndia Radio. Nag ganhou muitos elogios apresentando em festivais de música por toda a Índia e no exterior sob os auspícios do Departamento de turnê internacional que do rádio. Em 1973, Nag veio para os EUA pela primeira vez para se apresentar, bem como na Inglaterra e vários outros países europeus. Atuou também em Bangladesh e Nepal. Em 1985, Nag foi convidado para se apresentar em todo o Japão, e em 1994 ele fez sua estréia Nova York como parte de um programa na New School com Samir Chatterjee na tabla. A Música escoou para dentro dos ossos de seus próprios filhos, como ele tem tanto um filho de 16 anos de idade, Subhasis Nag, e uma filha de 23 anos de idade, Mita Nag, que tocam, esta última selecionada como sitarista para o All- Índia Music Conference. O Nag mais velho, no entanto, parece estar desencorajando-os de se tornarem músicos profissionais, importunando-os sobre as condições económicas e sociais na Índia. Ele também gosta de importunar em entrevistas sobre a falta de disciplina entre os jovens músicos, na Índia, que ele diz agora estudar apenas seis anos antes de iniciar apresentações públicas. Ele detém um assento no University Grande Comissão do governo indiano, e nesta capacidade, bem como em seu papel como membro do conselho para todas as redes de rádio e televisão lndia, ele ajuda a selecionar artistas para seus programas, assim que estes jovens iniciantes melhor começar a praticar até o limite previamente estabelecido pelo Das Gupta, se não para os padrões de Nag .
photo: John Wilton
Interview with Manilal Nag
West Hurley, New York · November 1994
By Ira Landgarten. Copyright 1994 Ira Landgarten
Ira Landgarten: First of all, about your background, where and when were you born?
Manilal Nag: I was born in Bankura town, of the Bankura district of West Bengal in the year 1939, on 16th August. Then I came to Uttarpara with my father. Uttarpara is near to Calcutta, in the Hooghly district. Uttarpara was a very cultural town-once upon a time many, many big men visited Uttarpara like Madhosudan Dutta, Ram Mohan Roy, Rabindranath Tagore, Dr. B.C. Roy. At that time, my father, the late Sri Gokul Nag, lived in the jamindar bari, that means the house of the jamindar [landlord], as a music teacher. The children of the jamindar learned some music-sitar, vocal-from my father.
My father could play all kinds of instruments, many, many instruments like beena, surbahar, esraj, sitar, sarod, tabla, tabla taranga, harmonium, jaltaranga, nastaranga, kasturtaranga (made from wood). Due to that reason Uday Shankar, the great, famous dancer of that time, visited Uttarpara and listened to my father perform on so many instruments. He was surprised how it was possible for a man to play so many instruments! Then Uday Shankar requested my father, “Please join my party as the music composer.”
photo by Ira Landgarten
My father agreed, and he visited all the country, all over India many times with this party. Then within a year or two Uday Shankar requested him to visit abroad. My father told him, “I need to take permission from my father.” But my grandfather didn’t agree; in those days those old-fashioned Indian old men didn’t allow their children to go abroad. So my father didn’t go and Uday Shankar invited Ustad Allauddin Khan (photo) to join his party as music composer instead. Then my father lived in Uttarpara, and he admitted me to the school but my father didn’t like that I will study and do any job, as an engineer, as a doctor, or a lawyer. Why? At that time the musicians were much welcomed by the maharajas, rajas and jamindars, and they loved musicians. They invited him as the court musician and honored him very much. My father always used to take me along for practicing sitar.
When did you actually first start your real practice?
I remember when I started at the age of 5 or 6. First my father taught me vocal-dhrupad-and I sang about 14 years, but after that due to the problem of tonsillitis I didn’t sing well, and after that I practiced much on sitar. When I lived in Uttarpara I loved very much to play football and cricket like other boys, but my father at all times watched me and told me, “Please come here, take your sitar!” and he himself would take me and play sitar. I practiced minimum 8 to 10 hours every day! And believe me, I practiced only paltas, mir, gamaks and exercises of different types more than 3 or 4 years. After that he taught me only two ragas: one morning raga, Bhairo [or Bhairav], and a night raga, Sohini. Only two ragas, and those two ragas I practiced, you believe me, for two years! Nothing, nothing, nothing else. Sometimes I felt bored, and sometimes I listened to the radio, many music concerts, but when I listened to the radio, immediately my father came to me and turned off the radio and snapped at me, “Why do you listen?” Because if I listen my mind will be ‘fickle’ and I can’t do good practice. At that time, the musicians knew, but at present the students don’t practice paltas, gamaks; they want to become artists within 4 or 5 years. How is it possible? It’s not possible! Anyway, after those 2 years every day my father gave me different ragas, many ragas within 3 or 4 years, mostly all the common ragas I could play. After that he asked me to listen to the concerts. When I started music, for at least 7 or 8 years he didn’t allow me to listen to any program, not even to the radio. He started to take me to different concerts to listen, and from my very childhood at the age of 12-13 I have listened to many musicians with my father. I listened to Ustad Faiyaz Khan (photo), Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, and I have often listened to Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, Kumar Gandharva, Gangubai Hangal, and in Benares, Rasoolanbai, Siddheswari Devi, Hirabai Barodekar, so many artists I don’t even remember all the names now!
Due to the blessings of God I had the opportunity to accompany with the great maestros of tabla, tabla wizards, stalwarts of tabla like Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa, Pandit Kante Maharaj, Ustad Majid Khan. Naturally, the general public will not believe this because these artists are like my grandfather! How is it possible they accompanied me? I’m telling you frankly-when I was 12 or 13 years old I went to Benares with my uncle, and at that time I was accompanied by Ashutosh Bhattacharya, the great tabla player, and he was the student of Pandit Kante Maharaj. After listening to my recital he was very happy and told his guru, Pandit Kante Maharaj, that a boy, the son of Gokul Nag is here and played very nicely. Then Kante Maharaj told him, “Please, come with him here.” And I went with Ashutosh Bhattacharya and my uncle, and Kante Maharaj said, “Ba, betam, bejao.” It was just a homey atmosphere, and he took his tabla and I played near about half an hour, and he blessed me very much, “Acchaa! Very nice! Ba, beta!” When I was in Bombay I got the opportunity to play with Ahmedjan Thirakwa in the residence of Nikhil Ghosh; just half an hour I played with his accompaniment there.
What about Majid Khan? Majid Khan was the father of Ustad Keramatullah Khan, and Jnan Prakash [Ghosh] is his [Majid Khan’s] disciple. What happened? When Sabir was born, after 6 months, his father Keramatullah said, “Manilal, come to my house with your sitar and you will play here for this auspicious occasion.” I went with my sitar to Keramatullah’s house, and Ustadji, Majid Khan told me, “Please come” and he took his tabla and started to play with me. I got these opportunities due to the blessings of God I think; very few musicians had these opportunities. And I’m so lucky: when I sat for the audition for All-India Radio, Keramatullah Khan accompanied me. This is a really very historical matter! Ustad Keramatullah Khan didn’t accompany just any new musicians for auditions! This is due to the blessings of Baba, my father, and God! After that, my father always told me, “When you will play in any music concert, don’t play with ordinary tabla accompanists. At all times try to play with the top-most artists.”
From my boyhood I got the opportunity to play with Pandit Shanta Prasad at the All-India Music Conference in 1953 at the Roxy Cinema Hall, Calcutta. He accompanied me nicely and he was very surprised, and D.V. Paluskar listened and praised me very much. After one month in Calcutta there was a very big conference-nine nights-called Rag-o-Roop. The vocalist A.T. Kanan was very young and he was volunteering to perform for very cheap. The first day I accompanied with a new tabla player of similar age, Maharaj Banerjee, the son of Mantu Banerjee who was a very great harmonium player in Calcutta. When I played, so many musicians-Ustad Allauddin Khan, Pandit Kante Maharaj, Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan (photo), Omkarnath, Vinayakrao Patwardhan-were seated in front, and after that program every musician was very glad. Suddenly Vinayakrao Patwardhan came to the dais and took the microphone and personally announced, “Tomorrow Manilal will play again with Pandit Anokelal.” Then there was a lot of applause! But I’m very sorry there was no opportunity to take a picture or tape record. Nothing! But I remember! I was very lucky-next I played with Pandit Anokelal, the great maestro of Benares tabla. In 1954 I auditioned for All-India Radio and was selected as ‘A Grade’ artist.
Ira: So you were still quite young?
Manilal: Yes. From then until now I’ve participated in so many music concerts such as National Program of All-India Radio, Radio Sangeet Sammelan, many, many radio programs all over India, and I’ve participated in most of all the major music conferences throughout India from 1954 up till now. And I’ve been accompanied by almost all the famous tabla players of India like Ustad Alla Rakha Khan, Pandit Shanta Prasad, Pandit Kishen Maharaj, Keramatullah Khan, Kanai Dutta, Mahapurush Mishra, Shankar Ghosh, and now the very young artists, Anindo Chatterjee, Ananda Gopal, Swapan Chaudhuri, so many artists. In 1973, I got the opportunity to tour abroad with the Cultural Delegation on behalf of the Ministry of Education, Government of India. I visited U.K. and other European countries, then came to the U.S. and Canada. After a few years I visited Australia on behalf of the Government of India, 1976 or 1978. I visited Japan in 1985 [with Mahapurush Mishra]. My father died in 1983, so I am the head of the household, and naturally, I have to look after all my home affairs and my programs-I have no secretary-I have to manage all the things, everything! This time I have come to the States sponsored by the Sangeet Research Academy as an invitee artist and now I’m very glad to visit this country, and I’m really very happy to see this country, and I’m very much pleased especially by the American people who really understand and love our Indian classical music. Now ask any other questions.
Before you mentioned when you were young, after your father began exposing you to other artists,
and you listed only vocalists; you did not mention one instrumentalist…
When I was a teen-ager, I heard many musicians for my own interest. Why? My father told me, “If you listen many times to vocal, you can play sitar nicely.” Because every instrumentalist has to follow the vocal, especially in alap, and alap means dhrupad. During my college years in Calcutta, I often went to Ballygunje and heard Aminuddin Dagar and his elder brother, Moinuddin Dagar, stalwart specialists in dhrupad, constantly, every day for more than 2 hours! For 2 years, listening, listening, listening! Naturally, I got many ideas for alap. And then I heard many times Omkarnath Thakur, Vinayakrao Patwardhan, Narayanrao Vyas, Kumar Gandharva-just khyal. Khyal especially helped me with different taans, gamaks. And I really love vocal music, and to achieve better instrumental music I follow [vocal] at all times. Now I can’t sing due to my voice-no practice, but I love to sing.
photo: Ira Landgarten
At the time did you listen to any instrumentalists, or particularly did any sitarists other than your father have any influence on you?
Yes, yes, yes. At that time, I didn’t have the opportunity to listen to the old artists such as Enayat Khan or Barkatullah Khan, but I have listened many times to Ustad Allauddin Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan, and Faiyaz Khan, Bade Ghulam, many, many times. The instrumentalists I have listened to many, many times are Ali Akbar Khan, Ravi Shankar and then Nikhil Banerjee.
Nikhil Banerjee & Manilal Nag
I liked to listen to Nikhil Banerjee more, more, more, more! I don’t know why-but due to his art, his imagination I loved his style very much. All these musicians-Ali Akbar Khan, his depth on alap; Ravi Shankar’s chhandas [rhythm] and everything; Nikhil Banerjee’s emotional mood; Vilayat Khan’s sapat, fast taans-influenced me much, Naturally, because I’m a music-lover-I love music!-from all artists I took something, something, something! My father told me, “You must listen to all the musicians and take the best.” I am an artist, I try to create, and incorporate the best qualities.
Your grandfather was also a sitar player…
Let me say this now: I was very lucky that I was born in a musician’s family. In my district town, Bankura, my grandfather, Govinda Nag was a great musician of that time, but he was not a professional musician. His father, Bauridas Nag, was also a very great musician. At that time my grandfather and great-grandfather learned from the Lucknow gharana and the Delhi gharana; many, many artists like Kasim Ali Khan, rabab, and the son of Mohammed Ali Khan. What happened? In my father’s boyhood, Ramprasana Banerjee came to Bankura for some music concert, and at that concert my father played sitar. Ramprasana Banerjee listened and he was very happy, and he requested my grandfather, “Please, I will take your son to my house and I want to teach him.” My grandfather agreed and allowed him, “Please, go with Ramprasana babu.” Then my father went to Vishnupur with his guru, Ramprasana Banerjee. Ramprasana Banerjee was the son of Anantalal Banerjee-Anantalal Banerjee was the disciple of Jadu Bhatta, the great singer of the Vishnupur gharana. He has known as the ‘Tansen of Bengal.’ Anantalal Banerjee had four sons: Ramprasana, Gopeswar, Surendranath and I can’t remember the fourth. All of them were very great musicians. Ramprasana Banerjee knew all the instruments and my father learned many, many instruments from him. Ramprasana Banerjee often went to Calcutta in those days, and in Calcutta were Raja Sourendra Mohan Tagore and Jotindra Mohan Tagore in Jorasanko; a very cultured family. Many musicians from all over the country came to Calcutta and stayed in their house-Imdad Khan, the grandfather of Vilayat Khan, and Sajjad Mohammed, the son of Ghulam Mohammed famous for Seni gharana sitar.
Manilal and Vilayat
The guru of my father, Ramprasana Banerjee, learned the rabab, been, surbahar, sitar from Sajjad Mohammed at the court of Raja Jotindra Mohan Tagore at Jorasanko. I heard from my father that Ustad Allauddin Khan also came to Jorasanko, and Allauddin Khan also learned sitar from the Vishnupur gharana, his name was Nityananda Goswami, the nephew of Radhika Prasad Goswami. Radhika Prasad Goswami was also a disciple of Jadu Bhatta and he went to Calcutta and at that time Girijashankar Charkraborty learned dhrupad from him. Girijashankar Charkraborty was the first man who popularized vocal music in Calcutta. Tarapada Chakraborty, Sailendranath Banerjee of Tansen Music Festival, Jamini Ganguly, and Ratindranath Chatterjee of Shibpur, Howrah, were students of Girijashankar Charkraborty. It was then that khyal was popularized in Calcutta-before then there were no music festivals in Calcutta. The last nawab of Lucknow, Wajid Ali Shah, was dethroned by the British [in 1856] and he fled to Calcutta. Many musicians came to Calcutta with the nawab. The guru of Ustad Allauddin Khan lived in Matia Burj, that nawab’s estate in Calcutta, as well as Sajjad Mohammed. Raja Sourendra Mohan later invited Sajjad Mohammed to come to Jorasanko. So there was an amalgamation of Lucknow and Vishnupur. Another person, Dr. D.R. Bhattacharya, the vice-chancellor of Allahabad University, was the first man who organized a music conference in Allahabad, and he invited musicians from all over the country. He arranged a music festival in which Ustad Allauddin Khan, Hafiz Ali Khan, Faiyaz Khan and other ustads of this type, participated. After that, in Calcutta two great men-Damodardas Kana Lala Babu and Bhupendra Krishna Bose of Paturiagata jamindar-came to Allahabad, attended the music festival and met with Dr. Bhattacharya. After some discussion, Dr. Bhattacharya came to Calcutta and then they organized a music circle and called it the All-Bengal Music Conference in 1934; Rabindranath Tagore inaugurated this conference. Lala Babu later also arranged another music circle, the All-India Music Conference. Now both are finished but at that time these two were very big music conferences.
So you basically got all of your sitar training from your father, Gokul Nag?
Yes, mostly I learned from Baba. Baba often asked me, “If you want to learn from anyone else, please go to Allauddin Khan in Maihar.” Baba loved and respected Ustad Allauddin Khan, and Allauddin also regarded my father highly. While I was in school, maybe in 1951, ’52, ’53, Baba [Allauddin Khan] used to come to Calcutta then go to the jamindar house of Gouripur, Raja Brajendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury. He was the jamindar of Gouripur, in what is now Bangladesh, and his son, Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury was also a great musician, and his son, Binode Kishore Roy Chowdhury has learned sitar from my father. In my boyhood sometimes I visited his house with my father and one day I went to his house with my father-a big, palatial house. When I came to this house, I heard someone playing sarod very nicely, but at that young age I didn’t understand that full alap…I loved the music very much, and asked, “Who is playing, who is playing?” As I was listening, Allauddin called to me, “Come to me, come to me, sit down here.” And he took me on his knee and gave me some sweets, and said, “Listen, listen.” I have listened many, many times to Allauddin Khan but that time I was young and didn’t understand the reality of music. After that I wrote to Allauddin Khan, “I want to learn from you.” But he replied, “Your father is a very great musician. You don’t know about your father. Please, I request you to still learn from your father.” Due to that reason I didn’t go to Maihar to take lessons!
That’s interesting, but you have your own style because of that. About the sitar styles: in your playing, you use the kharaj [bass] string. Ravi Shankar has said that he and [sitar maker] Kanai Lal developed the use of these bass strings. Vilayat Khan will say that use of kharaj strings on sitar is not the ‘real sitar’ tradition. What is your feeling about this type of style?
Yes. In ancient times, in the court of rajas and maharajas, they had much time to listen to music. In those times beena, surbahar played only alap, not gats. If they did play gat, it would be in slow laya [tempo] like dhamar dhrupad, chautal-but it can’t be played fast. Due to that reason, Vilayat Khan doesn’t use kharaj or kharaj pancham, so he can play fast. In the old days, they had too much time: the musician first took surbahar and played real alap for one or two hours, then stopped and took a break for half an hour for tea, and then again started with sitar. Nowadays men have no time, so naturally now on sitar we use kharaj, kharaj pancham and play alap and then gat, both together. Vilayat Khan has his own idea, he is correct. But our own idea is our own idea! I don’t like to compare, this depends upon the public.
When do you think this modern type of sitar actually developed?
From my childhood I have seen my father’s sitar which had kharaj and kharaj pancham. This style is dates from ‘old age,’ so why other musicians make claims on this, I don’t know. Why? From my boyhood, I saw Baba playing sitar with kharaj, a Kanai Lal sitar.
When you were a boy, was your first sitar a small, child-size sitar?
Yes, when I started I had a small sized [sitar] because as a boy how could I hold a big sitar! I started with a ‘single’ sitar with only seven strings, no taraf. After a year or two I played my Baba’s sitar, a Kanai Lal sitar, and I played many years on that sitar. Then Hiren Roy gave me a new sitar.
When did you first get the idea to get a sitar from Hiren Roy?
After the death of Kanai Lal, my father went to Hiren Roy for jawari [finely shaped bridge on a sitar, been or tanpura]-Hiren Roy at that time was the best maker and he did good jawari. I used to go to Hiren Roy and asked, “Hiren-da, please make one good sitar for me.” And that he did.
When was that?
My sitar was made near about 28 years ago . Before that I was playing a Kanai Lal sitar.
Was Hiren Roy a disciple of Kanai Lal?
I’ve heard, I’ve heard, because Hiren Roy was a disciple of Kanai Lal in the sense that he used to go to his shop and work, watch and listen. Like this. I heard this from my father, but I don’t know how much is true.
Hiren Roy has become probably the most famous sitar maker in India…
Why? Because he also was a musician-Hiren Roy learned sitar from Annapurna [Ustad Allauddin Khan’s daughter] and he could play very nicely on sitar. Due to that reason he could make good sitars, he knew sitar technique. He could do very good jawari-without being a musician, you can’t do good jawari, and jawari can’t be done scientifically, it just depends upon your ear. Play, listen and then jawari, play, listen and then again jawari until satisfaction; when you’re satisfied, then stop, OK. It’s very difficult; there is no scientific way, no measurements.
The sound of your sitar is very special-it’s a round, ‘closed’ sound, unlike some sitars which can tend to sound more loud and metallic. Did Hiren Roy suit the sound to your particular request?
As an artist, Hiren Roy ‘caught’ my ideas. He knew my stroke, he listened to my alap and naturally he got the idea, and he made the sitar according to my needs.
What do you do for jawari now that Hiren Roy has passed away?
Now Hiren Roy’s son, Hemangshu, does it. He’s not bad and gradually he’s improving, and I think now maybe he’s the best. Sometimes he’s better than his father, sometimes. Just like sometimes my program is excellent and sometimes it’s not good-it takes patience! Jawari is also like this; sometimes Hemangshu is better than Hiren Roy, and I think within a few years he will become a good maker.
Let’s hope so because without a good jawari, sitar is nothing! It’s very important.
Yes, it’s a very important thing.
What do you think about the current state of classical music in India, and what are its prospects for the future?
Nowadays due to economic and political conditions the Indian people are mostly thinking about their daily lives, how to earn, how to live. Naturally, they are so engaged that they have no time for the sake of art-painting, sculpture or music. In the old days, men were not so busy earning due to a smaller population and the patronage of rajas and maharajas. Now there are no rajas or maharajas, who will patronize the artist? Suppose a painter works 1-2 years on a piece, his price is 4 lakhs of rupees, who will buy it except a raja or maharaja? At that time good musicians were helped by the state, “Please, stay in my state, play on and you teach these students.” The students didn’t need to pay a salary because the state provided for them. The guru just taught them, and the guru didn’t worry about food or anything; the state provided education for their families, everything. Now there are no states, the government ruined all the states. And what is the government doing now? Nothing! The public doesn’t have too much money, so the public can’t support the artist. Most people are engaged in many kinds of jobs. Some go to the office in the morning and after returning they do another job, so how will they get the time to spend with the music or any fine arts? It’s not possible. To become a good artist requires much time, a minimum 10-12 hours a day in your art. For instrumental music, the students need to learn vocal, and nowadays the students don’t learn vocal. They start, ‘sa ri ga ma pa dha ni’ and then learn one or two gats. Within 2-4 years, “Manilal-ji, I want to sit for an audition, please recommend my name.” How is it possible? I can’t say the future position of our real classical music, but it may be ruined. And the influences of Calcutta TV and commercial pop music-the young generation is less interested in classical music. Before there was TV or popular film music, the school students, the college students, boy and girls used to listen to classical music. Now every house has TV blasting and they don’t get the opportunity to listen to good music. This is my opinion, I can’t say about the position in the future…What about my son? My father taught me sitar and I had to learn because he wanted me to become a musician. But who will support my son, who will give him food-only playing sitar, no food? The government will not back him nor give him any money to practice sitar. Naturally, Subhashish may have to do some job.
Now, without the royalty and the support of their states, corporations have become the patrons. In India you have the ITC [India Tobacco Company] and their Sangeet Research Academy in Calcutta.
Ah, yes, the ITC, but they’re a monopoly. They have a good idea but they only support vocal, not instrumental music. Why? ITC can easily invite me, “Manilal, you are staying in Calcutta, please join ITC and please teach sitar.” Why not? I can’t say…Nowadays students are getting many more opportunities than before: in India there are music universities everywhere, and in general education, music is compulsory. Students get so many opportunities! In ancient times, there were no tape recorders, no notations, how did they learn? How did Allauddin Khan or my father learn? Nowadays, students listen to tapes, sing the notations, have videos-they have so much but they are not playing well! Why? Due to riyaaz [daily practice], due to taleem, due to discipline, due to regard of the guru. My father didn’t allow me to listen to others, why? Because, first you take the systematic teaching -taleem-of the gharana, and then you listen and after that you can play nicely. But nowadays, suppose I tell my student, “Please practice this” and after taking lessons from me, at his home he listens to Nikhil Banerjee-tape recorder is not guru! If you listen for 30 minutes, you can play for 30 minutes like this, this, this. But if I say, “Please, play for two hours” how can you improvise, how can you play without ideas from vocal music? This is the vital point: now the tape recorder is our guru! Now the students come to me just one year and then leave and buy many records, listen, take the sitar and play. Not possible, because this is not composed music, this is creative art, understand my point?
It’s at least a life time of work! Or even several life times!
A life time of work, yes! My idea is: as a musician, I will not follow the money, but money will follow me! Am I right or wrong? Now many musicians think, “I need money, money, too much money!” I don’t want to name any names but here at this time many great musicians are snatching the students, like robbery, like dakkoos [dacoits: thieves]. I hate this, but students don’t realize this. “Guru-ji, guru-ji, guru-ji, guru-ji, guru-ji!” But I’m not that type of man.
The economic conditions are different now. The gurukul system that used to exist is gone, and now artists are forced to become commercial. They have to perform for the public and they have to have students and receive tuitions.
Since the general public mostly understands the ‘light’ music, new musicians don’t play much alap. “Dadadroom, push, push, push, taans,” and the young chaps applaud, “Oh, very nice, very nice!” They don’t realize, they have no feelings-without feelings, without kind heart, music will not come. Yes.
Let’s discuss your philosophy about music and the role of the musician, and how this is connected with the wisdom and ancient philosophy of India? Why does this music have such a special power?
In India, we believe the Supreme Power, that means God, and everything depends on the natural atmosphere, Nature. If I go to the mandir [temple] for puja [worship] my mind will be like this; sit down calmly. [He gently sings a few notes with a very peaceful, devotional mood]. I believe that even those who don’t understand music, will listen to and enjoy this-this is something powerful. But if I sing like this [loud and boisterously] you can’t enjoy. This is the philosophy: music should be like meditation, yoga. What is yoga? The music should be like this, stay as much as possible in one swara [note]. Yoga comes from this and music comes from yoga! Modern music-nothing, just amusing, “Dadadada, dada, dada, dadadada!” listen one or two minutes, finished. But if you listen to classical music, sometimes after it’s ended you are still listening in your mind. With good music your ‘natural tape recorder’ is playing in your brain! Sometimes, “Who’s playing, who’s playing? No one? But who’s playing here?!” Music is absorbed in the mind, replaying. Right or wrong? Why? Due to that philosophy, due to depth. Depth!
The ancient tradition of music is known as ‘Sangeet marg,’ a path to God realization through music.
Really, and music is the language of God. There are so many religions in the world-churches, temples, mosques-and everywhere is music for worshipping God. It’s all the same! I don’t understand the difference between all religions. Your blood is red, my blood is red; if you don’t get air you can’t live, if I don’t get air I can’t live; if I don’t get water I can’t live, I will die. Everyone is like this, everyone depends upon this universe, that means the power of the Supreme. Why do we judge, “He is this. He is this. I am that.” Why? You need food, I need food; you need water, I need water-what is the difference between you and me? This comes from the mind, not reading books. From books it will never come-many people have MAs, PhDs, doctorates-but nothing, no sense, no sense. Ha, ha, ha! Music has power but we have to play with ‘yoga’ [union] in mind. Many musicians ruined our music-“You play rock’n’roll, why do you need Indian ragas?” Rock’n’roll, pop music, “Dum dum dum, Dum dum dum, plink, plink, dum dum dum dum, plink, plink.” You’ll get much popularity! If you play Indian music alap like this, I will not bother! You have to maintain strict discipline. Music, dhrupad, is like this: if you like, you come here, you listen. If you don’t like, you need not to come, please stay in your house. Those who come I think will understand my music, if they don’t like, they need not to listen to my music-I am only for those who understand my music. I’m not for all people, I can’t satisfy all the people.
This music originated in the temples and then when the Moghuls came it entertained the kings, and it has remained in the province of the elite.
Yes, right, right. Always.
That’s the way it is. Keep your music pure and for those few who really understand it. You could see when you performed the other night in Woodstock that people were listening with genuine appreciation. Now it’s only a question of whether people will try to continue the type of practice and taleem…
I don’t know, people are not getting the time-especially in Calcutta, maybe throughout India-to practice, no patience. They love the music but have no patience, and they don’t practice hard enough. For that reason they can’t play nicely. Always stay with the guru-in ancient times was ‘guru shishya parampara’ [teacher-disciple lineage] and the students had to stay at the residence of the guru, and at all times had to listen to the guru. After the guru’s practice the student had to practice like this. Nowadays it’s not possible-the guru has no house so how can he accommodate his students like the rajas or maharajas? Allauddin Khan-Maihar State! So many students all over India came to Maihar and stayed with their guru, in this room, in that room, in this room, in that room and Allauddin Khan, “Is he practicing? Yes, OK. Is she practicing? Oh, yes. Ah, you are sleeping, get up! Practice!” My father was like this: very early in the morning, “Manilal, get up, get up! Take your sitar!” I remember. Without a guardian, if you are left alone, “Later, later. I will practice later.” Strict administration by guru or guardian.
I’ve heard so many stories that when teaching Ustad Allauddin Khan was extremely strict and had a very bad temper; what was your father like?
My father really was just like Allauddin Khan! But when you first came to Calcutta  my father was very calm and relaxed, but before he was a very strict person-especially towards me! Ha, hah, ha! And he never went to anyone asking, “Please give me a program. Please, do something for me. Please do this.” No, never. Naturally, I am his son and my nature is the same. I have my father’s blood! Try to understand, this is my difficulty! I can’t go to everyone asking, “I am Manilal, please do something for me.” I am satisfied God will give me enough. I can’t snatch anything from you. He will give me. He has sent me, He will give me. I believe it! God sent me here, He will give me the money. I never ask anybody, “I am hungry, please give me money.” But I have no big house, no car, nothing. This is the way, and now God has made it possible for me to purchase the land, and God will provide the money slowly, slowly, and I will build-up my house. And what is my idea? That some students like you, any time they come to Calcutta can stay at my house and enjoy. The house I now live in can’t accommodate any students, any guest. God has given me land-slowly, yes, and only lately-but He has given, and I believe God will give me my house, slowly, slowly, slowly. Heh, heh, heh, heh! This is my idea. Many musicians suddenly rise and then immediately drop but I continue from 1954 up until now. Slowly, slowly, slowly, slowly. Why? “Slow and steady wins the game.” Practice every day, slow, you will progress. But if immediately, “Zoom! Too much money! Zoom!” Okay, then, “Whoosh…” Many artists end up like this. This is realization. I saw how much my father struggled. He never went asking of any man. Simple food, simple clothes, in one room. My father got many opportunities from many big jamindars, big people. In Calcutta they asked my father, “Please take this house, this house is for you.” “This big building? No, no, no, I don’t need it, I don’t need it.” My father’s philosophy…If any students came he would say, “Please sit down, take tea.” Allauddin Khan was like that, I have seen it. Allauddin Khan loved me too much, and Hafiz Ali Khan, the father of Amjad Ali Khan, loved me too much but I didn’t take any pictures at that time!
Well, you have the memory and the experience.
Yes, many, many experiences! Thirty years ago in Calcutta, I played sitar for the birthday of Dabir Khan, the guru of Birendra Kishore Roy Chowdhury, the guru of Santosh Banerjee-Dabir Khan was the last descendant of Mian Tansen. Vilayat Khan was in the front row; a full two hours he had listened and then he came to the dais, “Manilal, you played very nicely.” He was really satisfied, as a musician he expressed his feelings, and up until now Vilayat Khan regards me well, “Manilal plays very nicely.”
He has told me that as well.
Vilayat Khan has mentioned in an interview in Calcutta, “The Nag family is the only family of sitar gharana in India.” Acchaa, let’s take some breakfast now. If you have some bread, butter, eggs and milk I’d like to make French toast! I will do it!