July 22, 2019 at Tara Mobile Creche Pune, Charholi Centre, Pune.
An Account by Namrata Shah
“Good morning, didi!”, a girl greeted me with a bright smile. “Good afternoon!”, I responded. “Arre, good afternoon, didi!”, she corrected herself, giggled and ran off. We were at the construction site of Pride World City in Charholi, a pretty far off site that doesn’t have a proper approach road yet. We were there for a Sitar concert organized by Baithak Foundation.
There were quite a few kids around. One of those ran to get the keys to the room where the concert was to take place, the other one ran to get mats, yet another one ran to get us glasses of water. A few women and some more kids gathered around and waited patiently and looked curiously as the artists arranged the instruments. The room was quite small. There aren’t as many attendees today I thought looking at the number of women and kids and then looking at the size of the room. I was so wrong! As soon as the instruments were arranged, a kid ran to gather some more women and kids and in minutes, the room was full of women, men, and kids keen to listen to the artists.
Saumitra Kshirsagar (Baithak Project Coordinator) introduced the artists – Adwait Gadgil and Pushkar Mahajan – to the audience that had gathered. After getting to know from Adwait that he is a disciple of Sitar Maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan, I couldn’t wait to listen to him play my favorite string instrument and was curious to know which raag he’d be playing on Sitar.
Adwait chose to Pilu, an afternoon raag that is typically used in light-classical forms, such as thumri. Before he began the recital, he explained the audience what a Raag is in simple words and with the help of simple examples. Just the way no two people have the exact same names and nature, raags in music have different names, notes and nature; he explained. He also shared some interesting facts about the name of the instrument. The name Sitar is derived from the Persian words “seh” and “tar”. In its initial days, Sitar had only three strings. In Persian language, where the instrument possibly originated, “seh” means three and hence it was called “seh-tar”.
Adwait told the audience that he would be starting the rendition of the raag by playing an aalaap in a slow tempo and suggested the attendees close their eyes while the aalaap was being played. The sound of Sitar soon filled the room and with that, the mood in the room changed. There was complete silence and the mood was meditative as we listened to the aalaap. Pushkar joined on Tabla in few minutes and the tempo gained momentum. Years of learning and relentless efforts put into practicing the instruments of their choice was pretty evident in the way the duo played the instruments and complemented each other. Together, they enthralled the grown-ups as well as the kids in the audience.
The recital was followed by a question-and-answer session. The kids had questions not only about Sitar, but also about Tabla. They wanted to know what the instruments were made of, how many years it took for Adwait and Pushkar to learn those instruments, why the sitar has so many strings, and so on. Among all the events that I’ve attended so far, this was perhaps the longest question and answer session and I loved how interesting and interactive it kept getting with every new question. Adwait and Pushkar had bunch of kids surrounding them, wanting to touch the musical instruments and know more about those. Pushkar gave the kids an opportunity to play a bol on Tabla and his words of encouragement brought such happiness to the kids’ faces! It was a heartwarming sight to see the two artists interact with the kids and connect with them so well. Looking at the response of the kids, a lady at the creche suggested that such events should be held on Saturdays so that more kids could attend the event. Apparently, on other weekdays, timings of the school are different for different kids and so not everyone can attend the event. She said there would be at least 55 kids at the center who could be part of the event it is held on a Saturday.
I left the site feeling overwhelmed. I’m unlikely to forget how it felt to be part of the audience comprising some bright kids – their faces full of happiness, their eyes and minds full of curiosity. I started volunteering with Baithak Foundation so I could feel motivated to revisit the raags that I learned years ago, but these experiences are giving me far more than I expected to get out of them. The effort that Baithak Foundation is making to and reach out to these young little kids and spread the magic and joy of music among them is truly appreciable.