Remembering the sitar maestro – Pt. Ravi Shankar

On the death anniversary of Pt. Ravi Shankar, tabla artiste Arup Chattopadhyay opens up on his association with the maestro and the art of accompaniment

Despite his close association with Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shankar, tabla artiste Arup Chattopadhyay chooses to be self-effacing.

His style while playing the tabla is known for its sweet tonality, excellent clarity of bols and its unobtrusive nature. His sense of rhythm and melody , creativity and his vast experience come through during his solo concerts and grooming his disciples.

Though the pandemic wiped out numerous stage concerts organised to mark the Panditji’s birth centenary celebrations in which Arup was to perform, he has been taking part in the online events that happened during and after the lockdown period.

Unfazed by these ups and downs he admits, “This unprecedented situation has given me a great opportunity to introspect about my art at peace. After becoming a busy musician in my early twenties, there has been hardly any respite.”

As the son of Pankaj Chattopadhyay, a renowned tabla maestro from the famous stable of Ustad Karamatulla Khan, Pandit Kanai Dutta and Pandit Shankar Ghosh, the young Arup actually perambulated with the tukras and parans of Farukhabad Gharana since his birth in 1961. Arup would attend his father’s concerts, listen to his teaching sessions and witness the unrelenting spells of riyaaz. By the age of five, he was ready to present what he learnt. After his intense training for more than a decade, Arup was sent for advanced training under his father’s guru Shankar Ghosh. Since the Gharana was ingrained in him since childhood it was easy for Arup to learn the nuances with ease.

It was a chance encounter with Deepak Chowdhury, a senior disciple of Pandit Ravi Shankar, that laid the foundation for Arup’s strong association with the sitar maestro. He recounts his first music session with Pandit Ravi Shankar.

“ It was Deepak da who took me to Panditji . I had gone there only to offer my pranams, but Panditji was in a mood to do riyaaz and impart training to Deepak da. He was looking for a tabla and asked me if I had brought one. When I said no, he

added, ‘If your palms are not sweaty already, go to the anteroom and request Kumar (Bose) to lend you a pair of his tabla and play with us!’” That was our first session with Panditji. I was surprised to hear him sing extremely well while teaching,”

He asked Arup to join in again the next day. “Upon arrival I saw a gathering of eminent musicians like Pandit VG Jog, Indranil Bhattacharya, Kumar Bose. Pandit ji introduced me to everyone and mentioned my tabla session with him the previous day. It was a lessonthat inspires me to encourage young ones,” added Arup.

Soon after this , Arup set out to London under a contract with the Institute of Indian Culture of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. After a year of teaching and concerts in the UK, Arup’s first Indian concert took place in 1986. Several teaching assignments along with concerts took him to the U.S.

Once during such a tour, Pandit Ravi Shankar invited him to Los Angeles to accompany him on the tabla and along with Bickram Ghosh. From then on Arup had performed with him in many concerts and that association lasted almost for nine years. .

“Panditji was a living institution. By being with him one could learn a lot. I did . .”

Arup believes that mastery on tonality happens with unrelenting practice. “The technique differs from artiste to artiste. Some prefer to play a total passage or composition complete with tihai. His method is to polish one particular aspect of playing, that too in different tempos. A perfect grip on tempo facilitates clarity both in padhant and its execution or nikaas, underlines Arup.

The writer is a music critic and musicologist.

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