Kedar Naphade, a Hindustani Classical Instrumentalist, is one of today's leading exponents of the art of Harmonium Solo and Accompaniment.

Pandit Tulsidas Borkar's Interview2001

A respected musician, Pt. Tulsidas Borkar excels at the Harmonium, his destined instrument. Panditji's fine fingering provides a soothing accompaniment to worthy performers and blends beautifully with all styles, like a tinkling stream, flowing melodiously into the musical sea. Panditji talks to Shivani Saxena about his life in this exclusive interview:

Tulsidasji, what were your early years like?

I was born in Goa, in a village called Bori. The name 'Borkar' is derived from there. When I was five-six years old, I remember deriving immense pleasure from listening to 'Bhajans' in the temple of Ma Durga, to the accompaniment of the Harmonium, Pakhawaj and Tabla. I was attracted towards the Harmonium. This desire became stronger and stronger with time.

I had to leave Goa when I was about ten years old. I came to Mumbai and after spending two years in a drama company where I enacted minor roles, I settled with my family in Poona. Chota Gandharva was a well-known stage singer of those times in Poona. It was in the course of his stage shows, that I met my first Guru Pt. Vishnupant Vast, who gave accompaniment to these stage shows. I used to learn for fourteen-sixteen hours at a stretch with him, initially. This rigorous pattern continued for the first six months. Later, Chota Gandharva gave me guidance. This was my primary education. I started accompanying stage shows, a routine which I followed for about eight years.

Once I was playing for a drama in King George high School, at Mumbai. Chota Gandharva and Hirabai Badodekar were the stars in the drama. Keshav Navelkar was on the Tabla and Baburao Kumthekar on the Sarangi. It was a five-act drama. After three acts, Krishnarao Kumthekar, a well-known Tabla player who played with distinguished artistes like Pt. D.V. Paluskar, approached me and advised me to learn from Shri Madhukar Pednekar, his close friend. I was overjoyed. I had heard Madhukarji earlier, at the second anniversary of Pt. Pandharinath Nageshkarji's class. His Raga Kedar had held me spell bound. I have never seen a fingering like his, in my life. I was also greatly impressed with his personality. He was a great Harmonium artiste.

I got a deep knowledge of the instrument from him. For six months I came every Sunday from Poona, learnt from my Guru and went back at night. I did not know how I stood, with my guru, as he did not comment on my performance. However, I did the work, which he gave me, regularly. One day, he asked his wife to place two plates for dinner and invited me to join him. That was a moment of great happiness for me, as I was sure of my Guru's affection for me. It was like a dream come true.

He was a great Harmonium artiste. He accompanied artistes of the caliber of Sawai Gandharva and Roshanara Begam. I remember an incident in his life, when he played with Kumar Gandharva at a State concert, in Aurangabad. I heard that recording and was floored. He had a God given gift. Just like the late Ustad Ahmedjan Thirakwa and Pt. Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain, today.

Harmonium is an accompanying instrument. It was popularized by Pt. Govindrao Tembe, a great musician, actor, orator music director, a disciple of Bhaskarbuwa Bakhale and Alladiya Khan. This versatile personality gave the status of a solo instrument to the Harmonium. I had the good fortune to listen to him. I stayed with him for three months in Poona. He used to teach a Marathi musical drama, there. I was about twenty years of age then and he was seventy-five. I requested him to play for me. He acceded to our request and played Raga Puriya Dhanashree and a Marathi Natyageet in Raga Tilak Kamod. That sound is still ringing in my years. I still feel that someone is singing. I also heard Vitthalraoji Korgaonkar's and Nanhe Babu's Harmonium.

What are your memories with other renowned artistes?

By the grace of my Guru, I came in contact with Devendra Murdeshwarji. I used to see him sometimes, on the railway platform. I admired him as a musician and used to listen to his recordings on the radio. I was also an admirer of his handsome personality. He and my Guruji, P. Madhukar were friends.

Once, there was a concert by Prakash Ghangrekar (a disciple of Vinayakbua Patwardhan) at the residence of a certain Mr. Pai, a friend of Devendra Murdeshwarji. Murdeshwarji came with his wife, for the concert. He saw me for the first time there, when I was accompanying Prakash Ghangrekar on the Harmonium. I requested Mr. Pai to introduce me to Devendra Murdeshwarji. This was done, to my great satisfaction.

One day Mr. Pai came with a message for me, from Devendra Babuji, to give a Harmonium recital. I agreed on the condition, that Devendra Babuji would also perform on the same day. I was very nervous and managed to breeze through my performance. I played a 'Natyageet' in raga Yaman, which was a great favourite of Devendra Babuji and which he greatly appreciated.

One day I was invited by the All India Radio, to give a classical recital there. I accepted this as a challenge and replied back, saying that I would be performing Ragas Lalit and Shuddha Sarang. I then went to Devendra Babuji and requested him to teach me solo performance on the Harmonium. He did not take me seriously at first, but upon my insistence, he agreed to teach the basics of the two given ragas to me. He told me that the essence of a raga should become clear in the first two-three notes. Therein lies one's expertise as a musician. He gave me a vision of the entire raga structure, through alap, badhat and tans. To him goes the credit of grooming me as a solo artiste. My radio programme was a success, thanks to his guidance and God's grace.

I also had the good fortune to have a close association with Pt. K.G. Ginde. He sent a message, asking me to join his institute, Vallabh Sangeetalaya through his brother, Ganpatraoji. I had received earlier messages too, but had not visited him. However, I went with Ganpatraoji to Pt. Ginde's residence in Dadar. I told him that I would not be able to take up the position, due to time constraints. However, he commanded that I should share my responsibilities with my disciple, to which I agreed.

I learned a lot at this institute. I remember a class when Pt. S.C.R. Bhatt was teaching a student, who switched over to another raga, within seconds. I was impressed with his 'taaleem.' I got a lot of love from Bhattsaheb and Pt. Ginde. I also came in contact with other great musicians, such as Pt. Dinkar Kaikini and Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. Earlier, I had met Pt. Ram Marathe and learnt a lot from him about laya and tala.

Tell us something about the Harmonium

It originated in France about three hundred years ago and came to India about one-fifty years ago. Shri S.P. Bhagat of Mumbai made a wonderful instrument, like the original French instrument during the nineteen-forties, which was used subsequently by all leading musicians. Later, production started on a mass scale, by people like Haribhau Vishwanath, Ramsinghji etc.

In which cities is the Harmonium manufactured?

The Harmonium is manufactured mainly in Mumbai, Calcutta and Delhi. Calcutta specializes in scale-change Harmonium. However, Ramsingh of Mumbai had some good artisans, who made excellent scale-change instruments, the likes of which are not found even in Calcutta. It is my belief that the best Harmoniums are made in Mumbai.

What are the different styles of accompaniment?

There are certain chosen techniques for accompaniment. One is jumping. Second is, following the performer. Third is, playing the main phrases after the singer and fourthly in popular bandishes, accompaniment can be done simultaneously. For example in a bandish like 'Ari ari aali piya bin', or in film songs, which can be prepared beforehand.

How do you see the Harmonium, Vis a Vis the Sarangi?

The Sarangi is a fabulous instrument. I used to listen to Ustad Ghulam Sabir during 1952-53 and am a great fan of his. Sarangi is closest to the human voice. It has sapaat, gamak and other specialties. However, it lacks proper exponents. It requires a lot of hard work, which the present generation lacks. Today, musicians play numerous ragas, but they unfortunately lack depth.

As for the Harmonium, it has strong points like a long note and sapaat, which are difficult in a Sarangi. Some people play it very harshly, hence giving the instrument a bad name. I feel that it is essential to know tuning, as an off-key note is very disturbing. I try to play the Harmonium with Sarangi- ang. A true artiste is one who understands the strong and weak points of his instrument, assimilates the good points of his instrument and makes the most of them.

What are your future plans?

I took according to my capacity and gave freely to my disciples. Some of my good students include Jayant Phadke, Kedar Naphade, also an IIT student now in America, Seema Shirodkar, Sudhir Nayak, among others. I have lovingly and freely given to my disciples. Though the goal is far, I am still trying to learn and teach whatever I can.