Kishori Amonkar wanted to be a doctor, the world got a path-breaking singer instead
Kishoritai, as she was lovingly called by her students, followers and legions of fans, was born in Bombay long before Independence. Good in academics, she wanted to become a doctor but her health prevented her from writing the science exams. So the world got a path-breaking singer instead.mumbai Updated: Apr 07, 2017 00:02 IST
In the world of Indian classical music, Gaan Saraswati Kishori Amonkar held her own position like the North Star. A career spanning over 70 years was marked by the ever-rising standards that she set for herself and achieved. She was one of the most influential singers of her generation.
Kishoritai, as she was lovingly called by her students, followers and legions of fans, was born in Bombay long before Independence. Good in academics, she wanted to become a doctor but her health prevented her from writing the science exams. So the world got a path-breaking singer instead.
After a few years of initial training with her mother Mogubai Kurdikar, a legend herself, young Kishori would accompany her as a backup singer playing the taanpura. Mogubai’s musical training in the austere style of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana had been a hard grind. She didn’t want her daughter to go through such hardship and also wanted her to learn from other gharanas. So Kishori started learning from masters from other gharanas too; a move much ahead of the times.
Small wonder then that Kishoritai broke free from the gharana concept early in her career, often to a lot of criticism before she won everyone over. Kishoritai experimented from the start and introduced a lot of romanticism in her singing, an important variation in her mother’s gharana.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Kishoritai tried her luck singing in films too, which brings us to an apocryphal story: a music director in Prabhat Films advised her to focus on classical music; the same person had apparently earlier advised Lata Mangeshkar to focus on film music. If this story is true, the world owes the music director a debt of gratitude. Later in life, Kishoritai bluntly refused to sing for films. But she did sing several bhajans, making some of those immortal with her hypnotic voice.
The first time I saw Kishoritai performing, I thought she was about 40 years old. She must have been at least 60 then. I attended many of her concerts over the years. Connoisseurs would flock to her concerts, and when the seats filled up, they would first sit in the gangways, on the railings, and in the wings of the stage. When there was absolutely no space left, they would start sitting on the stage itself.
Her brilliance was such that she could create a new raaga directly on stage. Her experimentation had no limits. She said that that rules of a raaga were for beginners. Once you learnt the raaga properly, you should explore it thoroughly and see what it was telling you. She would say that she saw specific colours and patterns while singing some raagas. This inter-relationship between two abstract art forms was her personal experience, not understandable to others.
To many, she appeared moody or eccentric at times. But there was always some logic in her behaviour. Having watched her mother, a doyenne in her own right, being treated poorly by organisers at performances, Kishoritai became very particular about what she wanted. For example, she would not perform till the sound was to her liking.
Kishoritai was a firm believer in the guru-shishya tradition of individually teaching each student according to the individual’s capacity and pace of progress. Today, her students perform all over the world.
I interviewed her in 1998 and it was an extraordinary experience. I asked my first question and she began to speak. She spoke without a break for an hour or so and I realised she had answered all my questions without my having asked any of them. She stopped when she had finished answering the last question on my list, which she hadn’t seen.
The world has lost one of the most influential singers of Indian classical music. But she lives on through her students! Pranaam Gaan Saraswati Kishori Amonkar !
(Milind Date is a leading bansuri player and composer. He is the senior performing disciple of Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia and follows the Maihar-Senia Gharana. Milind is known for his Indo-Western fusion works and classical performances.)