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Singing for the Indian Idol

A jangle of the tal (cymbals), the resounding beat of a dholak (drum) and a voice that floats over a crowd of devotees and bystanders alike.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2009 01:09 IST
Shriya Ghate

A jangle of the tal (cymbals), the resounding beat of a dholak (drum) and a voice that floats over a crowd of devotees and bystanders alike. It’s the experience Ganpat Mosambkar awaits eagerly each year — for 18 years now, he has been playing the dholak and tabla for orchestras and groups that entertain crowds during Ganesh Chaturthi.

For the other 355 days of the year, Mosamkar is an employee in KEM Hospital in Parel. But for those 10 glorious days, Mosamkar becomes part of a group that is able to worship and entertain at the same time. “My talent is a God-given gift. This is a way to celebrate it,” he says.

Most orchestra members, like Mosamkar, are professionals who hold 9 to 5 jobs and practise either after work, or over the weekend. “I used to finish my work, go home and then leave for practice in the evening,” says Madhuri Patwardhan, who looks after the kindergarten section at the Indian Education Society in Dadar. She was a compere and singer with Mehfil Tarang, a group that she was part of from 1985 to 2008 (she stopped performing last year for health reasons).

Avdhoot Rege, who works with Vodafone and has his own orchestra, says, “Working in the corporate sector, I know the value of time and money. I go about my rehearsals very professionally.” Rege has been performing during Ganesh Utsav for the last 15 years and started his own private groups —Swarabhishek for Marathi audiences, and Harmony for Hindi audiences — seven years ago.

Practice sessions begin at least one-and-a-half to two months before the festival, with rehearsals held either at a member’s home or in a rented hall. “We have to prepare a minimum of 15 to 18 songs for a one-hour show. For a two-hour show, we need 25 songs,” says Rashmi Ambdekar, a freelance writer and radio jockey, who has been compering and singing in shows such as Swara Ninad and Mehefil Tarang for the last seven years.

Orchestras are booked mainly by mandals, but also by housing societies and individuals, with well-known groups doing five to seven shows during the 10-day festivities. Smaller groups do two or three. Says Ambdekar, “There is no better opportunity for getting used to crowd pressure than Ganesh Utsav. It is a challenge to engage and control a live audience of thousands.”

Orchestras or mandal groups get anywhere between Rs 12,000 to 15,000 for a single Marathi show that lasts one-and-a-half to two hours and Rs 20,000 or more for a Hindi show of the same duration. The money is usually split equally among members. Freelance comperes are paid Rs 800 onwards for a one-hour show, while singers and musicians get paid Rs 1,000 and more, depending on the length of the show.

Praised be the Lord
Besides the orchestras, there are also bhajan mandalis (groups) that are much in demand at this time. Gajanan Karmarkar, a senior telecom executive at Godrej, who has been a part of such a mandali for the last 15 years, commutes from Vikhroli to Thane every Thursday to get together with his group. Unlike orchestras, bhajan mandalis consider their performance a service to society and a reflection of their faith. Therefore there are no monetary expectations from the audience.

A bhajan mandali may notch up more than 10 shows during the 10-day festival. Performances are held either between 7 to 9 pm or 10 to 12 pm when the biggest crowds gather. “ We have everyone from bathroom singers to professional musicians in our mandali,” says Yogesh Deshmukh, who heads the Om Bhajani Mandal in Thane. “But we try to be professional and often structure our performances around themes,” he says.

What motivates these individuals from different walks of life to put in that extra effort for Ganesh Chaturthi? The answer ranges from faith to passion to pure enjoyment. And other bonuses. Says Ganpat Mosamkar of KEM Hospital, “It is the one time in the year that I become famous. I appear on TV because of the shows, and my family feels proud of me.” >For Mosamkar and the rest of his tribe, it’s their 15 minutes of fame, faith and celebration.

This weekly column examines the diversity of urban communities