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High on classical music

For Ustad Zakir Hussain, a jugalbandi performance with Pandit Ravi Shankar at a ‘baithak’ organised by the Indian Music Group (IMG) of St Xavier’s College will always remain special.
Hindustan Times | By Reetika Subramanian, Mumbai
UPDATED ON JAN 24, 2011 01:26 AM IST

For Ustad Zakir Hussain, a jugalbandi performance with Pandit Ravi Shankar at a ‘baithak’ organised by the Indian Music Group (IMG) of St Xavier’s College will always remain special.

Midway though the performance in the college hall in 1988, Pandit Ravi Shankar announced, “I just got a call from my office telling me that from this moment on, Zakir Hussain shall be known as ‘Padma Shri’ Zakir Hussain to the whole world”.

On January 25 and 26 when stalwarts such as Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan will perform at IMG, the organisation will complete 38 years of soulful existence.

IMG has witnessed many such musical highs on and off the stage. “In the year 1973, a few college students approached Father Lancy Pereira, the then principal of the college, to establish a group that would encourage Indian classical music among the college goers,” said professor Asha Naithani, head of the Hindi department, St Xavier’s College.

“It was then that Father invited Ustad Allarakha Khansaheb on board, and with the contribution of the House of Birlas, the IMG library was set up in 1975,” added Naithani, who has been closely associated with the IMG for almost two decades.

The group, which was relatively small back then managed to attract a few, but educated music lovers, who religiously attended the small baithaks and music appreciation courses.

By 1984, the tiny room was converted into a music library, when Britannia Industries stepped in to help archive the concerts held by the IMG. “It was the first air-conditioned room in college,” gushed Vidya Nagarajan, 43, an ex-committee member, 1986-88. “We used to get restless towards the end of our lectures, waiting to come down to the IMG and spend hours relishing the music,” she added.

Over time, the IMG has not only evolved in terms of the grandeur of its concerts, but also as a key force in popularising Indian classical music. Today, the IMG organises several concerts, a Young Artists’ Festival and music appreciation courses every year among which the Birthday Concert and the Jan-fest are hugely popular.

The library houses over 35 years of live recordings that are exclusively owned and maintained by the IMG. “We have over 3,000 recorded tapes of music stalwarts such as Gangubai Hangal, L Subramanian, Bhimsen Joshi, Balamurli Krishna and Hariprasad Chaurasia,” said Shruti Godbole, 20, member of the executive committee this year. “We still listen to the old vinyl tapes of the early 80s,” added Godbole.

For most ex-students, the journey with the IMG continues. “From a volunteer to a member on the governing board, I have been associated with the IMG for more than 20 years now,” said Geeika Varde Qureshi, wife of percussionist, Taufiq Qureshi.

But for Qureshi, her first meeting with Pandit Ravi Shankar back in her undergraduate days, remains etched in her memory. “For all the female volunteers, it was an IMG tradition to attend all the baithaks, completely decked up from head to toe in a sari and traditional jewellery,” said Qureshi, adding that she and her friends were craving for compliments through the day.

“While Panditji was climbing the stairs, seconds before his performance, he stopped and said, ‘Arrey waah, kya baat hai! Aaj to mazza aa jayega’,” giggled Qureshi, who was taken aback by Panditji’s attitude of acknowledging beauty everywhere.

Another incident still discussed in the IMG is santoor maestro Pandit ShivKumar Sharma’s performance at the 1990 Janfest.

Seconds after Pandit Sharma began his performance, the mikes went off owing to a technical glitch.

“It took over 15 minutes to repair the mikes, during which nobody from the audience either got up or raised their voice,” said Naithani, emphasising on the devotion of the audience. “At that time, even Panditji sat patiently.” Over the years, the IMG has grown manifold in terms of its membership base and library. But flute maestro Pandit

Hariprasad Chaurasia, who performed at this year’s Birthday Concert, had a complaint: “Panditji rued the fact that we no longer have all-night concerts as we did till the 1990s. The 10pm deadline for use of loudspeakers has made it impossible for us to do so,” said Indranil Rath, 19, executive committee member, IMG.

He added that Panditji said that “terming our art and devotion as noise’ is unacceptable”.

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