As he stepped on to his teenage years, he started learning the santoor and gave his first performance in 1955 in Mumbai. But even now, with over 60 years of performing at sold out concerts, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma says a little prayer before going on the stage. Ask him what he thinks before a performance and he says, “I don’t think, I surrender. It’s not a thought, it’s a prayer to my guru and to god, whatever divine power that has been guiding me, to make me play my santoor.”
Before his jugalbandi with Ustad Zakir Hussain, at an event organised by Sa va ni and Sakal group on Saturday, the legendary santoor player indulges us in a delightful conversation about his close relationships with music and musicians.
‘It is very inspiring when Zakir is accompanying me on the tabla’
Sharma shares that Zakir Hussain is like family to him. As it happens to be, Hussain’s guru (and father), Ustad Allah Rakha used to play in concerts together with Sharma. “Both of us belong to Jammu, so though there was an age difference, we were very close. We have played many concerts together, in India and abroad. Then Zakir started playing with me as a tabla single. He was very young then,” says Sharma, his voice filled with nostalgia.
Sharma and Hussain share a personal understanding and closeness that reflects in the music they create while playing together.
He continues, “He was 15 when he played his first concert accompanying me on the tabla. We have covered a long journey together in the world of music. Zakir is a fantastic musician. The things he has done on tabla, had never been done before.
When you are performing a solo on the tabla, you are playing what you have been trained and practised to do. But it is very tough when you play a duet or a jugalbandi for that matter. You have to play off the other musician and to do that, you need to instantaneously understand the style and musical temperament of the other musician. Zakir is gifted. No other musician has been able to reach his level of expertise on the tabla yet. It’s very inspiring when he is accompanying me on the tabla.”
‘Pancham left me no choice but to play the tabla that one time’
Before claiming the santoor and working tirelessly to make himself worthy of the instrument, Sharma learnt how to play the tabla from his father when he was just five-years-old. After picking up the santoor, the musician had no time to practise another instrument. But many years later, he had a rendezvous with the tabla, and it was a historical moment for the Hindi film music industry. “RD Burman was a very good friend, and persistent too, I must say. When he was assisting his father S D on the film Guide, we were sitting at one of the music sessions and there were instruments lying around. When we took a break, I just started playing the tabla, whatever little I remembered of it. Pancham happened to notice me and came over. He liked what I played and told me I should play the tabla for a song in the film. He persisted and persisted till I gave in and played the tabla for Mose Chhal Kiye Jaye which was sung by Lataji. I haven’t played the tabla ever since. I have no time between performing concerts, doing riyaz and teaching,” recalls the maestro.
‘Classical music was always my priority’
From the 1960 to the late ‘80s, Sharma was an enthusiastic santoor player in Hindi film music. He also played the instrument in the 1981 hit Silsila. But from 1981 to 1991, he contributed to only 7-8 movies, which were mostly Yash Raj productions. “I played for the Tere Mere Hothon Pe Mithe Mithe Geet Mitwa from Chandni, and in Lagi Aaj Sawan Ki Phir Wo Jhadi Hai from the same film, I played an Iranian santoor. I don’t even remember how many times I’ve played for other music directors. In 1991, I played for Darr, the film in which Shah Rukh Khan played a negative role. After that I didn’t do music films,” says Sharma, adding, “The dates for concerts are fixed six months in advance. But when you sign the contract for a film, you have to be present whenever the director calls you, and this might clash with the dates of the concerts. I was left with a choice between doing music for films and performing at concerts. Since my priority has always been classical music, I quit film music. Many people offered me films but I didn’t receive anything that would make me consider making music for films again,” says Sharma.
‘Practice is futile without introspection’
Sharma claims that he does not stick to fixed schedule for his riyaz, but makes sure he dedicates some amount of time to practise on his instrument. “You must spend time with your instrument on a daily basis, or the risk of rusting your skill is real. To maintain and practise your speed, you need to play for some time every day, but to come up with new compositions, you don’t need your instrument. When I am in a flight, I think of new compositions and when I reach my destination and get my hands on my santoor, I try them out.
There have been instances when I have thought of a new composition while I was traveling to another city for a concert and I attempted the new composition on the stage directly since I didn’t have the time to try it before,” says Sharma.
Doing riyaz every day keeps your hands in practice and gives you that confidence. Regularity is of utmost importance, and then introspection. “If you don’t practise for three weeks, you will find something missing when you play. And if you don’t do riyaz for three months, the audience will feel something missing when you perform. But mechanically scheduling a three-four hour practice every day will do you no good. You have to introspect and keep a tab on your strengths and weaknesses and develop as an artist by critically assessing yourself,” says Sharma.
ST Reader Service
Pt Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain will perform at Mahalaxmi Lawns, Karvenagar on July 15. The event is organised by Sa Va Ni and the Sakal group