Music keeps me going: Dr Prabha Atre

Vinaya Patil
Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Says Dr Prabha Atre, as we talk to her about her upcoming book Antahswar, which is a collection of poems describing music and associated elements

Music is something that may not necessarily always reach every member of the audience with the same nuanced understanding that it has been constructed with. “I therefore wanted to express it through words,” says Dr Prabha Atre, noted Hindustani classical vocalist of the Kirana gharana.

Says Dr Prabha Atre, as we talk to her about her upcoming book Antahswar, which is a collection of poems describing music and associated elements

Music is something that may not necessarily always reach every member of the audience with the same nuanced understanding that it has been constructed with. “I therefore wanted to express it through words,” says Dr Prabha Atre, noted Hindustani classical vocalist of the Kirana gharana.

Dr Atre, with her vast and deep understanding of music, says that she wants to spread the knowledge of music and not restrict it to limited people. “The process of making music and singing in a certain way is very complicated. Not everyone is going to understand it. The only way everyone will get it is through words. I thus decided to write Antahswar,” says Dr Atre of the third edition of her book that will be launched on Friday, July 21 in the city.

A collection of 77 poems, the book has been translated into English by Susheela Ambike. Published by Book Ganga, the e-book too will be launched along with the hard copy publication. What’s more, an audio book version will also be available in Dr Atre’s voice in a month’s time.

“Being a singer, I have not only been studying music, but also other associated elements like words, rhythm, notes and more. I wanted to pen all this down,” explains the 85-year-old singer, as she recites a couplet from her poems, “The temple of music has to be built with great skill, and above all, through saadhanaa (utmost dedication)...For the notes that build it are elusive, like the ripples on water that disappear even as they rise.”

Padmashri, Padmabhushan, Kalidas Samman and Sangeet Natak Akademi are some of the many awards Dr Atre has won for her contribution in the field of music. An artist of international repute, she has been performing for more than 55 years. Having worked as an assistant producer at the All India Radio for 10 years, she says that she had no plans of making a career in music. “I had no family background in music. In our times, we never made career plans. I guess I was destined to be a part of this world,” reminisces the artist who began learning music around the age of 13.

Absolutely fit and charming at 85, Dr Atre blushes when complimented on her beautiful saree, before she proceeds to talk about her idea of music. “Every musician is an idol for me. There is something to learn from everyone. But yes, if you speak of the kind of music, I am really fond of Arab music. I think we should bring it here to India,” she tells us.

Dr Atre believes in constant innovation in both classical and light-classical forms. Having trained under late Sureshbabu Mane and Padmabhushan awardee Hirabai Badodekar, she has been inspired by the styles of late Ustad Amir Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. “I keep having arguments with people who are rigid in terms of evolving art. Yes, traditions are what have brought me here, they have taught me so much. But I believe we need to move with the times,” she insists.

She has been actively teaching in Mumbai and Pune for more than 35 years now and doesn’t believe in hoarding knowledge. “Even if anyone apart from my students calls me with a query, I am happy to help,” says the octogenarian. Her institute — Swaramayee Gurukul — aims to bridge the gap between academic institutions and traditional way of learning.

Having authored several academic books on the various aspects of music - Swaramayee, Suswaraalee, Swaraanginee, Swaranjanee — Dr Atre believes in the use of simple language to convey knowledge. The first poem of her upcoming book, she says, has been recited and sung a number of times by many performers. Titled Mehfil, it speaks of a concert in the poetry.

What keeps her going? “Music,” is her spontaneous answer, to which she adds, “Positivity is another aspect.” Dr Atre even makes a reference to the rare phenomenon of finding a learned audience. “Someone who understands your music is difficult to find, but when you find that kind of an audience, music becomes richer,” she says, as she points to her book, which starts with this dedication to a music connoisseur:

My life
intimately linked with notes
I dedicate to thee, O Rasika (connoisseur)!

The bond between us
continues
from one birth to another.
Mark this well, O Rasika!

In life and in death
I am entirely yours.
No separate identity!
No discernible bonds!

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