Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma pens his musical journey

Legendary santoor exponent Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, believes in the purity of music while discussing his newly released book, Shiv Kumar Sharma: The Man & His Music

As he strides into the room, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma has already commanded everybody's attention with his imposing presence. And the fact that he has been learning music since the age of five (he turned 76 this year) adds to his aura.

"I am not like some Classical musicians who keep there ears open to their style of music and ignore the others. I love Mariah Carey's voice and the power of rhythm that Michael Jackson's music has," is all that you need Panditji to say to show how his open mind has made it possible to experiment with an instrument and make it a part of Indian Classical music.

Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma
Pic/Satyajit Desai

During his initial years, Panditji faced hurdles especially from traditional Indian Classical music practitioners who refused to accept a Folk instrument from Kashmir as a Classical instrument. This, however, changed through the years and Panditji went on to win awards such as Sangeet Natak Akademi Award and Padma Vibhushan. This journey of the artist has been chronicled in his latest book, Shiv Kumar Sharma: The Man & His Music that has been edited by Ina Puri.

Recording of the song Barse, from the film Silsila with Yash Chopra, Amitabh Bachchan and Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia. He has composed music and worked as an instrumentalist for various films. PICS COURTESY/NIYOGI BOOKS

The book includes several important facets of Panditji's life with photographs for company, which he excitedly takes us through by flipping through the pages. “This is a photograph of my first performance outside Kashmir, on February 19, 1955 in Mumbai's Cowasji Jehangir Hall. You can see an artist sketching my performance, and the artiste on tabla is Pandit Shankar Ghosh (percussionist and tabla player Bikram Ghosh's father),” he informs. When he arrived in Mumbai, he stayed at a hotel named after his home state, Kashmir, opposite Metro cinema in order to save money on accommodation. But this was just the beginning. Later, he performed in several countries across the world with artistes such as George Harrison. He loves travelling for concerts the most, adding with a smile, “And, artistes get paid for it.”

At his first public concert outside Kashmir, in Mumbai in 1955
At his first public concert outside Kashmir, in Mumbai in 1955

One of his most memorable tours was performing at 40 concerts across USA, and Canada in 1974 with musicians including Harrison, Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, Pandit Ravi Shankar, Billy Preston and Tom Scott. “We would all travel together, rehearse together and the best part was, everyone loved Indian food. So, before we reached the venue, our Indian chef would already be there with his truck to cook for us. Travelling is a way of learning: wherever you go, whoever you meet, you learn from it, everyday,” he reminds.

Moving with the times
One of Panditji's latest long recordings was of different ragas done specially for iTunes downloads. He uses an iPhone but admits that he isn't very good with technology. However, he's clear that the younger audience for Indian Classical music has definitely increased. “While reality shows are giving youngsters hope to get popular overnight, and the question of who will take over the mantle of Indian Classical greats remains, I feel you can't create maestros by dozens. It takes time,” he explains.

Shiv Kumar Sharma

“Earlier the number of people who would attend concerts and be aware of the technicality of music was less. Today, even though people don't understand Classical music, the audience has increased. It isn't a bad thing. I love food and trying different cuisines but I don't know how to cook. The same thing applies to music. It is the appreciation and the love of the audience that matters, not just knowing the jargon.”

The book will be released on September 27 at the UGAM Music Festival at Nehru Centre, which will also see a performance
by Panditji.

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