The Borivli Baithak of Hamsadhwani
In the baithaks of Hamsadhwani, the guru sits in the audience, and the shishya on the dais
Even if tabla maestro Zakir Hussain so desired, he couldn't land a recital in Hamsadhwani, the year-old baithak that takes place in a Borivli home. One of its five founders, Ramakrishna Parsekar, says, "We don't want to host populist artistes. We want to [host] young, talented and unrecognised artistes, who have been groomed in the traditional gharana system."
Hamsadhwani's senior-most co-founder, Jaimin Bhatt, who is also CFO of a leading private bank, says, "The youngsters need all the encouragement and support in their endeavours. We are doing our small bit in that direction." To put it simply, Hamsadhwani is for the disciples and not the gurus. Their inaugural baithak in August 2017 set the tone: it was Aditya Khandwe, the shishya of Padma Shri recipient Ulhas Kashalkar, who was the headliner.
Vocalist Chintan Upadhyay is a disciple of Uday Bhawalkar
The masked five
The quintet behind Hamsadhwani found their way to each other via their love of music. Three of them are students: Parsekar, 45, an assistant general manager at a pharmaceutical company, and Amritha Shenoy Kamath, 29, a trained engineer and full-time vocalist, are studying under Gwalior gharana exponent Apoorva Gokhale. They're both also pursuing their MA in Indian classical music from Bharati Vidyapeeth University, Pune. Subramanian KV, 45, an AVP at a private bank, is under the guidance of dhrupad vocalist Chintan Upadhyay. The two odd men out, Amritha's husband, Raghuram Kamath, 36, and his top boss, Bhatt, both from the same bank, are simply keen listeners of Indian classical music.
One of the earliest joint decisions Amritha and Raghuram took, before they even got married in December 2016, was to host baithaks in their 3BHK house. "I had a lot of instruments," says Amritha, who has been training since she was nine years old. "He wanted to make the third bedroom the music room. So, he made specific partitions."
Ramakrishna Parsekar, Subramanian KV, (standing) Amritha and Raghuram Kamath. Pic by Nimesh Dave
Raghuram also invested in a sound system and moved out some of the furniture. Their home is the venue today, and can host 40 people at a time. Parsekar says, "Very rarely will you find a residence in Mumbai, which has been modified, not for luxury, but to conduct baithaks. Everything in their house seems to be designed for a musical celebration. They have arranged it in such a way that along with the hall, one bedroom gets opened, and it becomes a big hall."
Since they launched, 16 vocalists and 15 accompanists have performed at the baithaks, with each artiste getting three hours to perform, with a 15-minute break. Amritha says, "That is one thing even artistes love about our baithak: they get ample time to showcase their art. Artistes enjoy performing at baithaks because it's intimate. When you're getting feedback from the audience, it motivates you and takes you on a different journey." Khandwe says of his own experience, "In an auditorium, the music may not reach each and every person, but in chamber music, if it's set up as intimately as Hamsadhwani is, then the game changes because the music reaches every individual. This also brings in more attention and focus from the listener."
One of the stated objectives of Hamsadhwani is to introduce Indian classical music to newer audiences. So, along with singing notes, artistes are encouraged to give notes about their music. "Particularly in Hindustani classical, musicians talk very less," says Parsekar. "Most of the time, only few [members of the] audience are informed; many don't know what is happening. That is one of the reasons people get distanced from classical music. So, we requested all our artistes to speak generously: about what they are going to sing, their guru, the raga, the instrument, the composition. That makes it interesting for the audience."
A rhythmic partnership
The co-founders, other than Raghuram, don't have a fixed role. Parsekar calls Raghuram the group's CTO, because "a lot of ideas, when it comes to technology, come from him. In terms of organising, calling artistes, it's always a collaboration." They make it a point to listen to every artiste before giving them a platform. "We draw a list of artistes for the next 10 months," says Subramanian. "We have heard a lot of young artistes ourselves; we know them by association. Through them, we also get to know about others, so there is a referral process." Parsekar adds, "In these 10 artistes, we ensure there are instrumentalists, vocalists, dhrupad singers, female artistes, male artistes, [and those from] different gharanas."
Hamsadhwani received the blessings of industry stalwarts from day one. The inaugural baithak was attended by eminent vocalist Arun Kashalkar ("the Bhishma Pitamah of music in Mumbai"), well-regarded musicologist Deepak Raja, and record collector Kishor Merchant ("every musician's friend"). A non-profit venture, Amritha says, "This is not a self-promotional activity. We're only doing it so that music flourishes."
Despite being a private entity, Hamsadhwani has actually taken on the role of a government-backed institution. According to Parsekar, this works to their advantage. "There are great organisations, but I think we will have a greater penetration because we are missionaries. We are extremely passionate and we're not a typical organisation - we're more informal - so we can bring a lot of people into our fold." Subramanian says, in any case, there's no competition, because of "the huge treasure of music that is just there. Apoorva Gokhaleji, whose grandfather is Gajananbuwa Joshi and great-grandfather is Anant Joshi, had brought out a recording of 250 of their compositions. How many of them are actually sung in concerts today?" To cover the breadth of Indian classical music, Parsekar rightly says, "We need 50 branches of Hamsadhwani."
To attend the next baithak on November 25, featuring Kasturi Datar Atrawalkar on vocals, Dnyaneshwar Sonawane on harmonium and Madhav Modak on tabla, RSVP at email@example.com.
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