It’s always a pleasure to listen to Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, perhaps India’s most accomplished vocal jugalbandi duo. I first heard them as a teenager in 1977, and even without understanding the nuances at that age, was impressed by their coordination. The brothers performed at the Pandit Chatur Lal memorial concert held at the Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion, on October 11. They were preceded by the masterful north-south combination of flautist Ronu Majumdar and violinist Dr Mysore Manjunath, who rendered an elaborate piece in raag Saraswati, common to both systems.
Strangely enough, though it was an adequately publicised free concert on a Friday evening, there were many empty seats. With four top musicians aided by talented accompanists, it’s a mystery why a larger number didn’t turn up. If listeners are looking forward only to hearing specific star names, it’s a sad reflection of their priorities. As Rajan Mishra quipped, “I request all sitting behind to come in front, so the hall can appear to be full.”
Representing the Benares tradition, the Mishras are normally known to present popular raags like Bageshri, Puriya and Jog. This time, probably knowing they were facing a small but enlightened audience, they sang rarer compositions. Their main piece was in raag Bihagda, usually known to be sung by exponents of the Jaipur-Atrauli gharana. One has thus heard interpretations by Mallikarjun Mansur, Kishori Amonkar and Ashwini Bhide Deshpande, besides a well-known recording by Mewati gharana maestro Pandit Jasraj.
Bihagda is similar to the popular raag Bihag, and has been commonly used in the Sikh tradition. The Mishra brothers began with the vilambit composition ‘Chali Pyari Pyar Ko Milan’, followed by a delightful tarana and the drut bandish ‘Baajo re duff baajo’. Both took turns in the rendition, and the balance of taans and sargams was perfect. They concluded the concert with ‘Sapt Suran Ko Dhar Ke Dhyan Tum Sujaan’, a short piece in the rare raag Kusum Kedar. Since time was short, they sang only the main lines, and one longed to hear a longer rendition.
The event was organised by the Pandit Chaturlal Memorial Society in memory of the tabla maestro, who passed away prematurely in 1965 at the age of 39. He was known to be the first Indian tabla exponent to regularly perform abroad, accompanying vocalist Pandit Omkarnath Thakur in the Middle East in 1949. In 1955, he played with sarod maestro Ustad Ali Akbar Khan in New York, in a concert coordinated by violinist Yehudi Menuhin.
Later, Chatur Lal toured with sitar great Pandit Ravi Shankar, sarod player Sharan Rani and his younger brother, sarangi legend Pandit Ram Narayan. The memorial concert is a great way of keeping his memory alive, and the audience was lucky to hear some of his recordings with Ravi Shankar played at the start.