Sumana Ramanan at Caravan:
MINUTES BEFORE THE LIGHTS DIMMED and the Hindustani vocalist Pandit Ulhas Kashalkar walked onto the stage at Mumbai’s National Centre for the Performing Arts, the eminent singers Ashwini Bhide-Deshpande and Padma Talwalkar took their seats in the front row. The vocalist and veteran critic Amarendra Dhaneshwar sat a few rows behind them. Other listeners looked around to see who else had come. Several younger singers were there as well: Noopur Kashid, Rutuja Lad, Amita Pavgi-Gokhale and Saylee Talwalkar. The turnout for Kashalkar’s concert, held last September, was not unusual; for at least a decade, he has been considered a musicians’ musician. Still, expectations were high: what would the maestro sing for this audience?
Kashalkar’s performance was dedicated to jod ragas, a particularly challenging melodic form. When singing a jod raga, the musician must fully elaborate two conjoined ragas—the complex melodic modes at the centre of Indian classical music. Each raga evokes a range of moods, and in a jod raga, the musician moves from one to the other only through their common swaras, or notes, attempting to keep the ambience of each distinct. Even while presenting a single raga, the singer faces the challenge of sustaining an emotional intensity, so that the rendition does not lapse into dry, mechanical exercise.