The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, January 12, 2003

The man who brought santoor centrestage
G. K. Pandey

Journey with a Hundred Strings:
My Life in Music
by Shiv Kumar Sharma, with Ina Puri. Viking, Penguin. Pages 193. Rs 395.

THIS book unfolds vivid glimpses of a sentimental journey of santoor maestro Shiv Kumar Sharma from a humble beginning to dizzy heights. In a way it is a story of anguish and joy of this great artiste who has succeeded, like Ustad Bismillah Khan in the case of shahnai, in achieving the same status for santoor in the world of Indian classical music. Though sceptical initially, all stalwarts, both vocalists and instrumentalists, have acknowledged santoor is a complete instrument for rendering classical music.

This book are a complete treatise on various facets of the great artiste. Starting from his native place Jammu, the author goes on to narrate in detail the ascent in his life. Of the eight chapters, one "On the Dias" is fascinating. Besides talking about the instrument and jugal bandi, Shiv Kumar has made special mention of his tabla accompanist. The analyses of music and spirituality and the Sangeet Research Academy are really revealing. The author has also gone beyond the country’s frontier and presented a beautiful description of music and musicians of Pakistan. It was apparently his mission to popularise Indian classical music. His numerous sojourns in foreign countries were also meant to attract youngsters to this fine art.

Because of his devotion and hard work of years in modifying the santoor, Shiv Kumar Sharma has not only achieved the desired status for it, he has truly emerged as one of India’s living musical legends. The book also reveals in ample measure the excellent writing skill of Ina Puri and portrays beautifully the hidden qualities of the artiste.


Born and brought up in Jammu in a house where from dawn to dusk someone or the other was playing an instrument, Shiv Kumar began his musical life as a tabla player under the tutelage of his father Pandit Uma Dutt of the Banaras gharana. One day when he was fourteen his father brought from Srinagar a santoor and announced that he had found his son’s true calling. The bemused boy looked at the instrument traditionally used only in Kashmiri sufiana music. He worked day and night to overcome the snags in this instrument and made several changes to adapt it for Hindustani ragas. The result is musical history.

In this memoir the artiste recalls his eventful years at Bombay, where he established his credentials. The turning point in this journey came in February1955 through the good office of Dr Karan Singh who managed an invitation for the young artiste to perform at the prestigious Hari Das Sangeet Sammelan in Bombay. It was a gathering of such luminaries as Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Ustad Amir Khan, Pt Omkar Nath Thakur, Pt Vinayak Rao Patwardhan, Kesarbai Kelkar, Mongubai Kurdikar, Pannalal Ghosh, Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Allauddin Khan and numerous others. It is nice indeed to recall big names who participated in this sammelan, but it is equally painful to see that a lot of names of illustrious artistes such as Ustad Ahmed Jan Thrikava, Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit, Ganga Prasad Pathak, Bhimsen Joshi are missing. By such omission an aspersion inadvertently has been cast, which is totally unjustified.

Besides, there are a few factual errors, such as Krishan Maharaj has been described as the son of Kanthe Maharaj. Not withstanding these flaws, there is no denying the fact that Hari Das Sammelan brought laurels for Shiv Kumar Sharma, where he performed exceeding well, accompanied on the tabla by the legendary Ustad Allah-Rakha Khan. This was obviously a moment of great excitement for him. Coming as he did from a small peaceful town like Jammu, the success opened the floodgates. He was asked to provide background score for Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje by V. Shantaram.

Shiv Kumar somehow managed to resist temptations of accepting lucrative offers and returned to Jammu to pursue his studies. After his studies he returned to Bombay where he achieved great success both in the field of films and as an outstanding santoor player. The life chronicled here is a remarkable series of relationships and encounters: guru-shishya bond, life-long friendships, dazzling jugal bandis and, of course, musical rivalries, good natured and otherwise.

Another very interesting fact that emerges is the artiste’s sense of gratitude. He acknowledges with reverence the contribution made by Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Hussain in enriching his performance and making him popular in audiences all over the country. His entire success in Calcutta he owes to Pandit Jasraj.

Shiv Kumar is eloquent in paying tributes to his well-wishers and friends. But he has not been fair to certain artistes. He has projected the tabla wizard Ustad Habibudin Khan in dim light. But on the whole this is a remarkable book that could be a source of inspiration for scholars and students of Indian classical music.