In quest of musical gems
Nonika Singh

Pandit Shiv Kumar SharmaPandit Shiv Kumar Sharma is a name synonymous with santoor which he has single-handedly put on the map of classical music and who has en route his six-decade-long musical journey picked many honours, including the prestigious Padma Vibushan, the honorary citizen for the City of Baltimore, USA, Sangeet Natak Academy Award et al. Now, what can be his inspiration today when he has achieved it all?

And the santoor maestro, who was in Chandigarh recently to receive the Koser Award, conferred on him by the Pracheen Kala Kendra, says, "For an artist, each honour is an inspiration that only adds to the onus of responsibility on one’s shoulders." Of course, while awards are welcome, he also feels that the real test of an artiste is on the stage. So, for him, each performance is an examination of sorts. Only he is neither competing with other artistes nor trying to score points with audiences. Says he, "Each time I perform on the stage, I wonder did I perform according to the parameters that I have set for myself?’"

The world of classical music, he asserts, is like a deep ocean in which an artiste has to immerse deep. Expectedly, it’s not easy to find priceless gems each time, but the quest continues. Incidentally, he believes that while music can be taught and imbibed, the same is not true for the art of composing as "one has to be a born composer". And it’s here that he rates his son Rahul Sharma a gifted composer. No, he is not speaking as an indulgent father trying to promote his son but as he qualifies, "I am judging him as a musician and a guru." On son’s fusion forays, he says, "When Rahul collaborated with saxophone player Kenny G, even I was taken aback by the outcome, for the two instruments are markedly different." Though he has nothing against fusion, provided the two colours come together to create a new one and not a badrang. He admits that fusion does help the cause of classical music and many listeners, especially the youth who don’t otherwise care about shastriya sangeet, are initiated into the classical fold. The state of classical musical scene today has him both worried and happy. He is gladdened by the increasing number of platforms as well as listeners. On the flip side, however, he feels the tribe of discerning connoisseurs who know the difference between "behtar and behtareen" is dwindling by the day. The role played by media in turning classical concerts into page-three events too perturbs him. Thus, he along with other greats like Pandit Jasraj Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Ustad Zakir Husain have formed an all-India musicians group and have approached the government to start an exclusive channel dedicated to arts. The proposal, he shares, is in the final stages of fruition.

However, their proposition to make music a compulsory subject in schools has not met with any success. Academic learning of music, he says, cannot create performing artists, at best teachers, and of course, "kaansens". "Otherwise, the Guru-shisya parampara alone is the key to imbibing the tradition." As he continues to train his disciples cutting across nationalities, he feels that the struggle of each generation of artistes is different.

He looks back at those days when he had to make a place for santoor among the kings of instruments like sitar and sarod. Santoor became his cause celebre when his father Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma, a renowned vocalist from Jammu, decided that his son could optimise the immense possibilities of santoor and could put it on the concert platform. As Pandit Shiv Kumar went on to make modifications in the 100-string instrument and developed a new technique of playing it, he smiles, "I could have easily called it Shiv veena."

But the musician whose very being permeates with spirituality understands too well music is not a means for self-glorification, albeit is a gateway to realisation of higher goals. And to this mission, he has dedicated a lifetime of unswerving passion.

Wide horizon

An epitome of tradition, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma is not averse to experimentation or testing new waters. While “Call of the Valley”, “Feelings” and “Mountains” are some of his delightful experimental albums, he along with flautist Hari Prasad Chaurasia has also given lilting melodies for films like Silsila, Lamhe, Chandni and Darr. He opines, “Composing for films is certainly not coming down. Film music is as arduous a realm as any.” Only in today’s films, he feels, there is no place for melody and hence for his kind of compositions.