We spent four nights with very erratic sleep patterns, as we were attending selected parts of Kolkata's famous Dover Lane Music Conference. This is usually scheduled in the third week of January every year. This year the weekend was more or less perfect for the festival, starting on the 22nd, with 23rd Jan a holiday for Netaji's birthday, and closing on the 25th, with the Republic Day holiday after the final night of music. So ideally you can stay up for four nights of music, and sleep all day to make up for it! We couldn't quite do that, but did try to rest as much as possible whenever we could.
The Dover Lane conference is huge. It is held at Nazrul Manch, an open air stadium which is covered with canvas for the event. We were trying to guess the capacity- it looked like about two thousand plus seats, but I'm not too sure. The entire event has a fairground atmosphere outside- there are stalls selling hot and cold drinks, cakes, sandwiches, patties and pizzas, Chinese food, and biryani, as well as some dealing in electronic musical instruments, and at least three stalls selling classical music audio CDs. The funniest of all is hearing the chai-wala calling outside in between performances, when the amplification is off! Quite a contrast between his cries and the sound of the maestros! Some people come dressed in their concert going finery, others, like me, dress for comfort, as the Jauary nights can get cold. Warm track pants and a sweatshirt, thick socks and a thick shawl were comfortable gear!
The SRE and I were very selective this year. We knew that all-nighters would be too much for both of us. So on the night of the 22nd we left home at around 2 a.m(the road was delightfully empty at that hour) , and listened to Malini Rajurkar singing a khayal (we missed hearing the name of the raga), a ragamala, and a delightful tappa in Raga Kafi. She has a rich and powerful voice. She is a singer I have heard on the radio quite often, but had never seen before either on TV or in person. Her performance was followed by a santoor recital by the master himself, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma. Apart from the haunting strains of the instrument, Panditji himself is captivating, with a cloud of grey curls framing elfin, delicate features. By six a.m., though, I was falling asleep in my chair, despite having partaken of sundry refreshments, so we drove home and collapsed into bed. I have absolutely no recollection of what he played, unfortunately, apart from it being lovely. The next night we heard part of a scintillating sarod recital by Alam Khan, who is the son of the legendary Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. We didn't know this when we heard him, and were rather impressed that a person with an American accent could play the sarod so beautifully. (Yes, we are shallow like that.)
He was followed by the vocalist Veena Sahasrabuddhe, who started her performance with a khayal in Raga Jog. Although she sang beautifully, as always, the amplification was jarring in the higher octaves. Given that by 4 a.m I was desperately sleepy, I have forgotten what she sang next, by I do remember that her last piece was the famous 'ghat ghat mein panchhi bolta' composition by Sant Kabir. Somehow the tabla amplification was also too loud, which made it jarring in places. We went home, wondering whether we were really cut out for all this late night business, and not even thinking of waiting for the final performance by Ajoy Chakraborty, whom I have heard before and whose singing I really do appreciate. The mind and body were just too jangled to have enjoyed his music.
All misgivings about the wisdom of attending all night concerts were totally swept away on the third day of the conference. We woke up around 2.30 a.m., reached the hall in time to hear Shahid Parvez playing what I can only call a rollicking finale! It was almost a rockshow with a strong folk element to it, if that makes any kind of sense. Once again, I am clueless about what he was playing.
The next performers made me vow to attend as many of their concerts as I possibly ever could- the fabulous Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra. They describe themselves as two bodies with a single soul, and for that soul, music is worship. Rajan ji announced that they would start their puja with Raga Bilaskhani Todi, which I love. The vilambit bandish they sang was truly beautiful-' Barni na jaaye chhavi Bihari tihaari.' They also sang a taraaana after the drut, and followed this with a tribute to Durga. The finale was a Kabir bhajan "Karley singaar" which gave us both gooseflesh. We left the hall in high spirits, willing to mortify the flesh some more to hear such awesome singers again.