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The Master of Rhythms

The Master of Rhythms

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  3 Jun 2019 9:52 AM GMT

In Conversation with Eminent Tablist Pawan Bordoloi

Our Bureau

In the field of classical music and contemporary Assamese music, Pawan Bordoloi is a name which hardly needs an introduction. One of the finest musicians to have come out of Assam, Pawan Bordoloi has carved a reputation as a master tablist across the entire country. A virtuoso musician who is at ease with both classical as well as contemporary music, Bordoloi is a familiar name in both classical and contemporary music circles and boasts of a huge fan following.

An “A” radio artist, Bordoloi retired from All India Radio as a Staff Artist. He has performed widely in India as well as in UAE and Europe, mostly in Germany where he presented his solo recitals and accompanied eminent musicians of both worlds – both vocal as well as instrumental. Having produced an audio cassette with virtuoso Sitarist Hem Hazarika, he has also to his credit a book on table entitled, Tabla Manikut. A resource person of the Centre for Cultural Resources and Training, Bordoloi imparts regular training to students of tabla workshops and seminars. He has the distinction of directing an ensemble of folk instruments of all States of Northeast India during the Northeast folk festival held at New Delhi in 2006. Besides accompanying some of the most noted names in the field of Indian Classical music like Pr Singh Bandhu, Pt Rajan and Sajan Mishra, Vidusi Girija Devi, Pt Budha Dev Dasgupta, Pt Manilal Nag, Pt Viswa Mohan Bhatt, amongst others. Bordoloi has also served as an observer in the All India Tabla Mohotsav held at Kolhapur.

The mélange team recently got into an interview with the ace tablist. Following are excerpts.

  1. Please tell about your childhood…

Ans: I was born n North Lakhimpur at Telia Gaon, which is around four kms from the town. My father, late Amulya Bordoloi worked as an accountant in the treasury department while my mother Urmila Devi was a housewife.

Talking about my childhood, I grew up in a very remote village and even to this date, it is very difficult to find a pair of tabla in our village. So I don’t know how I got hooked to the tabla – maybe it is sheer co-incidence or the hands of fate, I don’t know. But yes, my mother’s family was very culturally inclined and I guess I got my cultural genes from them. My maternal grandfather used to play the violin and in his hometown Tinsukia, even today he is held in very high esteem. My maternal uncles also had a strong interest in music and my mother wanted her sons to follow her family tradition and as such, put a lot of pressure on us. My brother won a lot of prizes in the All Assam Music Conference in the 1960s and my sister also won a lot of prizes.

Near our house there was a Naamghar where Raax and bhaona used to be held on a regular basis. We kept hearing the sound of Khol on a regular basis. After puja, my grandfather used to do Naam Prasanga at home. I used to play taal to accompany him. So I guess my rhythmic sense developed then at that tender age. There was an elderly uncle in our village who taught us Khol and in the All Assam Music Conference in 1959-60, I accompanied my brother on taal. In 1962, I played the Khol for a Satriya programme organized by Padmashri awardee Shri Jatin Goswami. It may be pertinent to note here that I had not seen the Khol till then.

In 1962 we shifted to Tinsukia. I would like to recount a memorable incident here which more or less determined the course of my life. In 1969, when I was in Class 9, late Bhupen Hazarika and Jayanta Hazarika were in Assam for a performance. Surya Goswami normally used to accompany them on the tabla but due to some reason, he had not come that time and they were in need of a tablist. I don’t know how but somehow I was approached to play for Bhupen da. Till that moment, I did not realize the magnitude of accompanying Bhupen Hazarika on stage. I performed with him for both days of the programme and slowly, people began talking about me.

Then again there was another turning point in my life. I met my first guru in Tinsukia quite unexpectedly. I met Pt Pt Rajeswar Prasad Singh, who originally hailed from Darbhanga of Bihar, and who had a fair bit of knowledge of tabla. He was working in the government here and needed my father’s assistance on some official matters. My father helped him and as if to say thanks for my father’s help, he wanted to teach all that he knew about the table to me. That was the beginning of my formal training in this instrument. Panditji was not a good tablist but was very well versed with the instrument. I completed my Visharad pretty soon in 1972 and my confidence levels increased.

In Tinsukia, we grew up in a Bengali environment and our place was known as Durgabari. Every week, we used to have some sort of a cultural function in our area and watching the tablist perform, I realized that I was almost as good as the main tablist. Slowly, I developed a keener interest in the instrument and began competing with tablists in other parts of the county.

  1. You had joined All India Radio as a staff artist of the Lucknow centre. How did you end up there?

Ans: I grew up in a Bengali environment in Tinsukia. Our place was known as Durgabari. Every week, we had a cultural night and slowly I was approached to play every night. I realized I was almost as good as the best tablist. So during that time, I told Sarat Chetia, who was working as a professor of the State Music College then, about my wish to go to Lucknow and accordingly, I landed in the famed city in 1975. Very soon, I came into acquaintance with Ustad Munne Khan of Farukhbad Gharana, Ustad Afaque Hussain Khan of Lucknow Gharana and Pandit Renga Nath Mishra of Banaras Gharana. I also worked as an accompanyist at Lucknow Kathak Kendra under Pandit Latchu Maharaj and Pandit Vikram Singh for several years.

After a short while in Lucknow, they also realized that I had good inclination towards the instrument and as fate would have it, I somehow ended up giving auditions for the post of staff artist of All India Radio. The auditions were very tough and I remember passing the examination with B+ grade. That was a big achievement for me, a young boy from Telia Gaon passing All India Radio audition in Lucknow with B+ grade… I still cherish that moment fondly.

I stayed in and around Lucknow for a short while before I came back in 1980. A vacancy had come up in All India Radio, Dibrugarh and everyone pressurized me to apply for the same. I didn’t really want to come back from Lucknow but everyone told me that it would be a good decision and that I would not really earn much by staying in Lucknow. Rest is history and I ended up from Tinsukia to Guwahati.

  1. What kind of changes can you notice in today’s music and that of yesteryears?

Ans: Today’s music is mechanical and similar to a form of baggage that is sometimes forcibly thrust on the younger generation. As a result, although there is a great quantity, there seems to be severe compromise on quality at times. Without a strong foundation in traditional and folk music, no musical journey can ever be fruitful and wholesome.

  1. What are your views on experimental music?

Ans: When globalization and modernization has touched each and every aspect of our lives, how can one expect music to remain segregated and unaffected? In fact, different kind of influences will only help in the growth of music.

  1. Can the tabla be classified as a classical music instrument?

Ans: The tabla is a classical instrument because it has its own grammar, technique and science. An instrument is said to be classical when it goes beyond the masses to the classes but at the same time, ensuring that it still retains its mass appeal. Its unique vocabulary (Sahitya) makes the tabla at par with other percussion instruments. Besides the table is independent and has not really been found by the classicists. In a sense, it is a much more secular instrument. Not only does the tabla have its own traditional composition, but it has immense capacity to innovate. But in the process of innovation, the instrument has not lost its traditional grace and charm and rather, the innovation process has lent more colour to it.

  1. What is the scope of western influence in the tabla?

Ans: Whatever is chaste, refined, restrained, pure, traditionally accepted by the classes can be defined as “classical”. Both classical art and music have always been pathbreaking. Today, of course, there is a lot of western influence in both classical music and the tabla. But the tabla’s range and scope is very wide and deep, just like an ocean – whether you take or give a few buckets of water to it hardly makes a difference.

Today, there’s a craze for the tabla all over the world; it has managed to give its practitioner economic and social stability. But it is sad to note that there is very little awareness among the public with regards to the instrument.

  1. Please underline the development of the tabla over the ages.

Ans: The physical structure of the tabla – both the dyna and the baiya – has changed over a period of time. The sound quality has improved, therefore one can find various variation and innovation. The enormous transformation of the tabla has taken it as far as the Grammy awards. It is difficult to imagine how far this instrument will go in the years to come though there is no doubt that without forgoing its roots and traditions, the tabla can indeed traverse great distances, both in time and space.

  1. Please tell us about the journey of the tabla from an accompanying instrument to a solo one.

Ans: The journey from an accompanying to a solo instrument was gradual but it happened beautifully and the change was positive. The transition took place without hampering and destroying traditions. The journey of the tabla has been enriching and it never had to compromise with its traditions, even as it marched forward to embrace modernity.

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