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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A short man, a tall music-maker: Purushottam Upadhyay

Tushar Bhatt

It was a Tuesday night,some 65 years ago.Arya Naitik Natak Samaj was staging a performance of a play,Aparma Ahmeda-bad.The scene showed a patient suffering unspeakably;no medi-cines were working.Suddenly,there was a melodious ,childish voice,singing outside in the street.The patient's relations ushered in a child sadhu in the sick-room,urging him to sing,hoping music may prove soothing.The boy,barely six years old,sang:Sadhu,charan kamal chitta jod. A hush fell over the spectators as notes divine seemed to fill the place. The audience went into raptures;there were 17 once-mores.In the 18th encore,the child prodigy could not take it any more;he went asleep,even as a thunderous applause brought down the house.His name was Purushottam Upadhyay,who has never looked back from that fateful night,scaling newer heights in sing-ing,composing and nurturing new talents that have enriched Guja-rati music over the past half-a-century. The song written by Raskavi Raghunath Brahmbhatt for the child star was new,but the tune was familiar enough in those days.Young Pasha had made a name for himself in his na-tive,Uttarsanda in Kaira district,as a brat with a magical ability to sing.He had a sharp ear,photographic memory and an uncanny ability to reproduce an entire composition flawlessly in the same way as had been originally sung,even thought he did not know any-thing about classical music or ragas.His favourite in those days was a hit-tune from the old movie,Ram Rajya,sung by the melody queen,Noor Jahan: Beena Madhur Madhur Kachhu Bol. Listeners were highly impressed;one of them took the boy over to Ahmedabad to see Nakubhai Shah of the Arya Naitik Natak Samaj,one of the leading companies in the old professional stage in Gujarati for an audition.Pasho,as Purushottam was affectionately known, was asked to sing,and he sang,Bina Madhur...It was a Sat-urday night and some of the artistes were asleep back-stage.One by one they collected to listen and ask for once more of the child.He sang it a dozen times,thinking these were experts who had found some fault in the way he was rendering it.Undaunted he sang on.The upshot was that the owners of the drama company sent word to the Raskavi in Nadiad to specially write a song in the tune of Bina Madhur Madhur.. for the boy to sing in the perform-ance of Aparma three days later.The poet wrote it,but came over to listen to the boy.He thought the boy could sing all right but it was still a gamble.He asked Pasha to learn by heart Sadhu charan ka-mal.... so that he could sing it properly.The boy,with a characteristic confidence,said he had heard it once,had remembered it and could sing it without any problem. The 18 encores turned Pasha overnight into a child star,Master Purushottam,launching him on a life-long musical journey.Not that there were no sour notes;the son of a doctor,a career on the stage and in singing in public was thought to be too lowly for an upper-caste youngster.But Purushottam had an inexplicable strength of character that has stood him good stead over the years.He had from an early age discovered that music was the life for him,had decided to puruse it as a hobby,passion ,a mission and a ca-reer,come what may.The world is full of people who could never discover what their real talent was,and could take courage in both the hands to further it.Purushottam was fortunate in that he knew what he was good at,what he wanted to do with it,and has done it without flinching-- which in short is the formulae for a con-tented,artistic life. Once or twice,after the Ahmedabad debut,the boy ran away to Mumbai,away from studies and all,for the star-studded world,only to come back.His father,who had encouraged Purushottam,did not relish the idea of a drama company career for the son of a medico in the employment of the then princely State of Rajpipla.And the boy did not relish the life in Uttarsanda or Nadiad. Eventually,his grandfather,Ambalal,who was known as a mystic,told the boy's mother,Vidya,to let him go willingly and happily."Mumbai is calling him.Let him go,with our blessings",the old man said.The lure of Mumbai has lasted till todate for Purushottam,who has made it his home for nearly 50 years now. Recalled Purushottam:"Armed with the blessings and a letter of recommendation to an acquaintance,I came to the city of Bom-bay,living first in Thakurdwar,with a family that was itself planning to leave for Africa in a week's time.But I was not worried at all." His life has been full of happy accidents.He had seen Ashraf Khan,the master thespian,act and sing at Arya Naitik Natak Samaj,and had been highly impressed and enthused. In Bombay,a poet,Jivanlal took young Purushottam to meet his first stage idol.He was selected to play the role of the master's son in a new play,which had music by Purushottam Marwadi and Sadat-bin Ash-raf.Ashraf Khan took to the youngster so much that he would ask him to sing while he was getting ready for the play in the make-up room.A stalwart of the Gujarati silver screen in those days, V M Vyas,came to see the play,and asked the young man to work and sing in a film he was making.That led to an acquaintance with an-other musician of note,Dilip Dholakia.In those days,one had to go to the HMV studio for recording music and one of these led to a chance meeting with Avinash Vyas."Those were the days when waking up in the morning I did not know how the day would go;whether there will be some work or not for me." often for want of money,Purushottam would walk to Mohan studio in Andheri from Opera House in central Bombay.He was tenacious,if anything,and uncomplaining.Said Purushottam:" In those days one had to record songs seperately from the film track.He had gone to the studio for a recording of a song for the Gujarati film,Shamalshano Vivah,where in the adjoining studio,Avinash Vyas,was supervising another recording.When the young man was introduced to him,Avinash asked him if could sing in a group.Purushottam nod-ded yes,heard the rehearsal for five minutes and sang it.He was taken to sing one line in the now famous hit of olden days: Dur dakhkhan na dungara bolya pan morla bolya nahin.The peacock's song is still echoing in the Gujarati music.Avinashbhai took Pu-rushottam in his wings,and his home.The Indian National Theatre in those days used to stage dance-dramas and he went to sing in Narasainya,striking acquaintance with people like Yogendra Desai and Damu Jhaveri. Said Suresh Dalal,poet and former vice-chancellor of the M S University,Baroda,who has known Purushottam for many years: "Such happy accidents have taken place in his life that one would think he was destined to be whatever he is today. Take for in-stance,the recording of a famous song by Mukesh to be sung with a female companion;"Ame gamdana manah chhiye". Gita Roy was to record it with Mukesh and could not come for some rea-son.Purushottam,who could sing in a female voice,sang in her place. In 1950,when the late Mr K M Munshi set up Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,Avinashbhai and Yogendrabhai became in-charge of its Kala Kendra,with Purushottam helping out.When away or other-wise busy,the young man would look after their work at the kendra.A connoisseur of music,Jagannath Bhatt,counselled the youth to learn Indian classical music."You have far to go and you must learn it",he said.Purushottam,who had been listening to every musician of note he could-- Bade Ghulam Ali,Allarakha,Amirbai Karnataki--took the advice to heart and became a disciple of Navrang Nagpurkar."Whatever I am today is because of the Guru",he said modestly. He has been a life-long student.Once,when Avinashbhai was planning to go abroad,he became worried abvout the light classical music (sugam sangeet) and women's music classes because Pu-rushottam did not know harmonium. Purushottam took up the chal-lenge and learn the instrument,practising for days together for more than six hours a day.His first composition ,Amathi Amathi Mui..Olya Mandvani Jui,became a hit number.In the 50s,the Bha-van started a series called,Aa masna geeto,and in 1954,he took a troupe of the Bhavan to Calcutta where he was praised by Ustads Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan.When they came to Bom-bay for a performance,Purushottam was naturally asked to accom-pany them on the harmonium.This acquaintanceship led him to the Mangeshkar family,and Lata ,highly impressed,phoned a recording company to cut her famous Gujarati song,Mazam rate nitarati nab-hni chandni,composed by Purushottam Upadhyay.Her first Gujarati song on the radio,Bhaskar Vora's Haiyane darbar,was also com-posed by Purushottam. In this musical journey,he came in contact with the Jhaveri fam-ily,and married Chelana, a musicologist by training.For sometime after the wedding, the couple went off to Africa,but returned to Mumbai after a while.He remembered the days of his early youth when he performed for a mere Rs.5 in Kalbadevi during the Diwali festival,sharing it with a colleague.Years went by,Purushottam forged ahead steadily in composing,performing and helping others like Rasbihari Desai come up. Said late Kshemoo Divetia, another noted Gujarati composer:"His greatness is in that he persisted in elevating the Gujarati language only.Had he taken to Urdu and started composing Ghazals,Purushottam would have been a top ghazal singer and composer in the country today." But,he never wavered.In the last 30 years,he went abroad a dozen times,staging music shows,has composed innumerable songs,given music in films,cut records of light classical music.The number of performances he has given exceeds 9,000.He has com-posed innumerable songs,given music in films,and a helping hand to many aspiring artists.Today,as he looks on his life's progress from the day of his birth,August 15,1934,one thing stands out-- his independence.He has a slightly husky voice,which could have been a drawback in the case of others,but Purushottam has moulded and modulated it beautifully with arduous training. He has also a way of feeling the pulse of his audience,and begins his per-formance with what is appropriate for it,slowly raising the level to reach semi-classical or classical stages later on without letting them out of his spell. Purushottam also has done a singular service to the poetry in Gujarati.Dr.Dalal said:"He understands poetry very well,and could compose the poems with feelings." Madhav Ramanuj,another poet,said:"He has composed some of them in such a way that the people will remember the poems more for the beauty of his com-position." Purushottam himself merely said that " I have always held that I will not ask a poet to write words to fit my composition of music.I would rather catch the nuances of meaning from the words they had penned and compose them in music.I will always en-deavour to translate the depth of meaning in their words into mu-sic." Today,Purushottam straddles the Gujarati music scene like a co-lossus.But that is figuratively speaking.In appearance ,Purushottam is a short man,with a receding hairline over a round face,marked by a thinning bush of a moustache,showing signs of greyness.Clad in a silk kurta of cream colour and white pyjama ,he comes across as a happy-go-lucky fellow.And that literally he is. Brimming with self-confidence,the composer is not an arrogant man;yet he has rejected an award whenever he felt that it had not been decided upon by a committee of artists.He accepted the award of Gujarat Gaurav only when he was convinced that artists were behind it. He said:"It is enough of an award for me that music lovers have been avidly listening to me since I was of the age of five years.What greater award could there be than this ?" Yet,the success has not gone to his head.One could ask him to sing a song anytime,and he would sing it without displaying any ego.He has a very sunny temperament,and can revel his friends by doing mimicry of many a famous person.He keeps laughing all the time.He was once asked: how come no one has heard him crib-bing.Pat came the reply;" When I sing, I cry."

1 comment:

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