This classical sitar maestro spells magic of strings on stage as he did in his earlier performances, for instance, at Youth Festival at the Rajni Stadium, Calcutta in 1980,at North Calcutta Music Conference, Gita Music Conference, Ramkrishna Mission (Lucknow), Nishtha Sangeet Parishad (Madhya Pradesh), National Seminar of Music (Lucknow), India International Centre (New Delhi), India Habitat Centre -- HCL Concert (New Delhi), Attic (New Delhi), Epicentre, Gurgaon, Swaralaya Fest, Pallakad (Kerala, 2010), among many others. This is not the end of his past musical memoirs. The audience in Spain, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Japan and many other countries tasted the strokes of his sitar. His live performance at Albrez Television in Spain and performances broadcast by Wolverhampton City Radio (UK) and Radio ARA (Luxemberg) clamoured the colours of contemporary classical music.
The bucket of awards is not at all less considering his early age. Best Instrumentalist Award, IIT (Madras, 1987); Pride of Region, Government of India; Sangeet Gaurav Award of the Award Council of India (2012) are few among the many. Partha Pratim Roy has also composed music for dance ballets and worked with Pandit Vijay Shankar, the late Pandit Omprakash Maharaj, Rani Karnaa and many others. He also had the privilege of working with the late legendary Pandit Ananda Shankar.
Roy imbibes the style of Ustad Vilayat Khan of Etawah School, and of Pandit Ravi Shankar and Pandit Nikhil Banerjee of Maihar School. This prodigy has been recognized by colossal exponents of Indian classical music, for instance, by the late Ustad Karamatullah Khan, late Pandit Jnana Prakash Ghosh, late Pandit Jamini Ganguly, late Pandit Gokul Nag and others.
Recently, Roy formed his own Fusion Music Troupe with a view to preserving and propagating traditional raga sangeet culture around the world. This multi-skilled classical connoisseur, who is also a teacher of Economics at school, has attended many interviews of Cataluniya Radio, Washington Bangla Radio, Time Out, Jadavpur University FM Radio (Calcutta). And in the last month, on his visit to Bangladesh, to perform at Peshkar Cultural Forum's tabla-vocal-sitar evening, titled 'Harmony', on December 25, 2015 held at Chayanaut Sangeet Vidyayatan, he was caught over coffee by Ahmed Tahsin Shams, sharing his musical journey with The Daily Observer Life & Style.
I am from Maihar School (Gharana) which is associated with the memory of Baba Alauddin Khan and legends as Pandit Ravi Shankar, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and others. Family's friendly relationship with Pandit Nikhil Banerjee gave the privilege of learning the art of sitar from Pandit Debiprashad Chatterjee. I also received lessons from the late Pandit Niharbindu Chowdhury and late Sangitacharya Ajay Singha Roy, veteran exponents of Maihar School. Moreover, I took lessons, regarding intricacies of Indian rhythm, from Pandit Anil Patil.
The starting of sitar-journey?
I grew up at Dharmatala near New Market. My father had a small wood-store for furniture. But he was a music connoisseur too. He always wanted me to learn music. Let me share a story that set the beginning of my musical journey.
One day a sitar player was gazing at the mattresses rather than beds. My father noticed his hands having deep scars in fingers. My father asked him, "Do you play sitar?" With surprise, he was wondering, a wood-maker is talking about sitar. His queries came out, "How did you get it?" "Seeing the scars in your hand," replied my father. His queries went on, "How do you know this much about sitar?" "Dilip Banerjee is a friend of mine, brother of Nikhil Banerjee," answered father. Now let me reveal the name of the customer -- Pandit Debiprashad Chatterjee. He was one of the skilled students of Nikhil Banerjee.
Without any single hesitation, my father told him to take the bed paying the price of a mattress, and offered a privilege to pay the amount on monthly instalment.
One day Pandit Debiprasad, seeing my fingers, commented, "His fingers are perfect for sitar." Though before that I thought of learning sarod. However, that is how the flight of sitar took off. My first guru is Debiprashad Chatterjee.
Significant memories as a child-artiste?
One day master asked me to sit for an exam in a radio. I sat and passed in the child catagory. My turn came at first. I was about to play Bhairabi. He told me to practice and he started looking for a tabla player. Then, master brought a tabla player who was wearing a panjabi and he was eating betel-leaf. After seeing me, he just didn't agree to play. My master requested, "Please play for him master. This boy is excellent. He replied, "Don't request me. This kid will mess up." My master replied, "He won't. He is good at it. Just give him a chance."
After a bit toils and moils, he agreed. The performance went well and he was surprised. When I finished playing, I got to know the name of the artiste. He was none other than the tabla genius Ustad Karamatullah Khan.
Nikhil Banerjee! I follow him. Ravi Shankar, Nikhil Banerjee and Vilayat Hossain Khan, all of them are my favourites.
About gharana and style?
I belong to Maihar Gharana. I follow Nikhil Banerjee, as I said earlier. But in my 'jhala' pattern, I follow Vilayat Khan and Manilal Nag. I follow whatever seems good of everyone. I played 'chaity' which is not our gharana. Balram Pathak created 'chaity'. Then 'thumri' is very different. That is not from our gharana. They are influenced by the Gharana of Emdad Khan and Vishnupur. Let me share a story in brief on how my styles got mixed up-
One day, a gentleman came to our home and asked my mother if I am the child who plays sitar. He introduced himself as Gakul Nag, father of Manilal Nag. I told the name of my master Pandit Debiprashad. He asked me to come to his home with my father at Raj Ballav Street. He said to my father, "Give him to me from now on, I will teach him." I used to take lessons secretly. Nobody knew that I used to play 'jhala'. There is another story of Pandit Bahadur Khan. I got national scholarship at my age of twelve. My father used to take me to artistes' houses and requested them to criticize my performance. Bahadur Khan told him that he doesn't have time to listen to me. Then father named a bunch of artistes which made him give a second thought, "Now it's not possible. Come after 15 days."
The next day mother told that Pandit Bahadur Khan called. I didn't believe at first. However, I came to know later, when I reached at his home, that it was his birthday. I performed there infront of many other prominent guests. In the end, Pandit Bahadur Khan said something which I remember very clearly, "Your son is genius. He will definitely be an artiste. Keep your eyes on him."
There are a lot. Let me go through them one by one. I played fusion music with Ananda Shankar in 1996's World Cup. Before his death, at his last programme, he was standing in Rabindra Sadan, Kolkata. I was playing 'Snow Flower' from his album. He hugged me after my performance and tears dropped down from my eyes.
I have a story from outside India. There is a club in Madrid. If anyone sings there twice, the authority hangs his/her picture on the wall. I played thrice and my photo is still there.
In my recent Europe tour, a newspaper wrote about me -- the best contemporary performer. And in a Spanish newspaper, I asked one of them to explain what is written. He told me that they compared me with John Mclaughlin.
After that programme I came to Germany, then again returned back to Spain. There was a programme which became very popular. After that my visa was expired and the government of Spain extended my visa to perform a new programme. That show was for the street children of Bombay.
I also had a chance to give a tour in Japan. In 2011, when they faced Tsunami disaster, they wanted to raise funds. I was called for a charity show. But regretfully, my school authority didn't allow my leave. They thought I am making a lot of money. And I couldn't make them understand that it was a charity show and I was going for the sake of humanity, not for making money.
Please take these words of mine as a promise -- if Bangladesh faces any problem, for fund-raising, just let me know. I will serve my best. I won't demand anything at all; just help me with the visa and transport. Consider the rest as a token of donation for the needy.
Comment on present music industry?
Unnecessary screaming messes this modern industry. I admire your country because you didn't let Nazrul's songs getting corrupted. I appreciate it. We praise Tagore a lot but we couldn't stop corrupting his songs.
Philosophy behind music?
Music is spirituality. Let me tell you a story. "Build up your inner self" -- Master Ustaad Amir Khan used to say. That means satisfy thyself. There was a debate in Kerala about it. A reporter asked and I told him the same thing. Then when I went to Soorya Festival, someone told me, "You do music to build up your inner self?" I said, "Yes". He said, "You're so selfish". I told him you won't understand till you watch my performance. And when I finished my performance, everybody said, my music was spiritual. The person, who doesn't have any emotion, can never perform music or any art.
Comment on Peshkar's initiative?
A wonderful endeavour! It is not only promoting classical music in Bangladesh, but also creating a platform for the new artistes as well as bridging a bond between the two Bengals.
And about the contemporary co-artistes of classical music in Bangladesh?
I haven't played much with the artistes' of this Bengal. Nevertheless, I recently performed with Mir Naqibul Islam who accompanied me on tabla superbly. In the last programme by Peshkar Cultural Forum, the way he maintained balance and rhythm in 'jhala' with me, was an evidence of his dedication, learning and virtue.
Ahmed Tahsin Shams is with The Daily Observer