In February 2011 we had the opportunity to meet Ustad Bahauddin Dagar.
He was in Varanasi for a few days, as Tarak Chandra was repairing one of his father’s veenas make by Kanai Lal, and we finally had the occasion to meet him after a concert he offered in a well-known hotel of the city.
Bahauddin made us feel very confortable answering to our questions with no taboos, in a chat that went on more than expected as he resulted to be a very open and pleasant person.
All we can say is that we are really grateful to him.
We had prepared several questions for this interview, but after the concert tonight, having you played your father’s Veena by Kanai Lal, I think a new question comes now first: how did you feel playing such a special instrument?
It feels nice playing any veena, but being my father’s veena, there is kind of attachment to it, it reminds me to him sometimes.
There appears to be big expectations towards you due to your lineage and your contribution to the spread and preservation of Dhrupad … do you feel such responsibility?
No, I really don’t feel like that… I feel this work should be done and should be done the right way, that’s all. That should be every musician’s responsibility. My family heritage doesn’t mean any pressure to me.
What do you think about the current situation of dhrupad?
It’s a bit weak, but it’s getting a lot of popularity. We should bring out dhrupad but if it grows too fast it will lose its originality so musicians have to do a stronger effort to preserve the real values of dhrupad. Otherwise we would have too much publicity and no good work.
Do you mean by that, that there are new elements being introduced which are changing the originality of Dhrupad?
Yes, that’s it. But I am also talking about people who were not into dhrupad and they are now doing it by copying, not by doing the real thing, and just because it is getting popular. Many artists in India used to consider dhrupad a dead art but now they say they are doing dhrupad. So, the position of dhrupad is changing drastically, very fast. And at this point quality control of every element has to be an issue: some elements will be destroyed and some will remain… And time will show what will happen.
Thus we can say that Dhrupad was in a very weak situation some years ago but it is changing now…. According to you, what has helped this change to happen?
20 years ago it was really weak, when my father was there and my uncle was there… now, because of Youtube mainly, people discover new things, they like it and they start getting more and more into it: looking for information, getting introduced by lessons, going to concerts… so it helps it to grow.
So there is good hope for dhrupad but because many people want to listen many people want to do also, and at that point there is something dangerous: if this people come for the fame, not for the art, it’s going to be very difficult.
So would you say that the fact that westerns have developed interest and are now playing dhrupad is dangerous as they can “spoil” it?
No no, even Indians… I don’t think it is a foreigner-indian matter, but a life philosophy somehow: the values have changed a lot this last century, and so has the way of life… Everything is about money nowadays and it influences music as everything else: if dhrupad can be an easy way to get money, then many people want to do dhrupad. Many professions have become like that and not only in India: all over the world you can surely find people who wants to be a doctor, or a lawyer just because it is known to mean a good salary.
And music has become professional somehow in India, like in the west: there is a company and many people involved, music is slowly developing the professional level in India, but Indian art is not such professional in that way… it is, but in other aspects. So these are the changes that rapidly happen, and we have to look into and see how to manage them so the art is not destroyed, otherwise a lot of our culture will be destroyed.
Knowing how expensive the rudra veena can be, we understand that this can mean a problem for those Indian youngsters who want to learn but cannot afford the cost of the instrument. In an interview with Deepak Raja in 2002 you talk about the idea of abroad students sponsoring the veenas for Indian students so they could be able to learn. Was it successful?
No, it hasn’t been successful so far. But we are now working the other way: we are working with a maker in Kolkatta trying to reduce the price of the veena: he is using simple wood, no decoration, making it affordable. So the main objective is that people can have more easy access to the veenas, and thus I hope they will be there the next generation… The veena situation is very delicate now, there is really few people playing or performing it:
There is Ustad Asad Ali khan sahib but he is already 85 years old, and his nephew is there but he is just beginning.
Ud. Shamsuddin Faridi Desai is another beenkar but he is not interested in concerts, and his son is just beginning.
There also is a woman between the beenkars, Jyoti Hegde from near Darwar
Pt Pandharinath Kolhapure is now more than 85, so he doesn’t play the veena anymore.
There’s Hindraj Divekar who is playing but is rapidly getting old.
Sri Kant Pathak son of Bindumadhav.D.Pathak ji, who is near Darwar, is playing but he is not performing so much… he is very shy.
There also is Asit Kumkar Benarjee, and then there is Phillippe Bruguière in Paris, and Jeff in America.
It might seem a lot of people but in the performing scene there are only two or three, so the number of veena players is lesser than the tigers in India!...jajajajaja….
And, would you say that one reason why there are so few players can be the price of the instrument?
Yes, price… but also lifestyle. Nobody wants to be in this profession because everybody is looking for economical security, and there are so many other professions you can make more money easily, so why do you want to be into music? Moreover, if you choose to play a rudra veena, you are not an entertainer, a showman… you are not playing for the audience.
Historically, there had always been very few rudra veena players: about 30 for 3000 sitar players, which is clearly a minority, but still 30 is a good number, ten would still be a very good number… but as I said, we are very few now.
Talking now about big masters... most of the big maestros of classical Indian music are from previous generations. Would you agree that it is because of a change of lifestyle?
Yes, life has changed, values have changed. The previous masters were very orthodox in the way of teaching: only one way was accepted for certain things as for example the method: first you learn sitar, then surbahar and then rudra veena.
It is the right way and I may be wrong in doing what I am doing teaching people rudra veena and inviting them to learn. But I will show something to everyone who wants to learn rudra veena, because I think we are in one stage where rudra veena is in danger to be extinct, so my thinking is: if you don’t create interest people will never know what a rudra veena is. There are students who will be very serious and when you get them you can teach them in the old manner: teach them everything slowly. But at the same time there will be others that will enjoy the rudra veena, will learn, know, and talk about rudra veena, and you have to take care of them as they will make it grow up also.
What I mean is that now there are coexisting two ways of teaching: a lifetime way for a reduced number of students like in the old school (when a guru would teach just one or two people in a lifetime) and the other one for all those 80 people who show interest in the rudra veena. But I am not going to change my music for that, nor the way I think: the second group may learn the simple things only, but still with quality. Quality has to be maintained otherwise without quality it will be over anyway….
Taking a look at the Indian classical music panorama, it is easy to realize that most of the big masters are muslims… and it is often commented that it could be a matter of discipline. What do you think about that?
All muslims in India have hindu antecessors in their lineage, but I think that being a minority group has lead them to be very strict so that could be a reason. At the same time, though, it is a very dangerous factor: if they preserve too much they will not give outside, they will not allow it to grow, so they will somehow kill it also.
And according to a change in lifestyle nowadays, the teaching system has also changed: the guru shishya parampara seems to be slowly dying…
No, it’s not dying. It is running parallel to the other form. In our house at least we are preserving the guru shishya parampara because that is the original way of teaching: through all the time spent with the master you learn a way of life and that way of life goes into the way of music. So it is not just learning the music but a way of entire life: thus it will define the way you sit and the way you talk, the way you eat, dress… When shaping a student everything takes the wanted form in him: from hair on the top to toe nail in the bottom… It is like grooming: you specially groom someone… like a star. When a star is created you change everything: the way of talking, what that person eats, how will that person dress, what will he/she say or not say…
In that kind of music these changes in the person have to be made very slowly, all through the years, that is why the guru shishyia parampara is so important. It is the way to take care of serious students, who you can groom over a long period of time.
Of course there is another kind of students who want to study for a certain period, for a short time and they also deserve to be taught… but they have to run parallel, you cannot sacrifice one way for the other.
And there is a big difference between going to your guru just for your class and spending time with him studying but also sharing more things….
Yes, it’s very different. This is how I learnt at home: my father was always there, but he never said practice, learn. We used to spend a lot of time together, walking outside, reading… it is the way to share everything with the student, being always there.
So it is much easier if you are staying with the guru and it is a little difficult if you are coming and going, you need a lot of effort to keep it alive, but it is possible. This reminds me of a student of mine, who was proposed to get an upgrade at his company but refused it because it would mean more responsibilities, worries, more time that he would have had to take from the music. It is up to each individual: you have to decide what you want to do.
Could you name who of the few veena makers there are nowadays would you choose to order a veena for you?
I am working with 3 people who are actually copying Kanaylal veenas, but in three different styles. The three of them have different characteristics in their work, so their work is somehow complimentary but they actually don’t know I am working with the other… they would be very angry!.... They feel it like a kind of competition… a good competition though. And it wouldn’t be possible to unite them because they are very strict in the manner, and none of them will change it.
What can you tell us about the veena you designed yourself?
I mixed the saraswati veena and the rudra veena and I got the high of the frets to a certain medium so it can be played both carnatic style and northern style, and I made some other adjustments. It is called Raaz veena and I’m looking for some student I can introduce into it. Tarak made it here in Varanasi and I played it once in the Dhrupad Mela. That was my first veena experience with him and after that he has made two more veenas for me.
Do you have any plan to go back to perform to USA?
I don’t make any plan to go anywhere, I just go where they call me to. I’m planning actually to stay more in India now: spending more time at the Gurukul, as we plan to do a new building for some veena students who can be recruited for 5 years. I will look for some scholarship, and every 5 years I will admit new students. I want to have at least 8 students over there: 3 veena players, 2 for surbahar and 3 vocal students, so it’s a big plan but there’s nobody to make anything. Everything is ready: the plot, the veenas, me…
Gundecha brothers have created something similar in Bhopal, also, isn’t it?
Yes, and they are very well organized. I’m totally disorganized but I’m trying to work on it now.
Is this then the project in which you are focused now?
I’m quite focused on it and I want to work on that. I have been planning the new building for one year so I definitely want to do this so the students can stay and learn.
In which country outside India have you felt more acclaimed?
Everywhere… I don’t see the audience anyways, so… I just enjoy playing. Recently I have enjoyed playing in Norway. We have been going for the last 4 years to play for small children (groups from 4 to 11 years old) in schools… and they are very sweet children, it has been a very nice experience.
This is something new but I really enjoy it. Other than that we do concerts here and there and it’s always nice: there is just one thing abroad that kills me, it is the time limitation in a concert, when it has to end at 9 o clock it has to be at 9 you have to time everything , time alap or cut straight squash. And it is very difficult to control because when you are playing you start improvising… then it becomes very difficult.
But in general it’s nice to feel that a lot of people are listening and there is a good response to veena now, everywhere people want to learn veena, they want to know about veena, I think is because of the popularity of videos watched in you tube. You can find so many veena players in you tube now… and I think people find the veena interesting somehow, they like it.
Do you give lessons via the internet?
Yes, I started because people abroad that cannot come for a long time (people having children, married… who cannot move) can have some monitoring. So I ask them to practice and then I ask them to show me what they are playing. It is not the best method to teach, I know, but I feel if I don’t keep contact, interaction with them they will lose interest. The idea is to keep them until they come back to the Indian music scene. It is very important just to bring this instrument back, very important.
Interview by Núria Cabo.