My guru Pandit Sudhir Mainkar turns 79 today. In honor of the occasion I thought I would post a short article I wrote to him to commemorate his 75th birthday, which was included in a small booklet produced for the event.
Memories of my Honored Guru, Pandit Sudhir Mainkar
It is with great pleasure that I offer this brief recollection of my time spent with Pandit Sudhir Mainkar in honor of his seventy-fifth birthday. I have submitted my account to the party committee rather late because I had initially planned to submit a complete academic work on Kaka’s music; but as that paper approaches 20 pages I realized that it was not only taking too long, but growing much, much too long! [I will see about posting this article under online lessons; stay tuned.] Such can only be expected when trying to synthesize this great thinker’s contribution to Tabla. My subject for the essay is Pandit Sudhir Mainkar’s unique approach to farshbandi in kaida and his philosophy pertaining to bhari-khali. While I feel personally unqualified for such a task, it is up to each of us whom Sudhir kaka has touched with his music to do their small part in advancing his ideas and compositions. But for now, all I want is to talk a little about my experience in 2011 studying with Kaka at his home.
I first wrote to Sudhir Mainkar at the prompting of Dr. James Kippen of the University of Toronto. I had written to Dr. Kippen seeking his advice: I knew I was in need of further training, but I had no idea where to go or whom to learn from. I explained that I was already immersed in the Delhi and Ajrara gharanas, and subsequently preoccupied with the development of kaidas in all their forms. I was also interested in archaic tabla. I had heard of old kaidas that did not at all resemble what we take for granted as kaida today, and I wanted to learn more. To whom should I go? Dr Kippen’s answer was succinct: “that would be Mr. Mainkar.”
What first struck me about Sudhir kaka was his perceptive qualities, even over such an impersonal medium as email. He was also very direct and honest in his communications with me. He recognised in me a keen desire to learn, and perhaps even potential; but he also detected a volatility to my personality that has always been my biggest obstacle in learning. Still, he encouraged me to come. For my part I had a strong feeling that I had finally found the teacher that I needed at that time. I remember the first email he wrote to me introducing himself and his music. He gave me the link to his book’s website, which featured two recordings of his kaida developments. “The first kaida represents the development of Inam Ali,” he wrote. “The second kaida is by me.” That second kaida was all I needed to hear. The design was so unlike anything I had heard before; it opened my eyes to new possibilities for the language of kaida. This is the music I had been looking for.
I arrived in October of 2011 to study with Sudhir kaka for two months. Kaka spared no effort in seeing to my well-being and comfort, and was able to procure accommodations very close to his home. Without even the concern of taking a rikshaw to my lessons I was able to devote all of my time and energy to learning music. But more than that, Kaka and his family brought me into their home every day as a family member, and not just a guest. I was humbled every day by the hospitality I received. It gave my family at home so much peace of mind to know that I was looked after so lovingly. It comes as no surprise to anyone who knows this family well to hear that Revathi kaku, the legendary hostess, served me wonderfully delicious and healthy food, not just occasionally, but every day of my visit! I came to understand very quickly why the hospitality of the Mainkar household is legendary throughout Mumbai.
I was further surprised in the first days of my visit when I came to understand just how much time and energy Sudhir kaka was willing to commit to me and my development. It was far beyond anything I could have anticipated before arriving. I understood by the way Kaka treated my education why musical training in India produces such a deep and personal bond between the guru and the student. Kaka made it clear through his actions that his job was to impart knowledge, and my job was to absorb the knowledge as completely as I was able; and he was holding nothing back. He met me every day without fail, and by doing so he showed me what commitment looks like. If he had not shown such dedication, perhaps I would have been justified in holding back in my own efforts. Instead I had to work twice as hard to keep up! There were times when I felt as though I was unable or unqualified to learn what he taught, but Kaka would not let me quit. He believes in me more than myself.
The hours I spent in riyaz in his music room made it clear to me what the standard is for tabla, be it for power, clarity, or aesthetic; I also learned just where I was in relation to that standard. Kaka is not one to ever say, “good enough.” I remember spending hours in practice, to the repitition of the word “no!” while waiting for the occasional “yes!” that marked the subtle improvement he was listening for. “No...no...no... Yes!...No...” At the same time, Kaka also radically shifted my preconceptions about how tabla can be played and how even the simplest kaida could be developed. When I left Mumbai, I left with the feeling that I was in possession of a particular musical knowledge unique in the entire United States. It was (and still is) an exciting feeling.
I feel that Sudhir kaka is a person so rich in personality, so full of knowledge, and so blessed with wit, that to know him is to be like one of the blind men in the famous story with the elephant: each blind man feels a different part of the elephant, thus reaching contadictory conclusions as to what it is they have felt. I know with a certainty that having only spent two months with kaka, I am still like one of those blind men. I wish that I could have heard his name years and years ago, and that I had come to learn from him then. I remember what Shrimati Aditi Upadhya said when I told her that I was going to learn from Sudhir kaka: she told me that I had made a wonderful choice, that so many students were chasing those tabla players with big names, but that I had chosen one of the finest gurus of tabla anywhere in the world. Later, when I expressed my regrets to her that I had not met Sudhir kaka sooner, she quoted a famous saying: “whenever you wake up, that is your morning.” So I am happy that last year I finally awoke.
I am eternally indebted to Pandit Sudhir Mainkar for my music and my way of thinking on Tabla. For the rest of my life I will be studying, performing, and teaching the music that he taught to me. And in the coming years, I will cautiously be doing my best to build on his efforts and keep exploring the ideas and music he showed me. I will always do my best to honor Sudhir kaka through my music.
Chaz Hastings, 2012
"Rhythm and harmony enter most powerfully into the innermost part of the soul and lay forcible hands upon it, bearing grace with them, so making graceful him who is rightly trained."