Sonic Saturdays

Listen: A tribute to Dhruba Ghosh (1957-2017), a rounded musician whose first love was the sarangi

The sarangi maestro died of a heart attack earlier this week.

In the past, this column has included a series of articles on sarangi solo recitals.

These articles featured maestros who contributed to the field during the 20th century. But succeeding generations have also seen extremely talented sarangi players who have chosen to present solo recitals in addition to accompanying vocalists. One of the key figures in this context was Dhruba Ghosh, who concentrated on solo recitals over the past few decades. Sadly, he died of a heart attack on Monday, his untimely demise leaving many of his musical dreams unfulfilled.

Son and disciple of the illustrious tabla maestro Nikhil Ghosh, Dhruba Ghosh trained in vocal music and tabla before shifting to sarangi. He had one lesson from Mohammad Sagiruddin Khan, but he created his own identity as a sarangi soloist after incorporating elements from a variety of sources. For instance, he was influenced by sarangi wizard Bundu Khan’s recordings and by styles created by trendsetter vocalists Amir Khan and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. The tonal quality that he preferred suggested an influence of sarangi maestro Ram Narayan.

Here is a link to an exposition of the raag Jog followed by a short presentation in the raag Jogiya. Tabla accompaniment is provided by well-known tabla player Yogesh Samsi.

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Moving from a formatted structure to a freer and open-ended presentation, Dhruba Ghosh’s musical journey was in many ways similar to that pursued by most sensitive artistes. But he was able to articulate the process he had followed whenever he spoke about his music. He explained his perspective on Hindustani music and the sarangi in an extended interview:

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I cannot but mention that I was witness to his pursuit of excellence during my long years of training under his father. I would often practice with him in sessions that lasted several hours. At times, he would even suggest rhythmic ideas to me, something that would not have been possible without his earlier training in tabla. Little wonder then that he could incorporate cross-rhythmic patterns so easily as one of the devices for raag elaboration.

The work of sarangi players painstakingly documented by scholar and musician Nicolas Magriel also contains recordings featuring Dhruba Ghosh, some of which also have tabla accompaniment provided by me.

Like some instrumentalists who chose to sing during their recitals, Dhruba Ghosh did so too. But generally, he would present his vocal compositions in these segments, bringing to the fore his penchant for composing. In fact, his inclination to compose was not restricted only to khayal or thumri compositions, but would also extend to ghazal.

His travels overseas had brought him in contact with several composers and musicians from other cultures. This led to many intercultural collaborations, one of which was the album Miho: Journey to the Mountains that won a Grammy for being the Best New Age album in 2011.

The following clip is a collaborative piece based on the raag Yaman that was recorded in Montreal:

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Dhruba Ghosh spent a long period as a teacher in Sangit Mahabharati, a music school founded by his father. He even headed its administration for a while after his father’s demise. Later, he became the principal of the Sangeet and Nartan Peeth of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. However, the sarangi remained his first love and he dreamt of not just continuing and strengthening his association with the instrument, but of also evolving new techniques that could extend its scope.

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German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.