Madhup Mudgal : A True Disciple But Not An Imitator

The Kumar Gandharva Memorial Concert at the India International Centre (New Delhi), organised by Seher and Sangeetanjali, and presented on 13 April, was a great relief to many rasika-s. The artist featured was Madhup Mudgal, son of the late Vinaya Chandra Maudgalya, Principal of the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya; and Madhup sang so impressively  and movingly exactly in the way of his main mentor, the unforgettable Kumar Gandharva, that we all felt gratefully assured of the undiluted continuance of a glorious idiom of classical singing. Madhup (of Delhi) is to Kumar Gandharva what Ajoy Chakrabarty (of Calcutta) is to Bade Ghulam Ali Khan; and one feels like blessing the two disciples for preserving the gurusishya parampara so faithfully and so effectively. Incidentally, the attainment of these two young vocalists is also an index of the truth that what makes one an authentic disciple is purity of purposeful commitment to the master, and not the mere accident of family kinship.

 Assisted by two very able and helpful accompanists, Appa Saheb Jalgaonkar (harmonium) and Suresh Talwalkar (tabla), Madhup opened his recital with a vilambit khayal in Ahir Bhairav. The requisite air of high seriousness was worked up at once, importantly because of three distinct facts: the manifest resonance of the tonic as sung by the vocalist; a like effect provided by the right drum of the tabla with a face much broader than the small, high-pitched purhi, or skin covering, that is today commonly used for providing accompaniment to sitar and sarod; the very disposition of rishabh and gandhar; and of course, the prior orientation of rasikas' attention elicited by the mere mention of each raga's name by the veteran compere, Pramod Mudgala. All in all, because of the details just distinguished, the very opening impressed me as a majestic twosome of sound and suggestiveness of nada and vairagya.

Long after the recital was over, as my mind lingered over the quality of voice referred to and the upward passage from rishabh to gandhar also as projected, if differently, in the alapa in raga Todi which followed it struck me that detachment is not only a moving-away, but a kind of ascent. Watchful and reverent attention to music can indeed reawaken one to thoughts of truth and purity.

 I may also here make, if in passing, a point of some general value. Critics often point to the presence or absence of feeling in particular recitals. But what they generally tend to miss is the truth that a look of tender lovelorn feminine pining  as may be said to have distinguished the music of the late Abdul Karim Khan  is not the only semblance of feeling that good music admits of  Music can also seem to be 'yearning like a god in pain'. Indeed, at its best, Kumar Gandharva's singing appeared to teem with the robust intenseness of vairagya. I see the same in the. singing of Madhup, and can only wonder at the charge levelled at him that his art lacks feeling. But, of course, the feeling that it breathes arises from the total configuration and individual character of music's own details such as the quality of voice, disposition of notes, pace of passage and duration of abidance at individual swara-s, which make for a distinctive feature of vocal music, namely, its 'celestial faculty of sustainment'.

Even the measure of clarity of utterance can contribute to the overall air vocal music. I have believed for long that where words are at all used in music, they should be intoned quite clearly. But Mahup's very first composition in Ahir Bhairav, set to a sedate tritala rhythm, made me see the error in my view. His slightly subdued articulation of words only added to the requisite comtemplative effect. Indeed, when one is lost in the flowing form and accents of music, slightly muffled utterance would only be natural, like a little closure of the eyes.

After the opening Ahir Bhairav, Madhup sang compositions (including a tarana) in three other melody-modes: Todi, Desi, and Bhairavi. All along, the singing was tuneful; but if I am required to pick the most satisfying moment of the total recital, I would unhesitatingly point to the brief alapa that preceded the Todi composition in tritala, though the hymn to Saraswati in Bhairavi, which provided the finale, was also an immediate delight.

 To conclude, barring some moments of the adagio Ahir Bhairav composition, where Madhup appeared to run out of creative variations for a while, it was a near perfect presentation of classical singing. Its main excellences, besides the ones I have already distinguished, could well be listed thus: the balancing of the contemplative with the expressive; a gentle regulation or rise and ebb of vocal volume which makes for the dynamics, or the semblance of surge and subsidence, of feeling; and the blending of the soft and the decorative with the robust and majestic. Madhup is today one of the very few Hindustani vocalists whose art may be said to give, at places, some glimpses of sublimity.

 It would be very wrong to dub him as a mere imitator. True, not only his music, but even his gestures such as nodding as he contemplates the tonal passages to come are quite similar to Kumar Gandharva's. But if, in the ethico-religious sphere, a devoted disciple is acclaimed for treading the path of his master faithfully, not decried as being imitative, why should it be otherwise in the case of music? Be that as it may, emulating a great vocalist is nothing facile, like producing the copy of a map by using tracing paper. For, not only the great one's artistry, his very way of looking at melody, rhythm and structure has to be seized and appropriated; and this calls for commitment and character, and tireless tapasya in the way of practice. A wise and courageous sishya not only receives, but upholds a cultural legacy.