VSK Speak
43 years ago. 1967 Late one evening.
Responding to a youthful impulse, a group of us drove to Rampur from Bareilly for a loaf at the fair that was being held there. As we were wandering through the fair, we heard a distant sound of music. Lured by it we set out to investigate, to find a songstress sitting on a distant stage and the audience spread out on chairs under the open sky. We sat down at the rear and I was instantly touched by the melodious voice that was wafting through the balmy darkness of the night. We not only sat through the balance of her performance but were bewitched. And I was overcome by an irrepressible urge to invite her to Bareilly to come and sing for us. As the programme concluded I summoned all my courage to go backstage to tell the artiste how moved I was and .try my luck with the intended invitation.

I had absolutely no idea who this singer was or what her name was. Not that it would have mattered because in any case I knew next to nothing about classical singers. All that mattered was that I had loved her singing and that her voice had touched my heart. To my happy surprise she not only acknowledged our appreciation but better still she accepted our invitation to come to sing for us at the Bareilly Officers Club of Wimco, an establishment of which I was then the Head-man. She gave me her name, a name which I had never heard earlier and so it meant nothing much. A couple of months later on the agreed date she came to Bareilly to sing for us. We were some 20-25 persons; almost every one of us ignorant about anything that remotely resembled Hindustani Classical Music. The singing started around9.00 P.M. and despite our ignorance we were enraptured. She sang and sang through the night. We had lost count of time and hours passed. And then around 4.30 in the early hours of the morning, she paused to ask in her inimitably feminine manner, with a smile spread across her face "Tomorrow is my day of fasting and if I do not eat before sunrise, I will not be able to eat till the evening. But that does not matter. If you want me to sing more I will happily do so "We could not be so ungallant and instantly agreed to let the music come to a close. That singer of 43 years ago was Girija Devi.

I have detailed this incident because each facet of that one evening has had such a profound impact. The " high" of enchantment that I experienced through the hours of that night sitting in close proximity to the artiste, facing her directly, with surges of joy that I could not resist expressing, are all deeply embedded in my soul. I was totally bewitched by the magic of Girijaji.

Ever since, at every possibility, I seek rekindling of the same or similar emotion of joy and fulfilment. And it is in this spirit of enthusiasm and with a sense of happy expectation that I look forward to each session of music, in the Baithak setting.

In subsequent course of my life, especially after we moved to Delhi in 1973, I have had the good fortune to listen to the widest possible array of artistes. All the great names and so very many more. I have heard them, including each of the greatest names, both in the auditorium settings, and in the baithak format. And through personal experience I have come to a most definite conviction that to hear the best of any artiste, to hear truly inspired music, the most appropriate format is the baithak. The living ambience of the baithak; its informality; its friendliness; the proximity between audience and the artiste; the appreciative response of the Risks; absence of time constraint; all of these have an inspirational impact on every artiste. By personal experience I vouch that there are no exceptions, not even divinely gifted Kishori Amonkar. In this context I can not but recall a long evening of music in the Drawing Room of our Panchsheel Park home with Parveen Sultana. She excelled herself that night and had all of us in rapture. At the conclusion of the evening a friend of mine Late Thakur Harnarain Singh asked Parveen " How come you did not sing like this at our festival" And Parveen replied succinctly " But you never provided me this kind of ambience"

For me, listening to live music in the Baithak format - sitting on the floor, right in the front and in close proximity to artiste is so much more than an aural experience. It is a huge emotional experience; and occasionally a near spiritual experience. But absolutely, and thankfully, never an intellectual experience. And what is more that it is an experience of joy that I find is so much enhanced when I am able to share it with other similarly disposed Rasiks.

God has blessed me in countless ways. He has blessed me with the opportunity to listen to music in the manner that I most deeply relate to; and to listen to so many artistes including the best known and most gifted. No less he has enhanced my joy of listening to music by enabling me to share the experiences with very many.

I pray that I will continue to be so blessed till the end of my days.