(This interview with Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma Ji was published in Daily Excelsior dated December 16, 1990. I distinctly remember that after Late S.D.Rohmetra founder and Editor Daily Excelsior asked me to interview Pandit Ji, I had very humbly requested him for an interview after his concert in Jammu.
He, the gracious and magnanimous person that he was, readily agreed for the interview and invited me to his in-laws house in the Green Belt Park area in Gandhi Nagar the next morning. We sat in the lush green lawns of the house and I switched on the tape-recorder for the interview. During the course of the interview he asked for tea to be served to me after every 15 minutes. This interview is being republished as most of the issues raised in it remain relevant even today.
It is Daily Excelsior’s tribute to the great maestro and the wonderful human being that he will always be remembered as).
Pandit Uma Dutt Sharma’s was an imposing personality. He had many interests in life, the main among them being music. His son Shiv Kumar Sharma learnt playing Tabla and Sarod from him. He also learnt classical singing. But it was Santoor in which he chose to express his creative urges. He shifted to Bombay in 1960 and stayed on to firmly imprint his signature on the Indian classical music scene.
Ravinder Kaul:-Some people are exploring the possibility of opening a music institute in Jammu so that you and Ustad Allah Rakha Khan Sahib can come here to teach the students for a month or so every year. Is it really possible?
Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma:-Already an institute of music is functioning here but the real problem is that proper atmosphere for classical music is lacking in this city which is a must for music to germinate. Atmosphere means where good artistes come to perform, people get an opportunity to listen to good music and those who are learning get an incentive to learn. The first prerequisite for this is that there must be enough performances of established artistes in this city on a regular basis. The problem is that there is no organisation here to work in this field. Had there been an organisation which would invite artistes from all over India to perform here, this would create an awareness about music, which would in turn generate interest in classical music and the students who are learning would get an incentive for working hard.
R.K.:- SPIC-MACAY is going to open a chapter in Jammu shortly. Would that fill the void in this field?
SKS:- They are doing excellent work in colleges and schools. They organise lecture demonstrations in colleges and schools and they also do festivals etc. Once this chapter begins in Jammu, an awareness will be created among younger people. I was very encouraged to see a lot of youngsters in our programme yesterday. And they listened very attentively.
R.K.:- You have performed in Jammu after a long time. How did you feel yesterday?
SKS:- It was a very good experience. I was encouraged to find that listeners of good music are there. Only a platform is needed now. Cultural Academy etc. are there and they may have done something for folk music but they have done nothing for classical music. Classical music is a part of our cultural heritage and it should not be neglected.
R.K.:- In addition to some private organisations like ITC and SPIC-MACAY, some government organisations are also working in the field of promoting the classical music in India and abroad. Is their work satisfactory?
SKS:- We cannot depend on government alone. The way ITC sponsors programmes and it has also established a Research Academy, rest of the big business houses must also come forward. They can help a lot. If the government had done this, it would have been good but then the bureaucracy and red-tapism comes in the way. An art form can survive only when it gets patronage in some form of the other and the sponsorship of big business houses in recent times is a very good sign in India.
R.K.:- There are two systems of learning music. One is through ‘Guru-Shishya Parampara’ and the other is through the colleges, universities and institutes. It has been seen that during past more than 40 years no reputed artiste has emerged out of these colleges or universities. Why is it so? Is there some inherent defect in this system?
SKS:- The system of learning music is very individualistic. Those who teach in the classrooms must also follow a system. If there are 10 students in a class, all of them cannot be equally talented. The teacher must select the talented students and give more time to such students on a personal basis. That is the only possibility in at institute. Otherwise the institutes can only produce better listeners and appreciators of music. If you want to learn music just for the sake of music then it is all right to go to an institute but if one wants to become a performing musician then one has to go to a Guru and stay with him and learn music from him. There can be no other way. The Guru Shishya Parampara is the only ideal way of learning music. But the problem now-a-days is that life has become a lot different from the olden days when the Shishya used to stay with the Guru; have his food there and learn free of cost etc. Now people cannot afford it. The performing musicians are so busy in programmes and travelling that they do not stay at one place for long. Now there can be a solution that a Guru must be asked to select some 5-10 really talented students and then some business house or the Government must take responsibility of supporting them. This way the students will not be faced with the problem of supporting themselves. This system is already prevalent in USSR where talent scouting committees select students for different fields and then the Government takes the entire responsibility of such students. They have only to work hard to master the vocation of their choosing.
R.K.:- It has been around 35 years since you introduced Santoor on the Indian Classical Music Scene. What is the reason that no Santoor player of good-standing has emerged on the national scene except you?
SKS:- See, it took me more than 10-12 years to establish Santoor in the first place. I started performing in 1955 on a major scale and it was only in late sixties that Santoor was established all over the world. I started teaching at a very late stage. A couple of my students have already started playing but it will take time. There can be no mass scale production in this field. If I take 10 students at a time, only 1 or 2 will be such who will come up. But one thing is certain that now Santoor is everywhere, in films, classical music, ghazals. It has been established and there are enough listeners of Santoor. Now this is a proper atmosphere for new Santoor players to emerge and they will not have to struggle as I had to.
R.K.:- The Santoor instrument lacks ‘meend’ which is an essential part of Indian classical music. You have used the ‘tremor’ method to compensate for it. The purists of classical music must have created a lot of fuss when you first started it.
SKS:-You cannot imagine how much opposition was there. I did not want to make any such improvement in this instrument which would have been alien to the basic temperament of the instrument. I tried to create an individual style for this instrument which would not be an imitation of some other instrument. Therefore, I developed the technique of ‘tremor’ and it has now been accepted by critics. But it was not easy. Now I play `Aalap’ in every programme and people enjoy it as they enjoy `Aalap’ on other instruments. I have tried not to make a caricature of this instrument. I have also tried to improve the tonal quality of this instrument in order to give it a soothing, soft and ethereal type of a sound.
R.K.:- You are a highly successful and widely respected classical musician. What has prompted you to shift to films?
SKS:- I have been connected with the films right from the very beginning as an instrumentalist. I did my first film ‘Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baaje’ in 1955. At that time I was a student in college. V Shantaram Ji told me that ‘don’t go back to Jammu. Stay here and I will give you a chance as a Hero and as a Music Director in my films’. But at that time, I had only one aim in my mind, that I have to establish Santoor. I returned to Jammu. In 1960, when I went back to Bombay, I again started playing Santoor for films, although I refused many offers of acting because it was not my field. In 1980 I did my first film `Silsila’ as a music director because at that time my mission of establishing Santoor had been accomplished. The films that I have done have been done as a challenge. There was a feeling in the film industry that whenever a classical musician has given music in films, it has not been commercially successful.
R.K.:-Does it not compromise your position as a classical musician?
SKS:- Why? When I am composing for a film at that time I am not a classical musician. I don’t compromise. Yesterday, people asked me to play a ‘Silsila’ number on stage. I refused. It is a different field altogether. Although we could have signed 50 films after the success of ‘Chandni’ but we are doing only two films at the moment, ‘Lamhe’ of Yash Chopra and `Sahiban’ of Romesh Talwar.
R.K.:- How do you find time for doing film music?
SKS:- That is the biggest problem. I could not come to Jammu for the past four years because I do not want to come to Jammu for one or two days. I may have to give up films altogether because I cannot sacrifice the field of classical music.
R.K.:- What are your plans for the future?
SKS:- I want to teach music. I have around 12-15 students. My younger son is also learning. My only attempt is that whatever little I know, I should pass it on to the right deserving candidates. I am trying for that. Music for me is not a source of entertainment. I have never played just to please the audience. I treat music differently and I try to educate the people that if they also take music differently, it will enrich their life and give them an eternal bliss.
R.K.:- How would you describe the music scene of India today.
SKS:- It is very encouraging. The awareness that has been generated among the younger people is the best thing to have happened to music in recent times. I call it the renaissance of music in India.