This year is the fifth since the passing of the legendary Hindustani vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi. India Currents caught up with Pandit (Pt.) Girish Chatterjee, a long-time disciple of Joshi and a 2011 Filmfare Award nominee for the song “Mora Saiyan” featured in the movie Mirch. He pays homage to this guru by continuing his legacy in music and teaching. These days, he splits his time between India and the United States.
What was it like, being The Bhimsen Joshi’s student?
My father was the disciple of Pt. Bhimsen Joshi; Ustad Amir Khan introduced my father to Pt. Bhimsen Joshi before I was even born. I met Pt. Bhimsen Joshi when I was four years old at Maharastra Nivas in Kolkata after my parents took me to meet him. It was a great experience and a beautiful memory that I cherish. He shared many things with me. I remember he had asked me to sing something and as I did, he was watching me very carefully.
Then he told my parents that their son was highly talented and proceeded to bless me in front of them. That was a very happy moment for me, even more for my parents. He suggested to my parents to bring me back to him when I get a little older to teach me music. Later, I have even shared the stage many times with Pt. Bhimsen Joshi.
Who have been the other major influences in your life?
Seventy percent of the knowledge I acquired in Indian classical music came from my parents, so my first gurus were Sangeet Acharya Pandit Tarakeshwar Chatterjee, my father, and Vidhushi Dipali Chatterjee, my mother. I am the fourth generation in this music tradition … I received a special award for exceptional talent in Indian classical music on the same stage and day where Pt. Ravi Shankar performed Raga Basant Pancham with Ustad Zakir Hussain! I became a research scholar by age eleven at the Sangeet Research Academy. At that time it was a big opportunity for us, for all scholars to get in touch with all the legends of Indian classical music. We received important advice from them. After becoming a research scholar, I started learning from Pt. A. Kanan who was another legend of Indian classical music. He loved me like his son and was very proud of me. I was very much close to both, Pt. Joshi and my other guru, Pt. Kanan, until they passed away.
Describe your experience with Bollywood for us, what was it like, receiving the Filmfare nomination?
I have a long standing relationship with Bollywood. My late gurus Pt. A. Kanan and Pt. V.G. Jog introduced me to Bollywood. I first worked with Rabindra Jain, and then R.D. Burman, Kalyanji Anandji, Naushadji, Indeevar, Kaifi Azmi, Javed Aktar, and many more including the late Yash Chopra. As the song “Mora Saiyan,” which was in the film Mirch, it was written, composed and sung by me. The film director Vinay Shukla requested me to perform many ragas and he chose that raga to be present throughout the film in different sequences.
What is your personal take on Indian vs. Western music?
The whole world of music stands on twelve notes, seven are major notes and the other five are minor notes. According to our Hindustani classical music, there are micro-tones within notes called “shruti.” When we sing ragas along with a manual tanpura only then can we identify those micro-tones, raga’s character and its total improvisation delivery.
Western music has its own intricate rules and follow a particular set of order with a various and beautiful combination of major and minor notes. Western music follows notation with very limited space to play in improvised style … both styles are unique and melodious and if brought together, it can surprise the artists and the listeners.
Where do you teach, what is your teaching philosophy?
Technology has definitely made things easier to conduct your business from anywhere—I do classes via Skype as well.
One must be honest with his profession, humble with his students and passionate with his art. Teaching for the sake of just teaching, to me is incomplete. I remember my father used to say “Remember the way I’m teaching you now, because there will come a day when you will have to teach children.”
I’m very much blessed to have had the best teachers in my life … A teacher’s motivation must come from the fact that otherwise, that knowledge will be lost.
Pandit Girish Chatterjee can be reached at email@example.com
Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.