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Photos and video clip courtesy of Bill Roseberry and Anindo Chatterjee
He is ranked among the top three or four Tabla maestros in the world today. He is not from the Banaras Gharana, but Pandit Anindo Chatterjee’s heart and life have been deeply touched by the love showered on him by Pandit Kishan Maharaj. Here in a special exclusive, he shares memories of the late Tabla legend. Coming from a musical family, Anindo Chatterjee was surrounded by music and musicians but his guru was the late Gyan Prakash Ghosh of the Farrukkhabad Gharana, and not Pandit Kishan Maharaj.
“I was about 9 years old when I first heard Pandit Kishan Maharaj with Vilayat Khan sahib in a concert in Calcutta. I used to come with my uncle and listen at the all night festivals. Then of course I was not an expert but I grew up with all these masters. I used to listen to Pandit Kishan Maharaj quite often when he used to come to Calcutta and since the last 25 years I became very close to him. In fact I remember he was playing a concert 10-15 years ago and I was in the audience. He was playing teen taal and some of the music lovers said Maharaj ji please play some dhamaar and he said “Oh I can see Anindo so Anindo has to come on stage, sit beside me and clap. He called me on stage and I sat on his left side and then kept beat as he played Dhamaar. It was amazing.”
For the past 10 years, the maestro would call Anindo Chatterjee on reaching Calcutta and Anindo Chatterjee would receive him and take care of all his needs, be it shopping or going to the doctor. There were animated discussions on Tabla and sharing of many stories and his life’s experiences which Anindo Chatterjee cherishes to this day.
The tabla maestro gets sentimental when he recalls how Pandit Kishan Maharaj came all the way from Banaras four years ago to bless him on his 50th birthday celebrations. Several music maestros like Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Ustad Zakir Hussain, were there along with close friends and family. As Anindo Chatterjee honored Kishan Maharaj with gifts he spoke about Anindo. “He (Kishan Maharaj) said - in my 75 years of musical life I have seen only two Tabla players who have been able to maintain perfect clarity while playing at extremely high speed. One is Anokhe Lal Mishra and the other is my Anindo - he is the pride of our country.”
Anindo Chatterjee who is a composer par excellence himself, speaks of the genius of Pandit Kishan Maharaj. “He had composed a lot of compositions that were purely Banaras style and Parans that came from Pakhawaj bols - compositions that were perfect on laya, the rhythm and the different jaatis - he was really a fantastic layadar. I have heard this from all the instrumentalists be it Ali Akbar Khan, Pt. Ravi Shankar ji, Nikhil Bannerjee... they used to say - to play with Pandit Kishan Maharaj is great because of his laya.”
His magnetic and powerful personality always showed in his performances says Anindo Chatterjee. “He used to play simple bols but with such a heroic style, with perfect rhythmic structure, especially the baayan. He created a very special and unique style for himself. He was also very kind and I would always receive his blessings for my wife, my son and me. He would always say - “Anindo how is my bahu (daughter in law)?”
Anindo Chatterjee recalls the step motherly treatment Tabla players received during the time of Pandit Kishan Maharaj and it was Pandit Kishan Maharaj who told the organizers that Tabla players were neither beggars nor inferior to anyone else and must be paid per concert and treated with respect. “Kishan Maharaj had some sadness about the way Tabla players were treated and he would talk to me - Kumar bhai (Kumar Bose) would also be there and Maharaj ji would say - We are no less. He said don’t fight but you have to keep your respect and if the respect is not there then fight for it.”
His contribution is not just as a great Tabla player but that he also stood up for the rights of other Tabla players and all of us have gained from it.”
Anindo Chatterjee says if he could steal an aspect of Pandit Kishan Maharaj's persona it would be his courage for starters. Anindo Chatterjee is known to be shy, gentle and polite by nature - traits that he feels are not appreciated in today’s overtly competitive world and seen more as a weakness. “I do stand up for what I want now but earlier, for many years I used to just let things go. I used to feel bad about some things in my heart but never spoke up. Kishan Maharaj didn’t care. I remember, once an organizer gave him the wrong amount of money and Maharaj ji threw the money in the organizer’s face. The organizer started complaining to his father Pt Kanthe Maharaj that ’look I’m his father’s age and he threw my money at me.’” Anindo Chatterjee says that courage in the face of unfairness is inspiring for him.
His guru and Kishan Maharaj were two teachers who always told their students to listen to any gharana, any kind of music they wanted to hear but on the condition that they didn’t imitate those musicians and instead developed their own style.
As a tabla player Anindo Chatterjee says he would love to emulate the late maestro’s style of playing. “The style, the position of his sitting, the tenacity, some of his special bols that were always on his fingertips, his heroic nature and something from his innovations and sound productions especially the Baayan.”
For Anindo Chatterjee Kishan Maharaj remained the complete and consummate artist with a multi-dimensional personality. “There was always something to laugh about when he was around. He would say something simple and it would sound really funny. Like once Kumar Bose was playing something in the style of Samta Prasad ji and Kishan Maharaj said mischievously - itna kuch toh hain apni jeb main to doosron ki jeb main haath dalney ki kya zaroorat hai? (He has so much in his own pocket so what is the point of putting his hand to grab something from someone else’s pockets?) Kishan Maharaj had everything - he was a heroic personality, a very loving and sentimental person. When we last met he wanted to build a temple to honor Goddess Saraswati. I hope that wish can be fulfilled.”