The lack of uniformity in the style of plaques and signs indicating street names in Mumbai puzzles me. Does the stature of the person whose street is named play a role in determining the style, or is it the power of family, supporters and local politicians that guides such decisions?
Should it be a marble slab or a granite slab? Or should it be painted on a metal board? Should these be erected in addition to the one displayed by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai?
This inconsistency is evident in the way the signage has been placed at the places we have visited over the past three weeks, namely, Pandit Gunidas Marg, Pandit Paluskar Chowk and Gayan Samrat Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan Marg. This week we find yet another style by visiting Professor Deodhar Chowk.
Located in South Mumbai, close to the Opera House, a district that was the center of many musical and theatrical activities in the early 20th century, Professor Deodhar Chowk is named after BR Deodhar (1901-1990), an educator well-known Hindustani musical, singer and custodian of traditional vocal compositions.
A previous edition of this column briefly discussed Deodhar’s work as an educator and author.
Disciple of Vishnu Digambar Paluskar, Deodhar continued in the footsteps of his guru to establish a music school in the locality. Paluskar had founded the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya at a time when the learning and interpretation of Hindustani music was mainly reserved for those who belonged to the hereditary families of musicians and courtesans. There had been previous attempts in Bombay, Calcutta and a few other cities to encourage those who were not part of these families to engage in learning and performance. But the scale of Paluskar’s efforts was far greater than previous efforts.
In 1924, the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya closed in Bombay, although it was reopened a few years later, but on a much smaller scale. According to Deodhar’s account provided in the Golden Jubilee Souvenir of the Deodhar School of Indian Music, Paluskar encouraged him to open a new school, and an “Indian Music School” (later known as “l ‘Professor Deodhar’s Indian Music School’) started operating on July 1, 1925.
The school was officially opened by Paluskar at a reception held at Prathana Samaj Hall on November 13, 1925. The name of the school was suggested by Sarojini Naidu, poet and senior politician of the Indian National Congress. Within a month, the school had more than 30 girls learning vocal music.
Classes for girls were held every evening from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m., and for men from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. and in a special class from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. Each student received instruction three times a week, with one group attending classes on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and another on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Three months later, Shankarrao Athavale, another disciple of Paluskar, offered to teach the harmonium at the School of Indian Music, a proposal which Deodhar readily accepted, as there was an interest in learning the instrument.
Inspired by Gandharva Mahavidyalaya’s special classes held on Sundays for those who couldn’t afford the fees or for those who couldn’t attend on other days, Deodhar gave a free class from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. every Sunday and held it. made public in the press. The class attracted 20 to 25 students, some of whom later enrolled as regular school students. Gradually, the number of students and classes increased. Singing, harmonium and dilruba lessons had started.
Deodhar decided it was time to provide an independent space for his music school, rather than giving classes in the premises of other institutions. In May 1941, Deodhar decided to rent a space on the first floor of the Modi Rooms. The number of students increased from 67 to 150 in the space of two months. More teachers have also been appointed. In June 1942, Deodhar rents the ground floor of the same building.
To further spread the music, Deodhar also held regular concerts under the aegis of the School of Indian Music. The school’s activities during WWII were affected as Bombay was considered a prime target for bombings and the annual concerts therefore had to be temporarily suspended. But the anniversary of Paluskar’s death has always been celebrated in style. Concerts were held for five days and singers from all gharanas were featured here. Prominent singers like Vilayat Hussein Khan, Azmat Hussein Khan, Khadim Hussein Khan, Latafat Hussein Khan and others would gladly perform on these occasions.
One year, the program continued for six days and featured prominent musicians such as singers Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Bibbe Khan from Hyderabad in Sindh, dhrupad singer Tansen Pande, singers from Agra gharana and Makkhan Khan’s pakhawaj solo. Tabla maestro Ahmed Jan Thirakwa has given solo recitals at the School of Indian Music four or five times, and renowned virtuoso Alla Rakha has performed solo tabla ten or twelve times. The audience response to these concerts was tremendous and the speakers had to be placed outside the building at times to accommodate the listeners who were standing outside.
Professor Deodhar’s Indian Music School continues to be an important school for Hindustani music in Mumbai, although larger schools have been established in other parts of the city over the years. The junction that bears his name has a tanpura, albeit without pegs, erected at the location. Unfortunately, his last name and descriptor are both misspelled in Roman script – Devdhar instead of Deodhar and Sangeetthnya instead of Sangeetagnya.
We end with two songs with BR Deodhar. On the first piece, he demonstrates a composition in the raag Ahir Bhairav.
Deodhar demonstrates different interpretations of the raag Vibhaas on the next track.
One of the leading tabla players in India, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognized performer, teacher, composer and specialist in Hindustani music. Visit his website here.