I met Pandit Partha Chatterjee for the first time in 2005. He visits San Francisco Bay Area every year.He has a dedicated group of students – mainly Sitarists from all over north America – all of whom visit and stay in the Bay Area to learn from him. During one such visit, one of my friends who happens to be a very good Sitar player himself, asked me to come and listen to his lessons.
When we reached the place in Palo Alto, California, I noticed an unassuming gentleman standing outside chatting with a few people and enjoying one of those perfect summer evenings. My friend introduced him to me as Pandit Partha Chatterjee. I tried to touch his feet – as is customary in Indian tradition to show respect – but he backed off. Till this day, he refuses to let me touch his feet – instead he just hugs with a fatherly affection.
After the formalities and the informal chat was over, we went inside the house and my friend’s lesson started. What I heard was the most exquisite demonstration of what happens with the inherent strengths of Sitar meet the vocal influence. And then and there I realized that God had been kind to me to have placed me in contact with Partha-da. I had moved to the US in 1999 and because of infrequent trips to India, I had been missing attending Hariji’s gurukul.
Partha-da himself has been blessed to have learnt Sitar from the great maestros, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Hariji learnt his music from Ustad Ali Akbar Khan’s sister, Smt Annapurna Devi. As a result, there is a considerable similarity between Hariji’s and Partha-da’s approach to music.
Partha-da’s sitar sings and when I say this, I do not exaggerate at all. The entire approach to music is based on strong vocal influence, which Pandit Nikhil Banerjee picked up in his music from Ustad Amir Khan. While the Sitar sings, it also does not let go on any of the inherent strengths of a string instrument in exploring depths of rhythms that are not explored as much in detail by vocalists. However, at no point does one feel that the music is too far away from its vocal base. That is the magic of Partha-da’s sitar playing. This is akin to fishermen singing in the famous Ganges near Kolkata – Partha-da’s hometown. There is an undercurrent of river’s rhythm on which the music floats, but in the end it is still being sung, rather than created for the sake of the rhythm.
Partha-da is also graced with talent of articulating his thoughts in an elaborate way. He takes time to explain his philosophy, thinking and approach. He also seems to have been graced with infinite patience towards his students. In other words, you cannot ask for a better teacher than Partha-da. I certainly am fortunate to get guidance from him.
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