Artists and fans were united in acknowledging the impact Amonkar has had on their lives for decades.
Just a few days short of her 85th birthday, Kishori Amonkar, the great vocalist, passed away at her Mumbai residence on Monday. Within hours of the news spreading, the Internet was abuzz with shocked spontaneous outpouring of grief from all over the world. Artists and fans were united in acknowledging the impact Amonkar has had on their lives for decades. Arguably the finest singer of her generation, Amonkar was a trailblazer whose music influenced every singer who sings today, consciously or unconsciously. Her breath taking taans were stupendous, her mastery of her voice unmatched.
Amonkar was born in Mumbai. Her father died when she was six, and her mother, the great Mogubai Kurdikar, had to suffer considerable financial hardships bringing up her three children. Despite this, when years later, Amonkar herself was booked for three or four concerts, and she excitedly told her mother expecting her to be proud of her, but got an admonishment instead. Her mother said, “you have not calculated how much time you will waste doing these concerts. Where will that time that should be for your riyaz come from?”
Amonkar never forgot this lesson, and accepted very few concerts. She also never traveled abroad for this reason — “those who want to hear me, will come to hear me,” she used to say.
Padma Talwalkar, who from 1969-75 learnt from Mogubai, said she always regarded Amonkar as her guru too, and used to accompany her on the tambura when she traveled out in concert. She recalls with nostalgia how from 9-11 am she would get her training from Mogubai, and then till 2 pm with Aiyee (Amonkar). “She was very kind to me. I sometimes felt bad that people who did not know better sometimes used to stay away from her in fear. “Aisa kalkaar hona bahut mushkil hai; she was the last of my gurus left, and her going is like the ground has moved from under my feet,” Ms Talwalkar said.
At the age of 25, Kishori Amonkar lost the use of her voice totally, for nearly two years. Nothing helped; finally due to the blessings of a guru, Sardeshmukh Maharaj, she slowly regained her voice. This had a lasting impact on her; she remained very fragile about her voice all her life, and in fact this may have shaped her subsequent relationship with “sur” (notes). She always experienced notes in a raga in a manner unique to herself — her interpretation was never conventional, but always correct for her.
Her journey of learning was difficult. Mogubai was not a verbose teacher — as Amonkar has said, “my mother wouldn’t talk about music. She would sing and I would repeat. I would copy her without asking her anything. Aai (mother) was so strict that she would sing the “sthayi” (opening phrase of a composition) and “antara” (concluding phrase of a composition) only twice and not a third time. I had to get every contour of the piece in those two instances. That taught me concentration.”
There is also the famous story of her going to learn from the great Kesarbai, her mother’s guru behen, and being patronised; let Mogu teach you the basics first, then you come to me, she is reported to have told a young Amonkar.
Very much a rebel in her time, she sang for films in the 1960s against the wishes of her more traditional guru. She has been described as liberal and modern by her granddaughter Tejashree; yet no one has better protected our classical tradition than she has. She has opened up the world of classical music to non-listeners since the 1980s with her total excellence as a performer.
For her, music was not entertainment. It was not to be sung to attract the audience.