A traveller on an age-old musical tour

Amarendra Dhaneshwar

Saturday, June 14, 2008  03:26 IST

A special tribute to the late Hindustani musician Phiroze Dastur has been organised in Mumbai. Amarendra Dhaneshwar has details

Indian civilisation is like a rainbow with its many colours. Multi-religious and multicultural, this country offers a great deal. Among the ethnic groups that have made their mark on the fabric of India’s culture are the Parsis, a minority. However, “Few people are aware of their contribution to Indian music,” says Dr Aban Mistry, tabla-player and author of The Parsis and Indian Classical Music. She records the contribution of Phiroze Dastur, a stalwart of Hindustani music.

Dastur has been a familiar name for music lovers, particularly in Mumbai. An eminent singer of the Kirana gharana, he was a performing artiste of note, and a dedicated teacher. Dastur passed away at the age of 90 in the last week of April.

“Dastur was a senior gurubandhu (co-student) of Bhimsen Joshi and Gangubai Hangal. There existed a rare camaraderie between the three of them. They did not look upon each other as rivals, but as fellow travellers on an exciting musical journey,” says Harish Kapadia, one of the founders of the Indian Music Group. I have seen them together and heard Bhimsen lovingly address Dastur as ‘Freddie’. We have also heard Dastur praising Bhimsen for his Todi sung at the first Sawai Gandharva Festival held in 1952.

Dastur was a child prodigy and a blue-eyed boy of JBH Wadia of Wadia Movietone Limited. A film clip from the mid-1930s showcases two wonder-children of Hindustani music of the time in performance: Dastur and Kumar Gandharva. Dastur went on to become an actor and was cast as a hero in Lal E Yemen. And then “Hefty Punjabi males started getting work in the Bombay films and frail-looking singers like me were thrown out,” Dastur once told me in an interview.

Sawai Gandharva, singer and stage-actor, taught him, along with Joshi and Hangal. In spite of his Parsi background, Dastur mastered the idiom of the Kirana gharana. “He spoke Marathi fluently and sang with the same degree of fluency as any Marathi singer,” says PG Burde, critic and convenor of Kalabharati.

When the University of Bombay set up a department of music, Dastur was the natural choice for a faculty position. He taught the Kirana style for over 25 years, with students like Dhanashree Pandit, Vrinda Mundkur, Girish Sanzgiri and Milind Chittal. Dr Ashok Ranade, the first head of the department, praises Dastur’s sense of duty and commitment as a teacher.

Swaralaya, the music archives of the Maharashtra government, has planned a tribute to the late singer with a listening session of recordings from his live concerts. Singers Ajay Pohankar, Shrikant Deshpande and Dhanshree Pandit will present their perspectives on Dastur’s music and personality. Some of his music will be played as well, including the song he sang with fiery passion for over 40 years: Gopala meri karuna. A fitting tribute to the veteran.

Ravindra Natya Mandir Complex, June 18, 6.30pm, admission free


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