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Pt. Shiv Kumar Sharma

' I feel uprooted today '

TODAY when I close my eyes, most often I go back to my favourite spot near Jammu a secluded little mountain top called Patani. This is where I would often spend the night with my music more than 40 years ago, amidst the dreamlike vision of snow-capped mountain and brilliantly starry skies.

Unfortunately, I can only go back in my mind's eye. And that's the most painful part of being severed from my roots. Yes, I did leave my hometown in search of better opportunities in Mumbai. But back then, in 1960, I never thought that I wouldn't be able to return home whenever I wanted to. In fact, for years I used to go home for summer without ever giving it a second thought- like most Mumbaities do. And I never felt uprooted. But now it's not so simple. Now I do feel uprooted.

Coming from Jammu, I would like to clarify that I'm a Dogri, not a Kashmiri (and it's not one and the same!). We speak Dogri at home, not Kashmiri. Yes there have been some Kashmiri influences on me since I usually spent my summer in Srinagar (and winters in Jammu ) as a child. For instance, I eat meat like a Kashmiri- and unlike a Dogri. Yet when I am called a Kashmiri, I guess I bristle as much as a Malayali would if he was called a Madrasi !

Apart from the natural beauty of Jammu, which inspired me to create some of my best music, my father, Uma Dutt Sharma, forms the most important part of my roots. Simply because he was not only my father but also my guru who introduced me to music when I was only five.

However, my early introduction to music had nothing to do with the santoor. It had to do with the vocal music and the tabla, both of which were my father's metier. Since my mother Kesar Devi, also sang (folk songs ), I went along with vocal music …until I turned 13.

It was then that my dad returned home from Srinagar one day with a 'gift' for me. I tore at the wrapping paper eagerly, expecting a game or something else as exciting. But the box held a strange-looking musical instrument which I hadn't seen before ! And that's how I was introduced to the santoor.

My dad's, or in this case my guru's dream was that I should leave vocal music and the tabla and pick up the santoor instead. At that time, the santoor was used only in Sufiana music in a small pocket in Kashmir. No other part of India had ever seen it. But dad wanted it to be developed for national use in Indian classical music - and he entrusted the job to me.

Obviously, I wasn't thrilled. I had only heard the santoor a few times on the local radio, and hadn't been charmed. But you don't say 'no' to your guru. So I obeyed. And to my surprise, I picked up and started enjoying it quickly enough for me to be able to begin experimenting with it soon. (Although it still took me years to get the rest of the world to respect the instrument- and all that it can do- as much as I did.)

I left Jammu in 1960, at the age of 22, much against my dad's wishes. He wanted me to take up the job of a music producer in Radio Jammu, and thus avoid financial insecurity. But I was bent on remaining a freelance musician. And since Jammu didn't provide too many opportunities for a freeelancer, I decided, on the spur of the moment, to come to Mumbai. Just like that.

Unfortunately, my first santoor which dad gifted to me, and with which I came to Mumbai, is no longer with me. I gave it away to an instrument-maker in Jammu, for experimentation once it was too worn-out for use. However, the santoor that I have and still play today also has its roots in Kashmir, and is 35 years old. It has been made by the family of Rehman Joo Zaz, a family which has been making santoors for many generations. (I have carried out a lot of modifications in the instrument, for the original Kashmiri santoor has many inherent limitations when it comes to playing classical music.)

Today, I do wish that my guru (and father) had been alive to see his dream realised- to see the santoor being established as a spectable and popular instrument not only in the rest of India or Kashmir, but also internationally. It started out from a time when Radio refused me a broadcast on the ground that santoor is not a perfect instrument for a 90- minute airing ! This has come full circle. The third generation of my family my son Rahul, has picked santoor as a vocation.

Date : 24th June 2001
Courtesy : The Times of India.

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