Sudhir Mainkar no longer performs on stage. In 1980, an accident left the fingers of his right hand stiff, and it affected his tabla playing. So Mainkar concentrated on the theory of tabla playing, studying compositions and teaching aspiring tabla players. Like a football coach, who wins a match when his team does, Mainkar continues to win praise through the recitals of his star pupils like Suryaksha Deshpande, Praveen Karkare and Amit Kavathekar. This fortnight, on the occasion of his seventy-fifth birthday, Mainkar will be felicitated by senior sitar player Arvind Parikh at a programme organised by the Sharda Sangeet Vidyalaya of Bandra (E). The function also features recitals by vocalist Ram Deshpande and sitar player Ravi Chary.
Mainkar commands immense respect for his deep study of the tabla. “His passion for the traditional tabla art and reluctance to compromise on its purity and authenticity sets him apart as an important observer and critic in the contemporary scene,” said Nayan Ghosh, the renowned tabla and sitar player. Ghosh said that Mainkar’s tutelage with the last direct representative of the Delhi style, Inam Ali Khan – who passed away in 1988 – helped Mainkar grasp that gharana’s intellectual content. The Delhi gharana is known for its style of striking the edge of the right-hand side drum with the first two fingers. It is one of the oldest tabla gharanas which evolved handin- hand with the khayal form of vocal music. Khayal replaced the earlier dhrupad form which used the pakhavaj as the accompanying percussion instrument.
Mainkar’s affair with the tabla began back in the 1950s. “Those were financially difficult and tough times,” said Mainkar of his years growing up in a chawl near the Portuguese Church in Girgaon. “But [those times] offered a rich musical experience to those who were keen on acquiring it.” Mainkar sure was keen. His father Vishnupant was an ardent tabla fan and he encouraged young and promising tabla players to use their home for practice sessions. Mainkar was, at an early age, exposed to the different schools of tabla like Ajrada, Farrukhabad, Delhi and Benares.
The Mainkars’s neighbour was Manikrao Popatkar, a famous tabla player who later migrated to Europe and performed with top-ranking musicians like sitar maestro Vilayat Khan. In Popatkar’s company, Mainkar witnessed the expertise of one of the greatest exponents and soloists of the tabla, Amir Hussain Khan, at close range. Mainkar was inevitably drawn to the instrument.
In those days, Girgaon’s Laxmi Baug was one of the biggest concert venues and hosted concerts by Ravi Shankar, Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, DV Paluskar, Omkarnath Thakur and Kesarbai Kerkar. Young Mainkar would attend these programmes and listen closely when the audience would erupt with “wah wah”s of appreciation. “The habit of trying to recall and unfold those moments of sheer joy helped me to think about the aesthetics of music in general which I could later apply to the tabla,” said Mainkar.
A frequent visitor to the Mainkar household was Maruti Keer, a wellknown tabla player who headed the rhythm section of SD Burman’s and RD Burman’s orchestras. Keer introduced Mainkar to Inam Ali Khan, a maestro of the Delhi gharana of tabla. “Keer was a direct disciple of Game Khan, the renowned tabla player of the Delhi gharana. His son Inam Ali Khan agreed to teach me thanks to Keer,” said Mainkar.
Mainkar’s admirers include Arvind Mulgaonkar, an authority on the tabla and a highly respected teacher who has been friends with Mainkar for the last 57 years. “Tabla students always look forward to his lectures and workshops,” Mulgaonkar said, because of Mainkar’s zest for going deep into the subject of tabla, especially its grammar, language and aesthetics. Mainkar’s book Tablavaadan: Kala Aur Shastra which first appeared in Hindi was adopted by educational institutions across India as the standard book on tabla education. Mainkar said he also owes the success of his book to the guidance of tabla player and author Sudhir Saxena.
Mainkar continues to receive invitations from universities across India to hold workshops on the aesthetics of tabla composition. He puts these compositions on par with poetry. “If there is punctuation or alliteration in poetry the appeal of the poetry is multiplied manifold. Something similar happens in the case of the tabla gats or compositions,” he said.
By Amarendra Dhaneshwar on April 27 2012 4.30am
Photos by Mohnish Dabhoya