Indian Classical Music is essentially a linear melody especially meant for a solitary performer. However, accompaniment is also a necessary element for embellishment. But duet is an element of surprise, where one performer fills in the space that the other leaves as void. In that way, each of the duo is complementary to the other – he just doesn’t echo the other; both of them together create an organic unity. Not all such duo gel in their chemistry. In fact, few do. For the others, it’s merely an accident that they don’t belong to the same musical lineage, for they probably share the same aesthetic discourse. Such legendary duets we have heard from the Ustad duos like Vilayat Khan – Bismillah Khan (Gurjari Todi, Khamaj, Bhairavi Dadra), Latafat Hussein Khan- Bismillah Khan (Kamod), Bismillah Khan-V G Jog. It can be readily noticed that in all these duos mentioned above Ustad Bismillah Khan is invariably one of them. The reason probably was that the Shehnai Nawaz had full control over his style, and knew how to modify or tweak his own style to fit with that of the other. Most eminent Sarangiyas do the same, but they don’t often lead, not even for a change.
This particular duet here between Ranadhir Roy on Esraj and Suresh Mishra on Sitar was an amazing instance of such complete duet. It was a winter morning towards the beginning of 1975, and three near contemporary musicians jammed for an informal session. Sitar was there with the player hailing from the Senia baaj, Esraj was there representing the expanded Bishnupur lineage reinforced with Maihar and Agra nuances – and Bhairavi appeared there. The famous Vilayat-Bismillah recording on LP was released in 1967, and the awestruck mesmerism was not yet over. What in literature we call the ‘intertextuality’ was inevitably a driving force there, but more vibrant was the dedication of these two musicians – Ranadhir Roy and Suresh Mishra. Both of them never liked to be addressed as Pandit or Ustad, such was their humility, but they invoked Bhairavi in a manner that most ‘Pandit’s would envy.
They truly complemented each other – even in the forms of Bhairavi they rendered. On Sitar, we get to hear addition of notes to the usual scale pushing it towards the Sindhu Bhairavi, while on Esraj we detect dropped notes in obvious phrases titillating the faint memories of Bilaskhani. This also marks the difference in their styles, but here in the duet – this is what brought about the completeness. Ranadhir Roy enacted a Bismillah Khan in this candid session.
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