For an art lover music and dance go hand in hand. Without music dance is nothing and for music, dance is an ultimate expression. When we talk of Indian classical music, Tabla (also known as the Indian drum in the western world) is one instrument that comes to our mind instantly, and the person whose name is synonymous to Tabla is legendary artist Pandit Chatur Lal.
Pandit Chatur Lal was a renowned Indian tabla player, who toured with Pandit Ravi Shankar, Aashish Khan, Baba Allauddin Khan, Nikhil Banerjee and Ali Akbar Khan in the 1950s and early 60s and helped popularize the Tabla in Western countries, made the nuances of this Indian drum along with paving the way for Indian musicians in the western world. The Tabla wizard was born in 1925 in Udaipur, Rajasthan and passed away in October 1965. He achieved the high of success at a very young age but at the same time died at the peak of his career leaving a void in the world of Indian Music. But his legacy is maintained by the Pandit Chatur Lal Memorial Society run by his elder son Charanjit Chaturlal, daughter-in-law Meeta Lal, grand daughter Shruti Lal and grandson Pranshu Lal.
I am writing this today not only because I consider Shruti Lal as my rakhi sister but because 16th April is the 90th birth anniversary of the legendary Pandit Chaturlal. The entire family of Pandit Lal has been tirelessly working in restoring his legendary work for a year through the Pandit Chaturlal Memorial Society, which is also a well known registered charitable society which was founded in memory of him and his unmatched work.
Pandit Chaturlal Memorial Society’s main aim is preservation of Indian heritage by promoting Indian Classical Music and dance for more than a decade. Besides running a School for Indian Classical Music and Dance, the society also organizes dance and music concerts in Delhi, Udaipur, Mumbai, Bangalore and many other cities in India and has also touched international shores of USA, Germany, Poland and Mexico with great maestros of India. In the past late Sitara Devi, Pandit Birju Maharaj, Sonal Mansingh, late Ustad Bismillah Khan, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma, Pandit Jasraj, Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pt. Rajan Sajan Mishra have danced and shown their art in appreciation to Pandit Chatur Lal’s music.
On this special celebration year, I spoke to Shruti Lal who diligently has been working towards making this wonderful society more stronger and trying to reach out to every Indian possible. She said, “The objective of the Society is to organize concerts to provide opportunity to young and upcoming artists be it dancers or musicians, to display their talents and most importantly bring best of the best to teach the people of India the finer points of dance and music.”
Shruti excitedly also added, “We wish to start residential Gurukul where through Guru Shishya parampara we will teach Indian classical music and dance and other art forms too where the Gurus will be invited especially by us to teach. Besides dance and music, the students will be also be taught Yoga, meditation, mythology and other recreational activities for their physical and mental development.’
While I was looking at the plan of the Gurukul, I noticed a very beautiful thing about Pandit Chatur Lal Memorial Society, the Gurukul plans to have an old age home for old musicians and dancers, where they can stay comfortably and impart their valuable art to young aspirants. This is something really very important and completely needed in today’s times because all artists might not always be wealthy to take care of themselves during old age.
Shruti who is also working on an autobiography of Pandit Chaturlal is adding many new things to the Society, she along with other artists has done research and collected work of her grandfather in forms of recordings, films and his association with the renowned people and have created the memorial “Taa-Dhaa” which was inaugurated by Smt. Sheila Dikshit, Hon’ble Chief Minister of Delhi in 2009.
On the occasion of 85th birth Anniversary of Pandit Chaturlal, 1 km road in Delhi was named as “Pandit Chatur Lal Road” from ring road to his Museum TAA DHAA in South Extension Part II which was inaugurated on 16th April, 2011, which was an ultimate tribute to the maestro by the Government of India.
After the sudden demise of Pandit Lal the American Embassy – Former His Excellency Mr.& Mrs. Chester Bowles followed by Mr. & Mrs. John Kenneth Galbraith who was American Ambassador to India in mid-1960’s started Pandit Chaturlal Excellence Award. This prestigious award has been bestowed upon legendary dancers, musicians and singer like Kathak Queen late Sitara Devi, Sarod Maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Kathak Legend Pt. Birju Maharaj, Carnatic Vocal Legend Dr. Balamurali Krishna, Flute Legend Pandit Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Percussionist Sh. Trilok Gurtu, Hindustani Vocal Legends Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra to name a few.
Pandit Chaturlal was one artist who won the hearts of millions all over the world. When he died it was as if the dancers and musician world stopped for a moment. I wish to mention a few quotes by legendary icons on Pandit Lal death.
Pt. Ravi Shankar with whom he worked very closely had said, “After so many years of close association with Chatur Lal, it is impossible to express my shock upon hearing of his demise. Throughout the world he was the first of our tabla player to gain such international fame. His magnetism captured the hearts of all.”
Mrs. Farah Pahlavi, Queen of Iran “Pandit Chatur Lal was a charming master musician who captivated his audience.”
Shri. K R Narayanan, Former President of India “The great genius and unforgettable figure in our music, Pandit Chatur Lal”.
Pandit Birju Maharaj, Kathak Legend said, “I myself have witnessed his unique way of accompaniment. He was a person with knowledge par excellence which is unforgettable. A person with qualities like sense of knowledge, full of expressions and feelings, warm nature, sweet spoken can’t be forgotten”.
Ustad Zakir Hussain, Tabla maestro said, “Not only in our country India but he was internationally known as Tabla wizard. His playing was great, unique and very different”.
Before I ended my talk with Shruti I asked her a question which many I guess did not dare to. Why does Pandit Chaturlal Memorial Society only promote Indian culture? Yes, India is known to be rich in culture and tradition but also known to accept other cultures with open arms, so why only India-ness is promoted?
Her answer totally shocked me and she said, “Many do not know but at our music and dance school we are teaching modern Contemporary dance too, at our concerts we showcase many international dance and music forms as well. Recently India has started to have many accomplished western artists coming in and we are privileged to have them as part of our concerts.’ She ended her talk by saying ‘Sandip Bhai now it is time you come and teach at our school too and put up a classic ballroom dance act on music of my grand dad’
In today’s modern world where people don’t bother about their elders and don’t even bother to look after them, here is one family which has dedicated their entire life to their purvaj (ancestors). We as a nation should bow down and salute the Lal khandan for keeping Pandit Chaturlal alive long after he has gone.
(Sandip Soparrkar is a well known Ballroom dancer and a choreographer who has been honoured with National Achievement and National Excellence Award by the Govt of India. He can be contacted on [email protected])