My earliest memories of Kishoritai are of her visits to our Mumbai home. I must have been nine or ten years old. Sometimes she would visit with her mother, the great Mogubai Kurdikar, and at other times by herself. Her mother, though, visited alone far more often and even stayed with us a couple of times. She was quite close to my father.
I recall Kishoritai’s animated and sometimes heated discussions with my father but I have no idea what they were arguing about. She addressed father as Mohandada, he being about a decade older than her. The discussions were often interspersed with singing, sargams and other musical demonstrations.
Yesterday, on hearing of her sad passing, we talked about our memories of her. I asked Amma if she remembered what those discussions were all about. She said it was all far too technical for her to follow, much less remember. Besides, more often than not, she would be in the kitchen preparing a meal. But, she said, no matter what they discussed and whether they agreed on a point or not, they would never drag the argument to the dining table.
They liked each other like a brother and sister, Amma says. Once, however, in the midst of an argument in front of Amma, she said, “Mohandada fights with me like he is my boyfriend.” Everyone had a good laugh and I guess the two moved on to the next thing to argue about. After one of those lunches, I remember having dropped mother and daughter home in our trusty Ambassador. During our ride Kishoritai suggested that I should get to know her son Bibhas, who she said was my age. That meeting was never to happen.
Her visits stopped when serious troubles with her voice began and she nearly gave up singing for close to a decade. After that hiatus, she came back with a bang and was soon the undisputed prima donna of Hindustani music. As her profile grew, so did tales about her idiosyncratic conduct. Nevertheless, everything was forgotten the moment she took to the stage. Her voice scintillated, her performance elevating the soul to rarefied realms.
Kishoritai was a thinking musician. Everything she spoke about music came after deep, rational thought. Even her aesthetics was backed by robust, convincing logic rather than unquestioned tradition alone. If you’d hear her speak as much as you’d hear her sing, you would see her genius, though many would be convinced of it only listening to her singing.
As we all know geniuses often have eccentricities. In fact, eccentricities probably define geniuses. Mogubai once invited my parents for lunch at their home. Amma remembers that day well. Though she cooked the entire meal perfectly, Kishoritai confined herself to the kitchen and did not utter a single word the whole afternoon, leaving my parents quite puzzled.
A couple of days later she called and profusely apologised saying she was mentally preoccupied and consumed by planning her repertoire for a concert the next day. She refers to this idiosyncracy in Amol Palekar’s film ‘Bhinna Shadja’ which incidentally has a reference to one of my father’s comments about her style of presentation in the mid 1970s.
RIP Kishoritai. You will never be forgotten; your song will forever echo in our hearts.