The Dramatic Singer

Singing thumri,reflects Tulika Ghosh,is like acting with one’s voice

Written by Jaskiran Kapoor | Published: April 2, 2012 3:43 am

Singing thumri,reflects Tulika Ghosh,is like acting with one’s voice

Once upon a time,there was a kathakar,a storyteller who would spin a yarn through narration,capturing the audience with his/her eyes,arresting expression and fluid movements,evoking emotions from deep within. From the kathakar’s narration evolved the dance form of Kathak,and with Kathak came its soul,thumri. But vocalist,composer and thumri exponent,Mumbai-based Tulika Ghosh can’t put her finger on what came first — thumri or Kathak. “Thumri is a semi-classical form of singing,replete with poetry in the Braj bhasha. At its heart lies bhaav and it’s sung with Kathak to express internal feelings and emotions,” she says.

The only performing vocalist of the Patiala Kasur gharana,Primila Puri’s living room in Chandigarh fills with the vibrations of the sitar and the almost hauntingly melodious voice of Ghosh. Here to perform at the Shaam-e-Awadh,an evening of thumris,kajris and chaitis,organised by the Triveni Sangeet Sabha in collaboration with the Sangeet Natak Academy,New Delhi,at Puri’s residence in Sector 16,Ghosh brings with her a rich lineage,one that boasts of her father,internationally acclaimed tabla maestro,Padma Bhushan Pandit Nikhil Ghosh,her uncle,the legendary flautist Pandit Pannalal Ghosh and patriarch of the Benaras gharana. “I grew up in a family seeped in music,in tradition,surrounded by stalwarts like Pandit Hanuman Prasad Misra,Ustad Khadim Hussain Khan and Ustad Yunus Hussain Khan of Agra Atrauli gharana. It was their influences that shaped my life and music,” says Ghosh,fortunate to have been trained and groomed by three traditions. As a result,she has a strong grasp on knowledge of raagdari and compositions and has also composed many thumris.

“Khayal can be learnt,it is more of a internalising process where one has to delve deep within. Thumri has to be sung for it is expression-oriented,it is dramatising music. There is no thumri without expression,” says Ghosh. An otherwise meditative and shy person,Ghosh says it’s thumri that brings out her deepest emotions. If khayal stems from imagination and portrayal of ragas with depth,thumri is portrayal of character,going under its skin and acting with one’s voice.

Ghosh agrees that it was the courtesans in ancient India who contributed maximum to thumri and gave it its unique identity. “It is a female form of music and ideally suited to the female voice,hence there are more female thumri singers,” says she,mentioning greats like Siddheshwari Devi,Shobha Gortu,Gauhar Jaan, Malka Jaan and Girija Devi and thumri writers and composers like Wajid Ali Shah and Bhaiya Saheb Ganpat Rao. “Films like Umrao Jaan and Sardari Begum also did justice to it,” she adds.

A semi-classical genre,thumri,she says,gives a lot of importance to words. “Here,poetry is supreme,and for the sake of expression,there is freedom to move out of a raga,” says Ghosh. Back home,she also teaches music and unlike her soft personality is quite a “tough taskmaster”. She has trained participants at the Saregama Academy in Mumbai. “It’s important to be strict,else they’ll never learn or value,” says Ghosh.

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