The year was 1998. The venue: New English School,Ramanbaug. The Sawai Gandharva Festival was under way,with music enthusiasts in full attendance. After a number of performances,compere Anand Deshmukh announced the recital of Ileana Citaristi,an Odissi danseuse. Lights on the stage were deliberately switched off as part of the performance and to have a better impact of Citaristis entry on the stage. As the audience,as well as Deshmukh,waited for the performance to begin,a volunteer walked towards Deshmukh and told him that Citaristi wants to see him in the green room. She handed over a 6-7-page script written in English to me,which I had to read it out alongside,synchronising with her performance. I started sweating due to nervousness; I had never done this. Besides,my command over English was average. But I had no choice… remembers Deshmukh. To his surprise,his narration synchronised well with the performance and at the end the audience gave a standing ovation.
I guess I had some miraculous blessing that day which helped me pull through the narration as per the expectation of Citaristi and the audience, says Deshmukh,who will be compering the Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav for the 24th time this year.
Recalling the day he got the opportunity of hosting Sawai Gandharva for the very first time,he says: In 1988,Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and one S V Gokhale had seen me anchoring a local classical music programme and had liked my presentation and my voice. They called me and asked me to send them my voice recording,which was later discussed in a meeting of all the members who were associated with the festival,and was approved. I was thrilled to get the opportunity. Now 61,Deshmukh says his experience of working with All India Radio proved helpful. He had worked with AIR from 1974 to 2010.
On the day he anchored the show for the very first time,he was called by Joshi. I was too scared thinking I must have made some mistake and he will fire me. Panditji was sitting on a chair sipping tea and munching salted peanuts. As I reached him,he offered me a few peanuts and said,Take this,its good for throat; you have a good voice and you did a very nice job. And do you know why? Because you dont speak unnecessary like many other anchors, recalls Deshmukh,adding that Joshis words remained etched in his head and heart. I am aware that the audience comes to Sawai to hear the musicians and not me. So I consciously abstain from speaking too much before and after a performance, says Deshmukh,who calls himself a medium that connects knowledgeable audience with the renowned musicians.
His job profile at the festival made him connect with numerous famous musicians and build a rapport with them. It feels great when musicians like Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia,Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and others address you by name and ask Kaise hain Anandji, says Deshmukh. One of the compliments that he received for his style of anchoring,one he will cherish all his life,came from Malini Rajurkar,noted Hindustani classical singer of Gwalior gharana,who told him: Your compering is outstanding; I can feel riyaaz in the style of presentation.
Deshmukh says though he was brought up in a family that was connected to music (his father was a harmonium player),he never took formal education in music. Having been associated with the festival for over two decades,he says he has developed an ear for good music and thoroughly enjoys all performances.
A regular compere at other light music events too,Deshmukh points out that compering a classical music-based programme is a different ballgame. In light music programmes,I keep narrating incidents and poems in between the performances. But in classical music programmes,there is no such possibility, he explains.
But there was an exception. Every time he announced the performance of Pandit Joshi,Deshmukh would write four-five lines spontaneously,prior to the performance,and include the lines during the announcement before the singer came on stage.
Currently,Deshmukh is busy writing a book on his interesting memories associated with Sawai and his decades-long experiences with the artistes and the audience.