The peacock looked startled, when it landed on the low terrace of the outhouse in the garden. Twilight had set in and the lawn was filled with people who had come to listen to Pandit Ulhas N Kashalkar at the second edition of the Civil Lines Baithak in north Delhi. The 63-year-old vocalist began his alaap, and as the notes unfolded in the March evening air, the peacock climbed a branch steadily at regular intervals, almost as though it were keeping time.
This is the kind of magic the organisers of the family-run Civil Lines Baithak (CLB) can never anticipate but are thankful to experience. “There is a long history of organising baithaks in our extended family. My paternal grandfather used to regularly organise qawwalis; other relatives around us have also hosted noted classical musicians in the past,” says Aditya V Bahadur, 34, who founded the CLB with his sister-in-law Ragini Mathur, 34, and their uncle by marriage, Tilak Sarkar — he finances the baithak entirely, while the family throws an Avadhi feast for the performers and the audience.
Since there are no external sponsors, the CLB is fairly simple to put together, says Bahadur. “A close friend, Arunabha Deb, is a classical musician and writer, so he has been instrumental in getting the performers on board. They prefer to be approached by someone they know,” he says. Last year, the CLB hosted Pt M Venkatesh Kumar. The guest list is limited to less than 150 people, and the focus is to curate an event for only serious connoisseurs.
For its organisers, the CLB is not just an effort to host masters of classical music at their home, but also a way to celebrate the heritage of their family, and of Civil Lines itself. “Ragini’s family and ours are both from Delhi’s Mathur Kayasatha community. On my father’s side, we can trace back our lineage to the 14th century. The Kayasthas of Delhi were civil servants in the Mughal courts, which is where much of what has now come to be the Hindustani classical form was consolidated. Civil lines has a large number of Mathur Kayastha families that moved here from the Walled City about a century ago,” says Bahadur.
The venue is the Bahadur home, which was built in 1911, in time for the Delhi Durbar for George V. “The British transferred subsidised tracts of land near where the Durbar was taking place (Civil Lines) to those loyal to the crown (the Mathur Kayasthas later came into service for the British). This was on the condition that houses would be built to accommodate guests coming for the Durbar, the families that owned the houses could move in after,” says Bahadur. Having invited only vocalists up to this point, the CLB team is keen to invite instrumentalists for future editions.