The best stories, inevitably and often, are about those who succeed. These kinds also come with the overtone that the rest of those who didn’t, failed. Nityanand Haldipur’s story, which is more than just a narrative about looking after an important artiste of our times, also traces a man’s journey to self-discovery — from a performing musician steeped in his gurus’ learnings to overcoming facial paralysis and playing the bamboo reed and being a shishya in the old sense of the word. Haldipur, 66, has found his vocation in taking care of his ailing guru, in turn giving up important concerts, and finding peace in conversations with and care for his Ma ji.
Haldipur, for the last two years, has been living in the outside bedroom-cum-study-cum-living room on the sixth floor of Akashganga Apartments on Warden Road in Mumbai, a house where the legendary 87-year-old Annapurna Devi stays, though, bedridden.
For Devi, one of the most reclusive musicians of our times, Haldipur knows it clearly that he cannot fill up the lacuna left behind two years ago when Devi’s second husband Rooshi Kumar Pandya passed away. Devi’s second husband was important because her first was Pt Ravi Shankar. The two men died within a gap of four months. “The moment Rooshi ji died, I felt it was my responsibility. It also came naturally, she has the maximum confidence in me compared to any other student,” says Haldipur, who reveals that Devi can’t really sit or eat on her own and so has to be helped.
Devi’s family — nephew and sarod player Ashis Khan and his siblings and Devi’s grandchildren (Shankar and Devi’s son Shubhendra, who passed away in 1992 was the father of Kaveri and Som) live in the US and visit occasionally. “Everyone comes to visit once in two-three years,” says Haldipur, dressed in a white vest and dhoti, seated on the bed under Pandya’s garlanded photograph. Sitars and tanpuras in their covers can be seen all around — above the cupboards, under the bed, in the corners, dusty, as if craving the attention of their keeper.
A visit to Devi’s apartment in Mumbai is always difficult. The eerie silence around the apartment does not stir anymore with the meditative strains of the surbahar, there is no laughter around the fish curry prepared by her or any activity in the house. But it does not take Haldipur more than a few seconds to take us back to his learning sessions from Devi which began around 1972. “She had stopped performing by then.
One of my gurus Devendra Murdeshwar (flautist Pannalal Ghosh’s son-in-law) was with the AIR and they wanted her to do a session. He was asked to convince her to play for the AIR because he knew the family. She eventually said no and that’s when I first met her,” says Haldipur, whose friend Rajeev Taranath, too, wanted to learn from Devi. Haldipur accompanied Taranath for four days, but wasn’t allowed to come up.
So he stood downstairs, smoking on the sidewalk. “One day she told Rajeev that ‘you bring him all the way to the building and leave him in the sun’. I was called up and she gave me sweets and chai and that’s when I asked her about learning. Sometime later she relented. But only after she said that ‘if you want glamour go to bhaiya (Ut Ali Akbar Khan) or Panditji (Shankar)’,” says Haldipur, who began learning Baba Alauddin Khan’s meditative style from her.
Before Devi, Haldipur was learning from the legendary Pannalal Ghosh. Haldipur’s style, according to many music connoisseurs, still reflects Panna Babu’s “mithaas” and virtuosity. Ghosh had learnt from Devi’s father and the founder of Maihar gharana, Baba Alauddin Khan.
A sportsman, who captained the Bombay team in volleyball and basketball and was a musician, Haldipur was suddenly hit by facial paralysis at 20. But he began learning again. Haldipur’s lucidity in expression, elegance and rhythmic brilliance are the hallmarks of his playing. His broadcast on Bombay AIR is still fondly remembered by Devi for its originality.
But Haldipur’s contribution is not to be measured only by his musical credentials — music lovers also need to know him for keeping Devi healthy for the past two years. “She’s given me so much of what I know. Concerts can wait,” says Haldipur.