Every Kishori Amonkar story, the kind that made it to music circles and later became talk of the town, was, almost always, about her legendary temper. The singer, more often than not, found comparisons with her mother’s contemporary, the iconic Kesarbai Kerkar, a brusque musician, who was often unceremonious with her audience. There was Kishori Amonkar’s infamous impatience with people who came to listen to her, stories about her leaving concert halls if members of the audience were talking, never speaking to them or explaining her music, not making it to the stage for hours because her tanpura wasn’t tuned just right and so on. When she did make it, there were almost always, issues with lights, microphones, monitors, someone walking in the aisles and anything else that there could possibly be an issue with. “But what they never knew was how affectionate she was as a mother, how doting she was as a grandmother, how much fun she had otherwise, and how much laughter there was when we were around her,” says her son Bibhas Amonkar over the phone from Mumbai.
It was today, a year ago, that the legendary singer, whose excellence awed even the most excellent, passed away in her sleep, quietly. No sickness. She was healthy and performing until a week before her death. Now, Bibhas has curated an exhibition titled “Jaane Aj Mi Ajar” (Gaansaraswati in Retrospect), which will open at Mumbai’s YB Chavan Prathishthan at Nariman Point tomorrow, the day she was cremated, and move to Jehangir Art Gallery on April 5.
The exhibition will feature about 60 photographs, some from the family albums, some taken by various photographers, from the time spent with family, friends and classical musicians she liked to associate herself with. There is one of her as a toddler, in a white frock, as she poses with her siblings while balancing herself gingerly on her mother Moghubai Kurdikar’s side in a photo studio, and another of singing alongside an aging Kurdikar during a concert. In one, she is seen near the Gateway of India, feeding a flock of pigeons, completely calm as if in a reverie and, in another, with a deer that is eating out of her hands. “She was on her way to a concert when she got off the car to feed them. It’s a beautiful picture of her, and different from how the world knew her. They said she was temperamental. But she was with her music and notes at that time. When she wasn’t, she was a wonderful mother and grandmother and a beautiful human being. The year has been quite difficult. We know she is gone but it’s still hard to believe that,” says Bibhas.
Many of the pictures of the vocalist are with her granddaughter Tejashree — at concerts, in her living room, one in a black-and -red pochampalli, a gold necklace around her neck, on Tejashree’s wedding day in February last year and while greeting Asha Bhosle and Pt Jasraj later at the reception, days before she passed away. “Tejashree wanted to be a fashion designer. It was much later that she decided to take up music. She is also one of the three grandchildren who decided to carry her legacy. So the two became extremely close,” says Bibhas.
One of the more iconic photos, however, is that of thumri queen Girija Devi hugging Amonkar and plating a peck on her cheek. Devi always called Amonkar “rani” and the two had been known to share a close relationship. At the event, as an ode to the vocalist, there will be a vocal recital by Tejashree and an Odissi dance performance by daughter-in-law Bharati Amonkar. A Hindi translation of her autobiography, Swarartharamani – Raagarasasiddhant, will also be released at the event.