I was hurt, fuming for a while, disturbed for many days. How could she say something so fundamentally detrimental to my core, my integrity? And why did she not confront me with her doubts? How could she aver something behind my back without giving me a chance to address it, that too something which could easily have been thrashed out with material evidence? Was our bond not as deep as I had believed it to be in 30-odd years?
Rather than debasing her with a confrontation, I decided to withdraw, keep my distance from her. After several months, my soul dragged me to her concert. Her divine music, her frail, yet ascetically anchored presence filling the space with serenity. That was my diva — the note extraordinaire. She saw me sitting in the first row. Her glance directed me to meet her after the concert. Drenched in her notes, I reached her home the next morning, shook her hands with gratitude. She was oblivious to what was churning in my mind in the past several months. She reprimanded me for my absence, interpreted my non-appearance wrongly and accused me of being selfish. After she crossed the threshold of my patience, I blurted out all those pent-up feelings and confronted her with being unfair, whilst giving clarifications.
I could see genuine pain in her eyes. I didn’t wish to see her in a vulnerable state. Sandhya’s tears were accusing me of treachery. I got up. As we were about to leave, she held the door open, clasped my hand warmly and said, “Amol, I’ve hurt quite a few, many have drifted away from me… I never meant to harm you and I was wrong in thinking on those lines.” Her trembling voice became thinner. “Just be with me till the end. No matter what I say or do. Never part with me. Will you?” Probably to avoid showing her moist eyes, she hugged me and Sandhya.
Time spent in complete silence as we drove back to Pune helped me to think about my relationship of over three decades with Kishori Amonkar. We were crossing the same dhaba in Khopoli where I had met her first in the mid-1970s. I had rushed to her with the enthusiasm of an ardent fan. After exchanging notes on our mutual fondness for batata wada, she asked me, “Was Mohanrao Palekar related to you?” Her face lit up when I answered, “Yes, he was my bade chacha (paternal uncle)”. While forming an immediate association with me, she narrated, with childlike zest, how Mai (Mogubai Kurdikar, her mother) had requested Mohanrao to teach her. Thus, our relationship bloomed — from Kishoriji to Kishoritai to just tai. I, of course, kept following her musical journey as she went on scaling higher peaks all over the world.
During the making of Bhinna Shadja, we travelled a great distance, not only geographically but emotionally as well. She made tea for us, fed us home-cooked food amidst unending discussions on musical thoughts with Sandhya. I weathered quite a few heated arguments with her on visual art. We glided seamlessly, even through the so far closeted passage of her personal past. And thus, we chose to project her the way she emerged in Bhinna Shadja — a tiny, fragile body that evoked awe through her music, a woman with a career fighting for her rightful place in a patriarchal gharana system, an immensely original and fearlessly creative mind which questioned the age-old parampara, a woman wanting to hide her vulnerability with dignity, and so much more.
Indeed, I am in love with her. She has left us but I do not have to change the tense in this statement. I am still in love with her.
I do not feel the void even though I know we won’t be able to see her singing — ever. I feel petty, though, for having downsized her by giving significance to her not so noble qualities. I feel guilty of being ungrateful to her. I wish I had the magnanimity of not adulterating her true essence. I wish I had realised this when I could still show my tears to her. I wish, tai, you were just around the corner.