Saturday, September 27, 2014

Serenading guests with welcome songs ANAND OBEROI

In these days of assembly-line music stars and mimicry passing for talent, the simplicity of a soulfully folksy tune from a four-string Sarangi in the hands of a master artist comes as a rare treat. Gangtokians don’t have to travel far to be so serenaded and a walk to the Deorali Chorten area will set them up for an unplugged session by veteran Gainey, 55 year old Gopal Gandharva who has been attracting appreciation for the authentic and relaxing sounds he caresses out of his handcrafted Sarangi. He has been a regular at the Chorten grove for the past 15 years.
He has managed to retain his family heritage and keep the craft financially viable by creating what can only be called a ‘sustainable’ bank of patrons in the hundreds of tourists who visit the Chorten Monastery and neighbouring Namgyal Institute of Tibetology everyday and huddle around him to take home a photographic memory of this fading tradition. The music, of course, they carry in their hearts.
Gopal Gandharva was born in Rangpo after his parents moved here from Assam in the late 1950s looking for a better future in this valley of plentiful. When his father could no longer travel playing the Sarangi, Gopal, who never received a formal education, took over the family trade when he was just 14 years old.
“My father taught me the basics of the instrument and then there were other Gaineys from whom I learned more. I could not pay them money so my guru dakshina would be to carry their loads, wash and cook for them while they traveled to different areas performing,” recalls Gopal Gandharva who is now a veteran who can now play more than 300 tunes, including some French melodies which a group of visiting tourists shared with him.
A maestro in his own right, Gopal Gandharva can also play tunes in almost all local languages including Lepcha, Bhutia, Limbu, Manger, Rai and Gurung. And his skills don’t end here; he has also mastered several Hindi songs which he says are more popular with ‘domestic’ tourists.
“My job as a Gainey is to make people feel welcome and at home which is why I started playing the Sarangi at the Rangpo Tourist Guest House some 30 years back. It is from playing at the guest house that I knew I could make a living out of this inherited art which is when I decided that I would explore more opportunities,” he tells NOW!
It may also be mentioned that Gopal Gandharva is also one of the few folk musicians who is invited to play for the Chief Minister whenever he halts at the Rangpo tourist guest house.
Gopal Gandharva has already married off two of his daughters from earnings earned from his Sarangi and is now training five ‘chelas’ under him. While three of his pupils are from Pendam, two belong to the same caste as him. “I have been training them for the past three years and all of them have become experts,” he shares with pride while appreciating the initiative of Director, HRD, Shankar Dhakal who also gave him the opportunity to train as a folk music trainer at the Culture Department in Dimapur.
It may also be informed here that Gopal Gandharva has also passed the B-Major auditions organized by All India Radio in 2009. Since then he has been invited to play at various states including Orissa, Kolkata Chennai and New Delhi, which he says is the initiative taken by one Dr. Om Prakash Bharati of the Culture Department at Kolkata.
“Earlier, I used to play from house to house and door to door, but slowly I was motivated to play at hotels which is when my journey into folk music really started,” he recalls. However, he adds that unlike the earlier days, he is now no longer given the opportunity to perform outside the state since the Culture Department here now has its own set of people who are given preference. Similarly, he adds that it has been a long time since he even visited the AIR recording studio where he has already performed.
These days, Gopal Gandharva makes a reasonably earning on a daily basis during peak tourist season playing at two venues, one at Chorten monastery and the other at Rangpo Guest House complex, which is where he also lives with his wife. He further says that he tries to make it to Gangtok every morning but now since age is catching up on him, he misses a few days in a week and performs for arriving tourists at the Rangpo guest house whenever he stays back.

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