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At the heart of music

Dr. Ajit Pradhan revived the classical music listening culture in Patna through the Navras School of Performing Arts

Dr. Ajit Pradhan is Bihar’s first cardiac surgeon; he can also be credited with helping revive the tradition of listening to classical music in Patna, which was an important centre till the late 1950s. Bihar had its Darbhangaand Bettiah schools of Dhrupad, and the “thumri” of Gaya is acknowledged as one of the main thumri styles, and the pakhawaj tradition in Gaya is over 300 years old.

Musical core Dr. Ajit Pradhan  

The stature of the events was such that literally everyone significant in the world of performing musicians was invited annually to perform in Patna. Apparently, the common perception amongst musicians was that one had somehow failed in “riyaaz” if they were not invited to perform in Patna. Dr. Pradhan recalls hearing of rickshaw drivers who would refuse to ferry passengers, because they wanted to listen to Pt. Mallikarjun Mansur. Such were the discerning listeners of Patna.Slowly the big 10-day open air music festivals petered out in the 1970 and 80s. When Dr. Ajit Pradhan returned to India 21 years ago, he found the tradition of music had practically died out. His mother learnt from the great doyen of Gaya thumri, Pt .Ramuji Mishra, and the young Ajit was taught vocal music as a young boy. He then took up the sarod, learning from Pt. Brij Narayan; but gradually the demands of his hectic medical practise forced him to give up. In 2009, with his wife Anvita, Ajit set up the Navras School of Performing Arts which has hosted over 100 music and literary events in Patna. These included talks with writers, theme concerts, evenings of ghazals and “shayari”, even a fusion dance concert of flamenco and kathak where two Spanish chefs were flown in to create the required ambience.The Pradhans also held the first ever Festival of Literature on Music “Adab e Mausiqi” in September 2019, hoping that popularising books on music and musicians would spur interest in music too. Commenting wryly, the doctor said “my wife and I have gone personally to deliver cards to our friends homes inviting them to listen to the classical music concerts we organised; the culture of listening had simply died within a generation.” The two-day event featured several eminent musician authors, sessions on music gharanas and concerts.The second edition, will be hosted in the end of 2021. Since lockdown, Navras has organised over 20 online digital concerts featuring young talent including vocalists Ruchira Kedar, Brajeshwar Mukherji, Nirbhay Saxena, Prasad Khaparde, Kumar Mardur, Deboshree Bhattacharjee, and Ramakant Gaikwad, instrumentalists Parmanand Roy, Soumitra Thakur, Pratik Srivastav, Salil Bhatt and senior musicians including Waseem Ahmed Khan, Deepak Kshirsagar, Jayateerth Mevundi, and Bhuvanesh Komkali. Having no time restrictions in the concerts unlike most online offerings, the baithaks have a leisurely old world charm, an unhurried feel that is most satisfying. Artists feel reassured there are online listeners who are in no hurry; most concerts are around two hours. “I stipulate which Raga they are to perform so there is variety and no repetition. Also, I don’t expect free performances, as how can I respect the art without respecting the artiste,” said the heart surgeon with a big heart.

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