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‘Guru charan nitha laaabho’    

It was the year 1982; I was a fresh graduate in Chemistry from Bombay University- a slightly confused young lady, on the threshold of several avenues which beckoned me. Should I pursue a course as a research scholar in Organic Chemistry- my first love? Or should I throw myself into the heady, exciting and challenging world of avant-garde theatre (a brief but intensely fascinating stint with the talented Shri Jayadev Hattangady’s theatre group had thrown my well-ordered universe topsy turvy.) Or should I pursue a path in Classical Music- which has always been a guiding ‘dhruva-taara’ for me all along , steadfast but so subtle that, I, myself was not wholly aware of just how much, a life within and around music meant to me.

Our family was privileged to be part of the extended circle of love and, of course, music that surrounded the Dagar family in Chembur-Bombay. My Guru, Ustad Zia Mohiuddin Dagar, the Rudra veena maestro had always been like a father to me. I sought his counsel, to guide me through my dilemma, to clear the confusion in my mind. It was his encouragement which helped me to decide the course of events which were to mould and channelise my life in a hitherto unforeseen direction.

Thus it was that I stood, awestruck, not to mention starry-eyed in the Department of Music at the SNDT College a few weeks later. I could hardly believe that I was seated across the table from the renowned Dr. Prabha Atre, someone who I had always admired from afar, whose voice and music had held me enthralled, like countless other music lovers . I was prepared to be faced with the challenges of pursuing a course for doing Masters in Music- a daunting task for me, with my background in Science. But I was totally unprepared for the warm encouragement that Prabhaji [ as I addressed her then] gave me to take up the challenge as it were. Such a great artiste, yet so simple and down to earth and someone who took pains to put me, a total stranger, at ease, that the path began to look clearer even before I had begun the journey.

The two years that I spent at the University, laid the foundation for the next phase of my life. I wanted to be a part of the musical heritage that Prabhatai has carved out in the rich tapestry of our Music.

It was a typically wet monsoon day in Bombay, the thunder storm outside, an apt reflection to the emotions churning within me. I was once again awe-struck, a trifle nervous, when I expressed my aspirations and dreams to Prabhatai. I hesitantly asked, “Would she guide me on the journey that I wished to embark upon? A journey that would enlighten, empower and enrich my life?” Once again I was totally unprepared for what followed. Not only Prabhatai, but also her parents Aai and Aaba enveloped me in a reassuring warm cocoon of love. In fact, one of my most cherished memories is the 'chai' that Aaba used to prepare with unfailing regularity after every session of riyaaz.

Prabhatai’s commitment to music in all its facets has always been absolute and uncompromising. Whether it is presenting a concert, working on a composition, or imparting knowledge- the dedication is always a 100 %. This diligence regarding every aspect of music, is a very important lesson that I have learnt from Prabhatai. She has always been a very generous guru, never holding back. In fact, if the question of ‘holding back’ ever arose, it would be on account of my [and I would safely assume, each and every one of her students] limitations to assimilate and absorb from the vast treasure trove of Prabhatai’s music. Besides the actual teaching of music, she has taught us how to focus on the aspect of presentation of a concert- the choice of ragas, the sequence of a recital, gently steering us through the intricacies of our ‘Sangeet-Mahasaagar’.

It has been a rich fulfilling journey over the past 22 years,and today as we celebrate the 75th birthday of our beloved Prabhatai, I would like to quote from her composition in Yaman Kalyan : “Guru Charana Nitha Laabho Prabho, Maangatha ek hi, daan tumhi so Prabho.” This strongly evocative bandish, very aptly expresses the anchoring role that a Guru plays in one’s life. Prabhatai has been and continues to be a pivot in my life. And I feel proud, honoured and privileged to be a part of this heritage and glorious tradition.

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