A tribute site for Pandit Nikhil Banerjee
(14th October 1931 - 27th January 1986)
I dedicate this page to our friends Swati and Ratan Mukherjee,
who trusted us with their beloved brother/brother-in-law.
Their daughter Sheema, here accompanying her uncle,
has her own web site.
is Ratan accompanying his beloved friend/cousin/brother-in-law.
inside a card, that I wrote to Ratan for his 90th birthday (1st January 2020).
A truly remarkable film tribute has been created to Panditji's memory
by Steven Baigel. With Steven's permission I have included his work
- a veritable labour of love - at the foot of this web page.
(In March 2019 - visiting a sister who lives in Mill Valley CA - I had the
great pleasure of meeting up with Steven for several hours...)
A note of Saturday 6th May 2023. Only today have I discovered
Alan Tootill's wonderful tribute site. I am in awe. What he wrote in his
Appreciation and Biography section rings so many bells for me.
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee was the most wonderful musician I ever heard. I first heard him in
London on October 22nd 1983,
London on November 24th 1984,
and finally in Dublin on June 21st 1985. In that year Pandit Nikhil Banerjee gave only three concerts in Europe: in London, in Bath, and here - at our invitation - in Dublin, on European Music Day.
I do not believe I will ever again hear such a musician. How fortunate all of us were, those of us who saw him play.
Before reading further, you might wish to hear Panditji's beautiful, gentle voice in this thirteen minute
Interview with Nikhil Banerjee. I myself have an audio file for this interview, one which I used to have up on the earlier version of this web page, but I haven't been able (yet) to re-insert it in my updated site. I would prefer to have my own insert, and not rely on some external reference which could vanish at some future date.
Addendum December 2022. Two delightful recent internet discoveries of mine has been these:
(1). This truly wonderful, moving, Doordarshan live recording of Pt. Nikhil Banerjee Sitar Maestro, which is beautifully introduced by Shubhendra Rao.
Incidentally, the young tanpura accompanist, in the Dhun section at the end, is Nikhil Banerjee's elder daughter Mita Tagore.
(2). Although I cannot speak Bengali (it has a beautiful script, immedaitely recognisable from seeing films of Satyajit Ray), nevertheless I was delighted to come upon this
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee interview in Bengali. It is lovely to hear him speak in his first language, and to hear him sing in Bengali near the end.
The song near the end is evidently Tagore's Tomaye Ami Peyechigo Jatobaar, sung
here, "a rare recording of Legendary Sitarist Pandit Nikhil Banerjee".
When I began this tribute site to Panditji in the summer of 1999 - when I first obtained a web site - a web search for 'Nikhil Banerjee' brought up only two returns: the wonderful
Raga Records site
in New York, and my own. Now, years later, any web search will bring thousands of returns.
This web page contains the following sections:
A photograph taken by Ira Landgarten.
Panditji's visit to Dublin, June 21st-23rd, 1985.
Dr Barra Boydell's Irish Times review of Panditji's concert.
In July 1985 Ratan Mukherjee informed us that...
Unpublished obituary notice that I submitted to the Irish Times.
Fifteen protographs from Panditji's concert, two privately taken (by me)
photographs, and a photograph taken by Ira Landgarten.
Review - from the New York Times - of Nikhil Banerjee's last concert outside India, in Carnegie Hall, November 1985.
An important, extended article on Nikhil Banerjee by Nilaksha Gupta, together with a note of appreciation by Anindya Banerjee, both articles from the Calcutta Telegraph, February 1986.
Reflections on Nikhil Banerjee by Mohan Nadkarni (amongst other things, the biographer of the legendary vocalist Pandit Bhimsen Joshi), from the ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA, MARCH 9, 1986.
A (text) interview with Ira Landgarten.
Some Nikhil Banerjee links (I will add others as the years go by):
Anandaroop Bhattacharya used to have a wonderful tribute site, which vanished, then reappeared, but then, sadly, vanished yet again (in October 2002). Does anyone know anything about what happened to Anandaroop's site? Please let me know if you have any information about him.
Addendum December 2022. By a stroke of great luck I have just been able to rediscover Anandaroop Bhattacharya's tribute site (as it stood in 2001), and it may be of independent interest to readers to know how I managed to do so.
I do not know how well known is the truly remarkable, non-profit website Wayback Machine, but I will illustrate by an example how it works: my first website (which no longer exists, it was at my place-of-work) had this address www.spd.dcu.ie/johnbcos. Now, if I enter that no-longer-existing address in the above Wayback Machine home page, I discover that the earliest occasion on which I made a link to Anandaroop Bhattacharya's tribute site is on the 11th February 2001, and
here it is.
The following photograph of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee is from Ira Landgarten's wonderful web site,
(one which I unreservedly recommend). The photograph was taken by Ira Landgarten in Panditji's music room at his Calcutta home in 1973.
Two letters (below), one from
the other from
A photo of Pandits Nikhil Banerjee and Satyajit Ray
According to Andrew Robinson's biography (1989, my copy a gift, in 1989, from my wife Mary) of Satyajit Ray, p.280, "[Ray's documentary] The Inner Eye, by contrast, is a small masterpiece... . Binode Bihari Mukherjee, its subject, was Satyajit's inspiration at Santiniketan [where Tagore established his famous university] ... ", and at p.282, "He [Ray] has given the whole of himself to The Inner Eye, including his marvellous feeling for music. This really comes to the fore at the end, with a stirring, radiant composition on sitar by Nikhil Banerjee.
The Inner Eye is viewable at Youtube.
A little note from Catherine (our younger daughter), from the end of May 1985, about one month before Panditji's visit.
Some final (at the initial time of writing) remarks.
A later addition. Steven Baigel's moving film tribute to Nikhil Banerjee.
Added early/mid 2023. Extended commentary on the contents of our concert programme.
In Ferbuary 1985 my wife (Mary) and I arranged with Ratan Mukherjee to bring the great Indian sitarist Pandit Nikhil Banerjee to Ireland. (Ratan Mukherjee is married to Nikhil Banerjee's sister Swati, and Ratan's sister, Purabi, studied for 35 years with Ustad Amir Khan, the renowned Indian
classical singer. See
Nikhil Banerjee's thoughts on the music of Amir Khan, and
of Panditji, Ustad Amir Khan, and Purabi Mukherjee from 1970. At the end of June 1986 I had the for-a-lifetime memorable experience of hearing Purabi sing in the music room at the home of Ratan and Swati; Ratan accompanied on tabla, Sheema on tanpura, while Swati and I were their only listeners, sitting on the floor...)
The date on which we agreed turned out to be the 21st of June (which happened to be "European Music Day"; 1985 was designated "European Music Year"). I wanted Nikhil Banerjee's concert to be in the National Concert Hall, but it was already booked; instead I booked the Main Auditorium at Carysfort College (where I was then a member of its Mathematics Department), which venue I actually considered to be the best in Dublin for Indian classical music. Months in advance I invited Charles Acton to review the concert, but he was already engaged for that evening; instead the Irish Times reviewer was Dr. Barra Boydell (whose review is given below).
For Nikhil Banerjee's concert we produced a 16-page programme (Note of January 2023. I am trying to add it, page-by-page, at the foot of this web page) - dedicated, with her permission, to the renowned Indian classical dancer,
- which included a two-page essay
Understanding Indian Music, by the author and musicologist, Leslie Shepard (Irish Times obituary notice, 4th Sept 2004:
The programme contained advertisements from the
Chester Beatty Library and Gallery of Oriental Art
(and although he had never met me, nor knew anything about me, the then Director, Dr. Wilfrid Lockwood - who had come to Ireland from Cambridge University Library - offered to purchase page 2 of any future programme that we produced...), Waltons Musical Instruments Galleries, the Moghul Indian Restaurant, lapis limited, Irish National Insurance, Sharwood's, the Gramophone Company of India, Books from India (London), Collets (London), Indian Music and Dance Promotions Ltd. (ourselves), [name removed], Hodges Figgis Bookshop, and Ariane Art Gallery.
One page of the programme consisted of
from two short stories of Anita Desai's, and another page of
from a novel of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala's.
Some photographs from the concert are shown at the end of this page; the concert photographs were taken at the time without my knowledge. For the evening I had hired the College's technician - Rod Walsh - to look after the sound etc. Some days after the concert he gave me some photos that he took during the concert; I was amazed, as I had not seen any flash go off (and would have been shocked had anyone used flash...), but Rod informed me he had used 'fast film', something of which I had never heard until then. I bought the photos and negatives from him, and I regard the photographs as being available to anyone who wishes to copy or print them.
I have had many requests over the years for a recording of Panditji's concert, and I have had to tell that we made no recording. On Wednesday 12th June, the week before the concert, I received a phone call from the office of the Irish Tourist Board in Paris. They told me that French television had been attempting to find where we lived to arrange - if we were willing - to televise the concert, but we declined; we did not want any distractions during the concert.
Note of Thursday 1st December 2022. For many years I have wanted to scan the pages of that 16-page concert programme and place them up here in this site, and now I have finally decided to do so. Why has it taken me so long to do so? I suppose I felt that there wouldn't be anyone who was interested, but now I have decided that I owe it to those generous souls who decided to place advertisments in the programme, for it was their generousity that paid for most of the printing costs. There is a small story behind the placing of each one of those advertisments - worth recording in themselves perhaps - and I have inserted all at the end of this web page, immediately after my Steven Baigel corner.
Review from the Irish Times of Monday, June 24, 1985
Indian Music at Carysfort College, Blackrock
By Barra Boydell
It happens perhaps a handful of times in a lifetime, an experience such as we had on Friday evening at Carysfort College, Blackrock, when the outstanding Indian musician, Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), with Anindo Chatterjee (tabla) and Sheema Mukherjee (tanpura), performed. On European Music Day, when musicians throughout Europe have been playing, we enjoyed an experience which showed how truly international great music is on a worldwide scale, for though the traditions of Indian and of European music are far removed from each other, these performances brought us into contact with a common truth.
Nikhil Banerjee is distinguished from some sitar players perhaps more widely known in the West in that he does not tailor the length of his ragas to suit the supposed Occidental preference for shorter works, and also by the sheer brilliance of his technique and musical invention. In his playing, as in Anindo Chatterjee's, the world seemed contained in his fingertips.
Two ragas were played, Puriya Kalyan and Zila Khafi, both building up to breathtakingly beautiful exchanges between sitar and tabla. Although each raga lasted an hour, time did not exist while they played, and in the first I reached a state of ecstasy only to discover higher, unknown states as the ragas developed.
I am deeply grateful to John and Mary Cosgrave, who brought Nikhil Banerjee to this country. Hopefully, a return visit will be possible, which nobody who believes in music would want to miss."
Here is a
of the original review.
In July 1985, Ratan Mukherjee informed us that Nikhil Banerjee would perform for us again in Dublin in 1986, and indeed that he would mould his European concert dates around ours. Later that year we agreed a date with management in the National Concert Hall: Wednesday 22nd October 1986. It would have been my fourth time to have heard him in live performance.
Ratan Mukherjee phoned us on the evening of Tuesday 28th January 1986 to tell us that Nikhil Banerjee - his beloved brother-in-law - had died at his home on the previous day, having completed his morning music practice.
This photo of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee
is from Amigo Records (Sweden)
Unpublished Obituary Notice
(submitted to the Irish Times, Friday 31st January 1986)
Pandit Nikhil Banerjee, one of India's greatest and most loved musicians, died at his home in Calcutta on Monday 27th January, following a heart attack. A gentle, modest, unassuming man of incomparable genius, his death will be mourned throughout the world by all lovers of Indian classical music.
Born in Calcutta on October 14th 1931, his first teacher was his father, Jitendra Nath Banerjee. A prodigy, he won the All-Bengal Sitar Competition at the age of nine, and then worked for All-India Radio. In 1947 he became a disciple of
Ustad Allauddin Khan,
the most renowned music teacher of North India, and a direct descendant of the famous saint-musician Miyan Tansen, one of the 'nine gems' of the court of the emperor Akbar the Great. Nikhil Banerjee studied with Allauddin Khan for seven years, living with him as a member of his family; he called him
'Baba' ('father'), and revered him. He was also a disciple of Allauddin Khan's son, the famous sarod master
Ustad Ali Akbar Khan.
His concert career began in 1954, and he toured outside India many times. In 1968 he was awarded the Indian Government title 'Padma Sri,' and was named outstanding musician of the year by the Sangeet
Natak Akademi (the National Academy of Performing Arts). His last public was in Calcutta on
Friday 24th January 1986; outside India it was in Carnegie Hall, New York, on Saturday 9th November 1985.
Last June he visited Dublin with his wife Roma and daughter Debdutta, his sister Mrs. Swati Mukherjee
and her husband Ratan, their daughter Sheema, and the tabla master Anindo Chatterjee.
Of his concert here, Michael Dervan wrote in the Sunday Tribune that he had conveyed a true flavour of the spirituality for which Indian music is renowned, and that despite the undemonstrative introverted
of his playing his concert had been enthusiastically received.
Writing in the Irish Times, Dr. Barra Boydell recorded this: "It happens perhaps a handful of times in a lifetime, an experience such as we had on Friday evening at Carysfort College, Blackrock, when the outstanding Indian musician, Nikhil Banerjee (sitar), with Anindo Chatterjee (tabla) and
Sheema Mukherjee (tanpura) performed ... Two ragas were played, "Puriya Kalyan" and "Zila Khafi", both building up to breathtakingly beautiful exchanges between sitar and tabla. Although each raga lasted an hour, time did not exist while they played, and in the first I reached a state of ecstasy only to discover higher, unknown states as the ragas developed...Hopefully, a return visit will be possible, which nobody who believes in music would want to miss."
We had just completed arrangements for such a return - he was to perform in the National Concert Hall on Wednesday 22nd October 1986 - when we heard the tragic news from Ratan Mukherjee. We are filled with grief at the thought that we will never again see his beautiful, thoughtful face. In common with all people who care about Indian music, we will be eternally grateful that we heard his music, and owe more to him than any words can express. Our thoughts are now for his wife and two daughters, and all his relatives. Their loss is beyond description."
(2.jpg has a flaw which needs to be seen to),
taken at Nikhil Banerjee's concert at Carysfort College on Friday 21st June 1985. These photographs were discretely taken - using fast film (no flash) (without my fore-knowledge) during the concert by Rod Walsh, who handled the sound system for the evening. Recently Ira Landgarten generously offered to transfer the negatives to jpg files, so that I could make them publicly available at my web site. A big thank you to Ira Landgarten (whose work on behalf of Raga Records will be known to you) for his time and effort.
Here are two privately taken photographs from that weekend: Mrs. Swati Mukherjee (Panditji's sister) with our daughters Catherine (left) and Marie (right). I took this photograph outside our home on the morning of Sunday 23rd June 1985, and here is a photograph of Sheema Mukherjee outside our home on the same morning.
I also make available
a photograph of Panditji with Anindo Chatterjee, taken by Ira Landgarten (and used with his permission) in Panditji's home in 1973.
I have typed the following from a hard copy of the original review.
The New York Times, Wednesday, November 13, 1985
Noted in Brief
The World Music Institute and New Audiences presented the Indian sitarist Nikhil Banerjee and a troupe of seven professional folk musicians from the Thar Desert of Nowthwest India at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, providing an inspiring evening of music. It was difficult to imagine any better-known Indian performers presenting a program more vital, kaleidoscopic and moving than this one.
The desert musicians, who performed first, were members of the Langas and Manghaniyars, two castes of folk musicians prevalent in the arid northern province of Rajasthan. Together and individually, they filled the hall with bold, ringing voices and lively instrumental music of a sort one finds mostly in the wide open spaces of deserts and steppes.
Sadique Khan weilded a pair of wooden clappers or castanets called khartal with virtuosity and canny showmanship while singing in a commandingly outgoing manner, though the melismatic fluency of the young Bundu Khan made him the evening's outstanding vocalist. Karim Khan's solo on the murali, a single-reed horn with two fingering-pipes and a drone chamber, and the satara double-flutes played by the same musician and by Mehardin Khan in duets, enlivened the concert with music that was melodically and texturally ravishing, and ably supported by the supple drumming of Ramjan Khan. The other musicians distinguished themselves on several varieties of bowed lutes, with Sakar Khan's percussive playing of the kamaycha suggesting a historical link between this ancient bowed instrument and the modern plucked lute - the sarod - played by Ali Akbar Khan.
Nikhil Banerjee, following this intensely upbeat opening with a classical raga, proved himself a master of the sitar. His long, gorgeous alap, the meditative opening exposition of the raga, demonstrated that in the proper hands, the sitar can be as subtle an instrument as the veena, its extremely ancient ancestor. And later, as he played cat-and-mouse with the virtuostic tabla drummer Zakir Hussain, the extraordinary fluidity and assurance of his rhythmic ideas and phrasing set a pace that would have left most of the international "stars" of Indian music far behind.
Articles by Nilaksha Gupta (three and a half pages) and Anindya Banerjee (one and a half pages) from the Calcutta Telegraph of February 1986.
Page 1 scan,
Page 2 scan,
Page 3 scan,
Page 4 scan,
and Page 5 scan.
Those pages were sent to me in a letter of 24th June 2005 from our friend Ratan Mukherjee.
Article by Mohan Nadkarni (I am grateful to Ashi and Nishi Doshi - twin daughters of Ambassador Kiran Doshi and Mrs Doshi - who gave me the original article in 1986). Because this two page article appeared in large page format (A3 size) I had to split each page in two for scanning purposes.
First page, top half.
First page, bottom half.
Second page, top half.
Second page, bottom half.
(Addendum December 2022. A delightful recent internet discovery of mine has been this treasure trove: (what might be called)
The Collected Writings of Mohan Nadkarni. The site has an especially good search facility; for example, entering 'Nikhil Banerjee' in the 'Search for' box, and clicking on 'Search', brings up
this page, a more readable version of the original ILLUSTRATED WEEKLY OF INDIA, MARCH 9, 1986 article, the one I multiply scanned above.)
The text of an (extraordinary) interview with Ira Landgarten, the day before Nikhil Banerjee's last U.S. performance at Carnegie Hall, New York (1985). From booklet accompanying Raga CD-207 (Purabi Kalyan). Copyright 1991 Ira Landgarten.
Some months after Panditji died I conceived the idea of arranging a memorial concert here in Dublin. Anyone who really knows Indian music will understand why there was only one appropriate person I could ask: Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, the legendary sarodiya.
Unfortunately, although I devoted much time to this dream, it all fell through by the end of April 1987, and I decided to stop altogether. (One day I will write up an account of this, as much for my own sake as anyone else's.)
In the course of planning, however, I went ahead with work on the printed programme, one which I wanted to be really special. Again, anyone who knows India's extraordinarily rich culture (indeed, world culture) will understand why I wrote to Satyajit Ray to ask if he would kindly provide an introduction for my proposed Nikhil Banerjee memorial programme. Satyajit Ray
wrote to me.
I had always felt badly that I had never written to Anita Desai to tell her I had used (with permission from her publishers) music-related quotations from two of her stories in Nikhil Banerjee's June 1985 concert programme. Then, early in 1993, a friend of a friend was going to India to interview some leading fiction writers, and when I heard that one of those was going to be Anita Desai, I asked my friend's friend if she would present to Anita Desai a copy of the programme, together with a letter of explanation from me. Anita Desai wrote to me
and since some might have difficulty in reading the faint script, I reproduce it here:
Dear John Cosgrave, I was in London last week (for the filming of a book I wrote called "In Custody") when the concert programme you sent me arrived in the post. I'm afraid I did not meet the friend who brought it to India for me but now that I'm in England (writing, in a small cottage in
Cornwall, for a few months) I wanted to write and thank you for sending it, and tell you how [unclear] I was in the concert you arranged. I have of course heard Nikhil Banerjee play and been to several recitals he gave in India, and I can quite understand your enthusiasm for his playing which had such purity, integrity and dignity. You might be interested to know that the score for the film "
In Custody" has been composed by two Indian musicians you may know - Zakir Hussain, the tabla player, and Sultan Khan, the sarangi player. The sound resordist for the film was an admirer of Sultan Khan's and was planning to film a concert he was to give in unbelievably, - the Ellora caves. I am sorry you have folded up your company but can imagine how difficult it is to organise a concert of Indian music in Dublin (a city I visited for the first time last summer). Still, I am glad it brought Nikhil Banerjee to Ireland. With my best wishes, Sincerely, [Signed...] (ANITA DESAI)
One day near the end of May 1985, about one month before Panditji's visit here, we were sitting in our kitchen, behind closed doors, talking quietly about our concern at the poor sale of tickets. We heard a sound from a door, saw that something had been pushed underneath, and heard some footsteps going away... This is what was pushed under the door:
and three single pound notes from our then just ten-year old daughter Catherine. I am proud that our daughter could write such a note.
I have kept that note all these years inside a (wonderful) biography by Elizabeth de Jong-Kessing
(front cover scan,
back cover scan)
(whose daughter was the remarkable
Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan).
(Addendum December 2022. This wonderful woman, Noor-un-Nisa Inayat Khan, was the deserved subject of a
BBC Great Lives episode in December 2021.)
In later years I
wrote on the back of that note.
Almost one month later, after his concert, Panditji paid us the honour of having a meal at our home (we cooked for two days, all Indian food). With him were his wife Roma and their younger daughter Debdutta, Ratan and Swati Mukherjee, Sheema and Anindo, together the Indian Ambassador Kiran Doshi (who offered use much assistance) and his family, and a small number of friends.
I can still hear the laughter of our daughters Marie and Catherine, and Debdutta as they played with a balloon in the hallway late that Friday night.
Panditji's love for his guru Ustad Allauddin Khan is legendary (and I had the great good fortune to hear of it from Panditji himself, in our own home, on the afternoon after his concert).
In the room in which Panditji prepared himself before his concert, I placed a copy of Jotin Bhattacharya's biography of Panditji's guru, with flowers on either side. Here is the
cover of that book of that note,
which Panditji saw. I gave the book to Sheema as a gift, and got another copy later, the one which you see here.
Parting on the Sunday afternoon is a memory for a lifetime.
Here are those eleven truly wonderful videos made by Steven Baigel. The italicized text is Steven's:
" This is a short excerpt from my 80 minute unfinished documentary film That Which Colors The Mind, on the life and music of the incomparable Indian classical music sitarist Nikhil Banerjee. The film (shot many years ago) stalled for a number of years largely due to lack of funding, especially for archival rights as well as other issues. There is much low resolution footage as a result of never finding the funding to gain access to the high resolution. Many people have inquired over the years about the status of the film so I thought to start releasing short segments (imperfect as they are) from the film that can be viewed on Vimeo.
Some final words on this project: I began this film with the most humble, loving, and sincerest intentions, to bring to the world some light on the life and music of Pandit Nikhil Banerjee. I have often been asked why hasn't the film been finished? Why can't you raise the necessary money? When can I get a dvd copy? This is not the place to get into depth about all the obstacles I faced in trying to make this film.
This is admittedly a very imperfect film with many flaws, but at the same time I do believe it serves a certain cultural and historical importance. A combination of my own limited resources, be they creative, intellectual, questionable fundraising tenacity, as well as being overwhelmed by the many disappointments, frustrations, broken promises, and rejections I experienced along the journey is in part why the film was never properly finished. I invested many thousands of my own dollars and many thousands of hours of my own time into making this project. I received no financial assistance and with few exceptions, very little logistic help from anybody.
The film sadly languished for many years partially finished because I essentially lost the heart to continue, and then eventually I decided I had to finish it at least in some state for the select few who would actually appreciate and possibly benefit from the effort. Initially I was looking for worldwide distribution and broadcast because I naively thought there should be a global audience for Indian classical music, and more specifically the music and life of Nikhil Banerjee. But I came to learn that there was very little interest beyond the passionate and dedicated few.
I want to apologize to everybody for the film's shortcomings as well as the long delay in getting the various segments out so they could be viewed. The bulk of the film was shot 20 years ago. I hope soon to re-stitch the segments together and put them up on YouTube as an unfinished, non-commercial, basically personal celebration of the life and music of Nikhil Banerjee, as his life model and music have had such a profound impact on my life. It is my personal thank you to him.
Photographs used were what I was able to find many years ago when the film was still in production. Since then many others have surfaced that I wish I could have included in the film. Unfortunately I do not have the names of most the photographers, so any help in identifying them would be appreciated so that I can give proper credit where due.
I want to offer a very special thank you to all those who, without their support and contribution, this film could not have been made, especially those who took time to sit for my interviews. And most especially, my heartfelt thanks to Smt. Roma Banerjee and Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, because without them this film would not exist.
Berkeley, CA USA "
1. Introduction: The life and music of Nikhil Banerjee
2. Indian Classical Music
6. Practice & Performance
7. The Inner Man
8. To the West
9. In the West / Teaching
10. Family / Last Years
A final word here from myself. I believe that Steven Baigel has performed an incalculable service to all lovers of the music of Nikhil Banerjee, and I urge anyone who views Steven's work to write to him to express their gratitude, so that he will know that what he has done is appreciated and valued. His email is in the public domain, and is this: [email protected]
Steven's physical address is also public domain, and is this:
2034 Blake St. Suite 5
Berkeley, California 94704
USA Tel: (510) 841-5599
Addendum January 2023. For many years I have been intending to scan the pages of the 16-page programme which we had printed for Pandit Nikhil Banerjee's June 1985 concert, but, since the pages were slightly more than A4 size, I couldn't scan them satisfactorily, and was reluctant to place imperfect scans on this webpage... However, in December 2022, I managed to get them scanned to my satisfaction, and I now make them public.
There is a story behind every single page, and readers may find something of interest in reading how each page came to be.
The front page. This page simply dictated itself; it had to look like this. This copy was autographed here at our home after the concert.
Page 2. Here I had a stroke of great fortune... I approached the antiquarian rug dealer Peter Linden, hoping that he would take page 2 of our programme. Peter declined, but he suggested I try something that would not have occurred to me: why not ask Dr. Wilfrid Lockwood (the then Director of the renowned Chester Beatty Library; prior to his appointment at the Chester Beatty, Dr. Lockwood had been in charge of Oriental books at Cambridge University) if he would take page 2.
I can remember exactly how I felt at that time: I'll try this, even though I will fail (why? Well Dr. Lockwood has never met me, wouldn't know who I was, and probably - like everyone else I had approached - would not know who Nikhil Banerjee was...)
I phoned the Chester Beatty, asked if I could speak with the Director, and was put through to him... I launched into my (by then) standard speech: Hello, my name is John Cosgrave, I'm a mathematician, and I'm trying to sell advertisment space in a concert programme that I want to produce for the visit here to Dublin of a very great Indian musician called Nikhil Banerjee; have you heard of him?
It would be impossible to describe the absolute joy that I felt when Dr. Lockwood told me that not only did he know who Nikhil Banerjee was, but he had heard him many times! Where? In India...
Dr. Lockwood asked about the structure of the programme, and wanted to know about any future plans I might have.
I told him about my plans for the structure of the programme (it was exactly what you see here), and told him that if everything worked out well this first time then, in the future, it would be my hope to bring to Ireland the great Bhatatanatyam dancer
Alarmel Valli, and - looking further ahead - the remarkable sarangi maestro
Ram Narayan, ...
Hearing all of this, Dr. Lockwood then astounded me by saying not only would he take page 2, but he would take page 2 of every future programme. (I am writing this in January 2023, some thirty-eight years after the event, but I can still feel the joy of that day...)
Page 3. I contributed this page myself, and at the foot of it is the dedication I made (with hew written permission) to the great Bharatanatyam dancer Alarmel Valli.
A diversion to explain why I included that dedication. My initial interest interest in Indian music goes back to April 1966 when I bought the LP Yehudi Menuhin At Fifty (I still have it, after all these years), in which Menuhin spoke about his musical life, and he enthused about his discovery of Indian music when he travelled to India in the 1950s... , and he gave us an example of what he particularly liked: an excerpt from an LP of Ravi Shankar's (I had never heard any Indian music, nor of Ravi Shankar (not even of his association with George Harrison of The Beatles), until then), a part of Raga Ramkali... I was completely bowled over (the rhythm...) ... and as soon as I could I bought the full Ravi Shankar LP.
I listened to that LP, but it meant absolutely nothing to me...
In the academic year 1968-69 - while still a student in London - I attended two concerts of Ravi Shankar's, one (with Yehudi Menuhin) in the Albert Hall, the other in the Royal Festival Hall, but again neither meant anything to me...
Then, in January-March 1980, there was an eight-part BBC TV Series The Spirit Of Asia, produced by Michael McIntyre (not the comedian with the same name), and presented by the renowned David Attenborough; the fourth episode was devoted to India... In the middle of that fourth episode there was a quite extraordinary segment exhibiting the art of this Alarmel Valli... , and I was transfixed...
This led to a pre-occupation with India (readers will not be interested in the details), and not long after it led down this wonderful journey to not only discovering the music of Nikhil Banerjee, but to bringing him here to Dublin for his memorable 21st June 1985 concert.
In the early days of planning this 16-page concert programme I was already thinking ahead to the following years (would I alternate musician, dancer, musician, ... ?). Looking back on all of that now (2023), I wonder how I had the energy to think about doing this, as my full-time job was Lecturer in Mathematics... But, I was young, I was just thirty-nine, had a supportive and loving wife (thankfully still with me)... , and everything seemed possible.
My immediate thought was that since Alarmel Valli had been the true spark for my interest in Indian music and dance, then I would write to her to inform of my plans, and to my very great joy I received a three-page hand-written letter from her; here are those pages:
page 2 and
Page 4. Growing up down the country in the 1950s (no TV, no phone, no...) we relied on the radio for everything outside our small town (the common lot of everyone at that time), and one of the radio programmes that we all heard - once a week - was
The Walton's Programme, with its slogan "If you feel like singing, do sing an Irish song" - presented by the Leo Maguire.
One fine day in March 1985 I walked into the Dun Laoghaire branch of Walton's music shop, and launched into my well-tried speech (I was like a non-stop recording from many failed efforts) on the young woman behind the counter: Hello, my name is... , and I am bringing a great Indian musician called Nikhil Banerjee to Ireland in June... , 16-page concert programme, ... , would Walton's take a half-page advertisement ... ? She: yes, we will... . 'She' was Eorna Walton, one of the Walton family, and she made a generous offer to sell our concert tickets for no commission. (Eorna became a friend, and we own two of her paintings, and a watercolour which she gifted to us.)
And now, the Moghul Indian Restaurant. We had an Indian neighbour who owned two Indian restaurants, one of which was managed by
Fuzail Waris (who lived just across the street from us). Fuzail - whose first language was the poetic Urdu - hailed from Lucknow, and his family knew the renowned Begum Akhtar (I used to know some lines of one of her famous ghazals). In late 1984 Fuzail struck out on his own, and opened his Moghul restaurant in nearby Bray; he took the half-page space that you see here. We were on friendly terms with Fuzail, but, when the Moghul folded, Fuzail vanished out of our lives, and we never heard from him afterwards.
I have just found
this photograph, one taken on the occasion (late 1984) of the opening of Fuzail's restaurant. Left to right it shows our friends Tina, Peadar (of the Chieftains) and Nuala Mercier, my wife Mary, Felicity, Fuzail, and myself.
Felicity (who spent years in India) bought the very first ticket for Nikhil Banerjee's concert, and was sitting with us at our home on the afternoon of Wednesday 12th May 1985 when I received a telephone call from the office of the Irish Tourist Board in Paris: are you the John Cosgrave who is bringing Nikhil Banerjee to Dublin to perform next Friday 21st?. Yes, why? French television have been trying to find you as they want to send over a film crew to record the concert; will you permit that? They consider it the greatest musical event in Ireland for that day [being European Music Day, a French idea I believe.] I said 'no', on the grounds that I wouldn't want TV lights etc distracting from the music...
When I subsequently told Ratan of this he said that I had done the right thing.
Page 5. The text in these two pages (5 and 6) was contributed by my friend, the renowned
Leslie Shepard (unfortunately this Wikipedia page does scant justice to the extent and depth of his knowledge and experience). It might be of interest to record how I came to be a friend of Leslie's.
By early 1983 I had a considerable number of Indian music LPs (eventually as many as 400, and innumerable CDs) and a small number of books on Indian music (Peggy Holroyde's The Music of India being especially memorable) and dance. I heard on the grapevine that there was another devotee of Indian music in Dublin, one named Leslie Shepard. I looked him up in the telephone directory, phoned him, introduced myself... , Leslie had heard of me on the grapevine, he had been intending phoning me, and ...
We agreed that I would call on him, and I set off on my bike - on the 15th of April 1983 - with the four books on Indian music that I then owned - intending to lend them to him - but not only did Leslie possess copies of those already, but a huge number of others besides. Indeed, he owned some three thousand books on musicology; his house was crammed with books, in every room, floor to ceiling. His home was a veritable wonderland for bibliophiles.
I can only partially report on Leslie's love for matters Indian which began with his practice of Yoga in his teenage years; then he heard the rudra veena playing of Swami Parvatikar in a recording made by the renowned musicologist Alain Daniélou, following which Leslie travelled to India, hoping to meet this Swami... Now, one couldn't make this up, but on his first evening in India Leslie found himself in a hall somewhere, and who should be singing across the space? Yes, Swami Parvatikar... Leslie went to introduce himself, but Swami was in the middle of a seven-year vow of silence (only singing permitted), and - what a very great pity that Leslie himself did not write a fuller account in his own lifetime - it was agreed that Leslie would become the Swami's personal secretary. They communicated by exchanging written notes: Leslie had boxes full of them in the loft of his house here in Dublin, and I know it had been a longterm plan of his to go through them with a view to editing them... Sadly that never happened, Leslie always had so much to do, it would have taken several lifetimes to do...
Leslie was a friend of Moses Asch (do I need to say who he was?), the founder of FOLKWAYS RECORDS (do I need to say who they were?), and one Leslie's labours-of-love was the make the Folkways recording #FR 8970, The Sounds of YOGA-VEDANTA, on which Swami Parvatikar performs on his rudra vina. Here is a three-page essay that Leslie wrote about Swami Parvatikar:
second page, and
published in Vol 3, No. 5 of Easter Horizon in May 1964.
I am only too aware that I have only superficially given a background to explain why I invited Leslie to contribute his two-page essay to our Nikhil Banerjee programme.
Page 7. First, lapis limited is now Lapis Jewellers, and its owner was/is the geologist Pauric D'Arcy, a brother of our dear (late) friend Proinsias Ní Dhorchaí. Although I had only ever had fleeting contact with Pauric, he generously bought this half-page.
At that time our next door neighbour was Giles Kerr, then working at the Irish National Insurance Company, and Giles' company also generously supported us.
Page 8. Anindo Chatterjee. When Anindo was with us I asked him (at lunch in our home on the day after the concert) about his early studies... he won a tabla contest as a child, one judged by the renowned Jnan Prakash Ghosh. Anindo told me that, after the decision, J.P.G. sat Anindo up on his knee and asked him: would you like to study with me?... There could only be one answer!
On the morning of Friday 21st June - heading from the airport to their hotel - driving along the Strand Road in Sandymount, I asked Ratan if he knew the Ragas that Nikhil Banerjee would play that evening... Ratan told me that Nikhil Banerjee himself never knew until the last moment what he would play... His practice was to be at the theatre for perhaps two hours beforehand, sit quietly - thinking of his beloved guru [teacher, the great Ustad Allauddin Khan] - and then, depending on his mood, decide what he would play... At this point Anindo chipped in and said something like: Yes, John, that's what it's like... you were at his London concert in 1983, yes? Did you see how nervous I was when we emerged at the start?
I had to confess that I hadn't noticed (how could I, I was half-way back in the Queen Elizabeth), and Anindo continued: we were just stepping onto the platform when Nikhilda asked me to play a rare fifteen-beat cycle divided four, four, two, two, one-and-a-half, one-and-a-half!!!
On the Sunday, about to fly back to London, Anindo told me that he was about to accompany Ravi Shankar on a tour in Japan, and he kindly offered to put in a good word for us with Ravi Shankar should we want to invite him here. I thanked Anindo for thinking well of us, but declined.
After Nikhil Banerjee died, Anindo wrote to me (I still have his letter): " Except Nikhilji I am playing with all the artists now. But he was my favourite musician ever, I played maximum concerts with him. Every day I listen his music, God is so strict with us that he took Nikhildao so early from all of us... "
[Addendum. When Nikhil Banerjee was a child - in the early days of his becoming the incomparable sitarist that he grew to be - he used to be partnered on tabla by his younger brother Tapan, who was being tutored by Jnan Prakash Ghosh. Here is an early photograph of the brothers standing either side of their grandfather Rajendralal Bandyopadhyay (= Banerjee):
Page 9. I first saw Sheema on BBC TV, with her uncle Nikhil Banerjee and Anindo. On Sunday mornings there was a regular broadcast called
Nai Zindagi Naya Jeevan, and I started to view it sometime in 1981, after I had discovered Indian music/dance. I saw her backstage - as I've described elsewhere - at her uncle's 22nd October 1983 Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, and then I met her at her parent's home, when I visited Ratan to have lunch with his family a couple of months before the June 1985 concert.
After lunch we went into the music room - the one in which Nikhil Banerjee practiced when he visited - sat on the floor, and Ratan asked me if there was something that I would like Sheema to play... I tentatively suggested Kedar (the raag that had first make me fall in love with the playing of her uncle). Ratan said that it would be some time yet before Sheema could take on Kedar, could I suggest something else... I suggested Manj Khamaj (a beautiful work, one that would be anyone's introduction to Indian music)
Page 10. Thank you Sharwood's; you didn't know who we were, but you unhesitatingly supported us.
Page 11. I had hoped that the renowned publishers William Heinemann would purchase this page - I told them that I wanted to fill the page with the R.K. Narayan and Anita Desai excerpts that are on this page - but they wouldn't, instead they only granted me permission to quote these excerpts.
There was a reason for 'First Choice' (puzzlingly) appearing at the top of this page (I did also have 'Second Choice', ... ): I was in a race to give materials to our printer, and while I awaited hearing from various publishers as to whether or not they would pay for purchasing a page, or even just grant permission to quote excerpts (without payment), I had to have a menu in place for our printer. Heinemann wouldn't pay for this page, but the contents of this page was indeed my first choice... When I instructed our printer over the phone to use the page headed 'First Choice', he inadvertently also printed the heading...
Page 12. Ah, this was a special page for me... Of course I expected that the Gramophone Company of India would purchase this half-page, and Arvind Srivastava - its very supportive London Branch Manager - bought this half-page. Also, whenever I was in London in those years I always headed for the wonderful BOOKS FROM INDIA, and its owner (a Mr. Vidyarthi) also supported us. Sadly, BOOKS FROM INDIA on Museum Street no longer exists, and London is now a poorer place.
About one week after Nikhil Banerjee died, Arvind Srivastava (who didn't yet know that Nikhil Banerjee had agreed to visit us later that year, on 22nd October) thoughtfully phoned to tell me... , and later the following year he generously sent me a gift copy of the Gramophone Company's IN MEMORIAM LP, a (wonderful) live recording (1978) of Raga Hem-Behag, Pandit Nikhil Banerjee accompanied on tabla by Pandit Kishen Maharaj.
Page 13. Ah Collets, that wonderful London institution... It, too, no longer exists.
When I used to visit there the main people in the downstairs 'folk' section were Jill Cook and Piers Harker. I can recall phoning Collets from Dublin on the eve of a visit to my brothers in London: Piers, what do you have in the way of Indian recordings?, and he would fetch what they had, read titles to me over the phone, and... Okay, Piers, I'll take that and that and that... , and I'll pick them up in a few days time. Ah, those were the days... . Where are they now, Jill and Piers?
Our own advertisment space. Because the cost of printing the programme was 750 pounds, I needed to sell as much space as I could, but... getting to the deadline the printer had set for me, and, near the end still having one unsold half-page, the obvious solution (to complete this page 13) was to fill it with our own insert, and - dipping into my Indian books, and opening significant pages - one passage simply jumped out at me (it contained - for me - the very definition of Nikhil Banerjee): the one below, taken from Raghava R. Menon's The sound of Indian Music (INDIAN BOOK COMPANY, NEW DELHI, 1976), a book that I bought in Books from India on the 19th of September 1983 (almost one month before I heard Nikhil Banerjee in his Queen Elizabeth Hall recital).
Page 14. I had hoped that Granada Publishers would purchase this page - I told them that I wanted to fill the page with the Ruth Prawer Jhabvala excerpt on this page - but they wouldn't, instead they only granted me permission to quote.
Page 15 . I have omitted this page... I knew the person who bought this full page... I was promised a poem in Irish - with a translation into English - by a well-known poet (one, incidentally, with an interest in Indian music). Every time I asked for the text I was promised, and promised, and promised... Eventually, with days to go to our printer's deadline, I was given something quite different, something so tasteless, that I was sorely tempted not to use it. But, beggars can't be choosers.
Page 16 . Ah, Hodges-Figgis, Dublin's oldest bookshop (since 1768). Because Nikhil Banerjee's concert was going to be in Carysfort College (where I worked at the time), and since Hodges-Figgis had an outlet in the college, then it seemed obvious to me that H.F. would advertise with us... I approached the then General Manager of H.F. (I regret I cannot remember his name, though I am currently attempting to determine it) and asked... At first he declined, saying that they had already spent their advertising budget for the year... I asked if he would listen to a counter-proposition, and he kindly listened to me: India's greatest living musician will be performing in the College on that evening, the place will be packed - [little did I realise that on the eve of the concert my wife and I would have to remove one hundred seats from the concert venue, and that we would only sell 260 seats (90 in outlets around Dublin, plus ones I sold myself)] - if you lay out tables in the foyer with Indian authors (Anita Desai, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, R.K. Narayan, ... ), Indian cookery books (Madhur Jaffrey, Meera Taneja, ... [books that I used myself]), Indian history, ... then you will have huge sales... .
He gave in (perhaps to get me out of his office!), and bought this half page... It was deeply satisfying after the event - when I called at H.F. to collect payment for their advertisement - that he told me the evening had been a commercial success for them, and that he would happily advertise again if we ever did another concert.
And finally, the Ariane Art Gallery. Walking along Molesworth St. one day, I passed this small Art Gallery (I had already visited several, without success), and went inside. The owner was a young woman, and I launched into my sales pitch... , I told her that this was my first time ever to do anything like this... and she said 'yes', that this gallery was her first venture too, and so we were both starting out... .
To my shame I cannot remember her name (it would be in an accounts book that I kept at the time, I found it here at home recently, but despite searching up and down, I simply cannot find it); I think she may have been Karen Nugent. To my shame, too, I didn't keep in contact with her to follow her gallery's success... . It no longer exists, and I would dearly love to know something of her life's path.
Final Comments on concert programme. Text to be added ...