Gajananrao – A Connoisseur of Music
- by: Sudnya Patkar, (daughter of a well-known song and solo violinist Pt. Gajananrao Karnad pens a life portrait of her illustrious father).
Pandit Gajanan Madhav Karnad was born in a middle-class Chitrapur Saraswat Brahmin family on 28th April 1923. A distant relative visiting the Karnad family noticed the child would just not let go of the harmonium photo. He managed to get such a tiny instrument, which had a keyboard with just one octave. Family and friends were spellbound at this child prodigy who knew the musical notes so well without any formal training. Little Gajanan was a God-blessed blessed and music ran in his blood.
Gajananrao’s talent bloomed with the passing years:
As a child, he would attend music concerts and listen to great composers like Govind Rao Tembe. Buying tickets for such concerts was out of the question for this boy who came from a middle-class family, but he managed to squeeze into the auditorium and listen to the concert, sometimes by standing in the wings or sitting on the steps.
In one such program, there was a competition of young artists, but Gajanan failed to qualify as he was just seven. But his enthusiasm to participate was so much that he waited in the wings, and when one of the competitors finished his performance and the next one was to take the stage, Gajanan rushed onto the stage and started playing whatever little he knew about music. The confused organizers rushed to the stage and tried to take the child away, but he would not budge. When the judges saw the child’s determination, they asked the organizers to allow the child to play. This was the first public appearance of Gajananrao Karnad at the age of seven. He was lauded by the judges and the audience and was even given a consolation prize, as he was not a registered participant.
Thereafter, at the age of 10, Gajananrao participated in the first music conference held in Mumbai. His debut was sensational that left the audience and the press spellbound. The Maharaja of Dharampur awarded him a special prize in appreciation of his talent.
Unlike some child prodigies, Gajananrao did not fade away. On the contrary, as he grew up, and switched from harmonium to violin when the All-India Radio brought out a rule that harmonium will not be allowed as an accompaniment to vocalists. He mastered several other instruments like the flute. But he never had a ‘guru’. He had mastered music and all these instruments all by himself.
Despite being a matriculate, Gajananrao took up a job with HMV (His Master’s Voice) and thereafter with AIR (All India Radio). At 21, he was already a master of Hindustani classical music and specialized in Khayals, Thumris, and light folk music. He gave performances on AIR for several years and had several concerts to his credit. His forte was raagdari and he even composed his own ‘ragas’.
Pt. Gajananrao was married to Vijaya, who was an artist in her own right – she was a painter. Gajananrao himself was extremely good at sketching and enjoyed his time on the drawing board on and off. They had two daughters Sudnya and Anjali, but unfortunately, neither of the daughters inherited the musical legacy of their father.
Panditji felt that while Hindustani classical music was extremely precious to him, he could not make a good living by merely giving concerts on and off. He, therefore, made headway into film music. He played the violin for almost all the music directors of his time including Madan Mohan, C Ramchandra, OP Nayyar, Shanker Jaikishan, Naushad, Laxmikant Pyarelal, Kalyanji Anandji, etc.
He had the honor of giving accompaniment to the legends like Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Mohammed Rafi, Kishore Kumar, Manna Dey, Mahendra Kapoor, Mukesh, etc. Those days, when songs were recorded in single takes, Gajananrao’s violin (song violin) rendered support to these singers to give their best shot in each take.
When V. Shantaram was producing the film ‘Do Ankhen Barah Haath’ in 1957, he wanted his actress Sandhya, who sells toys to little children, to play a ‘tuntuna’, a crude instrument with a single string. He and his music director Vasant Desai were clueless about searching for a musician who could play something like this. They called Pandit Gajananrao and asked him whether he could play this on his violin, but without it sounding like a violin. Without hesitation, Panditji assured them that needful will be done. When the film was screened at the Cannes Festival, viewers were curious about the instrument played in this song. V Shantaram revealed that this was played by a great violinist in India on his violin, but he had made it sound like a ‘tuntuna’. He did not add, however, that Gajananrao had done this by merely running down the strings of his violin so that it did not sound like a violin. Some of his solo Violins are heard in songs like Sargam 1950, Musafir 1957, and Ujala 1959.
One of the founder members of the Cine Musician Association Pt. Gajananrao was a man of few words and a noble heart. Besides music, he was a fan of Hollywood movies, some favorites being movies made by Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, William Wyler, and Billy Wilder, and musicals produced by Metro Goldwyn Mayer, among others. On the days there was no recording and he had free time, he would rush to theatres like Regal, Metro, Eros, or Strand and watch films back-to-back, without getting tired or bored.
After dedicating his life to music and the film industry, Pt. Gajanan Karnad passed away on October 28, 1996, at the age of 73, after a brief illness. The unfortunate part is that he has not left behind the recordings of the innumerable performances he gave on the radio or in concerts.