I think it was the summer of 1945. The place was Belgaum. I was then a college student, as much involved in music as in my academic studies. Those were the days when I also nursed an ambition to be a vocalist and used to devote much of my leisure to listening to radio and concert music without, of course, neglecting my academic studies!
Belgaum then (as also hopefully now) abounded in public and private concerts, at which local and visiting artistes treated the local rasikas to wholsome music and sent them home with gladdened hearts. I have haunting memories of many concerts, at which were featured stalwarts like ,Rambhau Gulavani, Vishwanathbuva Jadhav, Azmat Hussain Khan and Sureshbabu Mane, to name but a few. There also were drawing-room programmes held by well-to-do families, at which younger talent came to be given opportunities to perform before a compact but discerning group of invitees.
It was at one such private baithak that I chanced. to hear a young Marathi-speaking vocalist. He appeared then to be in his twenties, but his two-hour performance, covering well- known and less-known melodies, sounded too good for his age. What specially struck me was the natural ease and skill with which he managed to unfold and project his rare ragas. His style bore the umistakable impress of the Agra gharana, made so famous by the late maestro Faiyaz Khan, one of the all-time greats whose radio concerts I seldom missed.
I do not recollect, at this distance of time, the entire fare I heard from this youngster. But I still have the vivid memory of one melody, which was explained as Kedar-Bahar. It was the raga I had heard for the first time. I surmised that it was a combination of two time-honoured ragas delightfully familiar to my ears. But what swept me off my feet was the emergence of a new raga the hue and character of which sounded so delightfully different from that of its components. Here, indeed, was the originality and virtuosity of the composer, as also the singer, seen at their best!
Somehow, in those days I could not have the nerve to approach and get to know any performing artistes. All I did was to obtain the particulars about them through more knowledgeable friends and also local artistes. That was how I also missed meeting this Lucknow vocalist at that programme. I was simply content to keep humming the Kedar-Bahar tune on my way home after the baithak.
I learnt that the name of the artiste was K. G. Ginde, a senior pupil of Pandit S. N. Ratanjankar at the Marris College of Music at Lucknow. I also learnt that Ginde also belonged to Belgaum district and came from Bailhongal, and that he had come down to his native place during the summer vacation.
I also gathered that he was then only 19 and had come of a respectable cultured family and that he had decided to devote himself to music as a full-time profession. This was at a time when pursuit of music as a profession was out of bounds to even gifted youngsters, if they happened to belong to educated and cultured, families. As one who also came of such a family, my reaction to Ginde’s career was one of both admiration and envy.
Nearly a decade ha d to go by before I came to know Ginde. That was when he left Lucknow for good, and came to this metropolis to settle down and pursue his vocation. It took little time for our casual acquaintance to mature into lasting friendship.
Krishna Gundo Ginde was born at Bailhongal, on Saturday, December 26, 1925. He was one of the nine children of his parents. They were in all six brothers and three sisters and Krishna was the eighth child-which is Why he was named after Lord Krishna. Gundopant came of a humble family and had to go: through the mill before Ice became a medical practitioner. He set up his general practice at Bailhongal and emerged as a successful physician. He was also a keen lover of classical music and Marathi musical stage and had built up a fine” collection of recorded music of many reigning masters of the time. He also encouraged his children to share his interest in music right from their early childhood.
Gundopant’s eldest son. Ramchandra, who later rose to be one of the world-famous neurosurgeons. was the first to lead his younger brothers and sisters in the pursuit of the joyous hobby of their father. But it would seem that it was Krishna who showed his. extraordinary sensitivity to the sounds of music and rhythm even while yet an infant. Gundopant correctly sensed the child’s propensities and gave him opportunities to listen to the records. He would even encourage his child to imitate some of the masters. So much so, that Krishna gave his first private jalsa before a group of his father’s friends and relatives when he was only six years old. He sang for two and a half hours and elicited unstinted admiration from his listeners. A photograph taken on the occasion has been preserved by the Ginde family. Krishna’s brilliant debut struck the keynote of his future career and the credit for shaping it goes to his eldest doctor brother, himself a musician by choice.
Krishna, as also his other brothers, had their primary education in Kannada at Bailhongal, after which they were sent, one after another, to Belgaum for further studies at their uncle’s residence. During this time, Krishna met Shivaputra Siddharamayya Komkali, who later became famous as Kumar Gandharva
On his uncle’s transfer to Gadag, in Dharwad district. Krishna also moved with him and got himself enrolled in a secondary school where he happened to meet Bhimsen Joshi, who was also to become a musical luminary, like Kumar Gandharva, in later years. Krishna has many interesting stories of his early association and friendship with Kumar and Bhimsen-of occasions when they had opportunities to sing before maestros like Ramakrishnabuva Vaze and receive their blessings.
Meanwhile, Ramchandra Ginde continued to divide his time between his medical studies and musical pursuits. In the process, he came to Pandit Bhatkhande who helped him a great deal in learning and appreciating Hindustani music. Bhatkhandeji also gave him his textbooks so that he could learn ragas on his own during his holidays.
In time to come Ramchandra Ginde grew closer and still closer to Bhatkhandeji and it was at his suggestion that the young doctor became known to Pandit Ratanjankar, his most devoted disciple. Soon there grew a closer friendship between the two families. In response to a suggestion from Dr. Ginde, Pandit Ratanjankar, popularly known as “Annasaheb”, said that he would first like to see the boy. Accordingly, Krishna was brought to Bombay and introduced to Panditji. Krishna, who was fairly well-trained by his eldest brother, impressed his future preceptor by his talent. And he gladly agreed to teach him even during his summer stay in the city. This was in May 1936, Krishna, by his qualities of head and heart, so endeared himself to the Ratanjankar family that he was treated as one of their own. Krishna came to be nicknamed “Chhotoo” by Annasaheb, because he himself happened to be his namesake (Shrikrishna) and, for that reason, his wife could not call the youngster by his name under the orthodox Hindu custom! The nickname has since stuck to Krishna, and he is fondly called as “Chhotoo” by all his relations, colleagues as also his vast circle of friends and admirers.
Annasaheb’s initiation of Chhotoo into classical music began with the raga Bhairav. But he was also allowed to accompany his erudite guru in the rendering of many other ragas which he had learnt earlier from his brother. Sensing the boy’s musical potential, the guru decided to take Krishna to Lucknow with the permission of his elders.
The years of Chhotoo’s grooming at Lucknow truly laid the foundations of his future career. The boy was too young to realise that the Marris College was a residential institution, that Annasaheb was its Principal and that it had a staff of several teachers like Shri G. N. Natu, Balaji Pathak and others. It was here that he met S. C. R. Bhat, a senior student, and Dinkar Kaikini who joined the college a little later.
Chhotoo’s stay at Lucknow for a decade and a half was marked by intensive grooming in the art and science of Hindustani music. During this period, he benefited from the guidance of not only Annasaheb but also his other colleagues and senior disciples like Bhat. In time to come, he acquired a sound command of technique and excellence in the presentation of dhrupad, dhamar, Khayal, tappa and thumri. He won the college distinction of “sangeet nipun”, bagging a gold medal for his proficiency.
What is more, Chhotoo benefited immensely from his association, in one way or other, with several stalwarts like Rajabhayya Poochhwale, who kept visiting the college almost round the year. Such visits were always marked by baithaks in the college premises and also enlightening discussions on various topics concerning the classical tradition. Precocious Chhotoo made the best of such rare opportunities of exposure to the wider world of music. These, coupled with his traditional grooming amid an utterly homely environment, shaped his personality and character.
Even in the midst of his round-the-clock schedule of musical grooming. Chhotoo managed to pursue his academic studies. He passed his matriculation examination in 1942, side by side with his Sangeet Visharad examination. It was a measure of Annasaheb’s confidence that he entrusted to him even the responsibilities of looking after the accounts matters. It would be no exaggeration to say that Chhotoo was always with Annasaheb like his shadow, ready and willing to do anything at his guru’s bidding. With his prodigious memory. he set a record of memorising a whopping figure of over 2,000 chijas from the vast repertory of Bhatkhandeji’s and Annasaheb’s monumental works. Little wonder that the guru was justly proud of his shishya!
During the last few years of his stay at Lucknow, Chhotoo served on the teaching staff of his college and also became a popular broadcaster. But, in obedience to his guru’s wishes, he moved to Bombay and joined the teaching staff of the Bhavan’s college of music in 1951. Already, his senior colleagues, the late Chindanand Nagarkar and Bhat, were there to manage the affairs of the newly-started institution. He served the college for five years.
In 1962, Chhotoo and Bhat were invited by the erudite scholar-musician, Swami Vallabhdasji to take over the responsibilities of his newly founded Sangeetalaya at Sion, in Eastern Bombay. Since then both have become synonymous with the institution. In the intervening years, the gurubhais engaged themselves in giving private tuitions, Chhotoo also worked with the Rev. Fr. Proksh to score the music for his Biblical numbers and visited Germany with the dignitary. While there, he earned appreciation and recognition from the Pope who presented him with a medal.
A regular broadcaster and telecaster, Chhotoo has participated in almost all major musicaI events in India. As a performing artiste, he has won accolades from leading cultural institutions. He is connected with several universities all over the country in various capacities and has also conducted music workshops and lecture-cum-demonstrations, besides participating in important seminars and symposia. More recently, he has taken the lead in the establishment of a registered charitable trust in memory of his great guru with the object of preserving and perpetuating his missionary work.
And who does not know the uniqueness of his partnership with Bhat on the musical stage? The duo has few peers in this difficult art. Their partnership in stage performance is but one aspect of their exemplary spirit of comradeship in whatever they undertake. And vidya daan is, above all, their life’s mission.
In reply to a question, chhotto once candidly said that it was not his intention to be a teacher. But he honestly wanted to preserve the music he was taught and be a performing musician. It was his devotion to his guru that inspired him to take to teaching. And, to the manner born, he has emerged as an ideal acharya in his own right, who remains immersed in the holiness of his mission, following in the footsteps of his illustrious guru. Happily married with two sons, who are already well settled in life, Chhotoo endears himself even to strangers as much by his affability as by his spartan simplicity. He carries his scholarship and eminence lightly. A man of clean habits (pan-chewing is his only weakness, if it can be so called), he keeps himself aloof from petty jealousies and rivalries that beset his profession. But this big-sized chhotto is an interesting raconteur, humorous and sunny by disposition. Meeting him any time is always a happy experience. And I am one of those who proudly cherish his friendship and goodwill for me.