It was a warm spring Saturday morning, on April 25, 2009, in New York. And the auditorium of Public School 69 in Jackson Heights was coming to life with the first notes of raaga Bilashkhani Todi. There was an air of anticipation, perhaps tinged with a certain amount of apprehension, among the audience.
The singer was Dada Tapan Kanti Baidya, one of the foremost exponents of North Indian classical music in North America. The time was 11:08am when he began with a one-hour and forty minute rendition of Bilashkhani Todi, a morning raaga, belonging to Bhairabi thhat. An enchanting “alaap” and “jod” that lasted some 40 minutes and ran the gamut of three octaves with complete ease, built the mood leading to a “bara khayal” -- Ni Ke Ghungriya Thamakta Chal Chalaye -- in “vilambit ek taal.” All the bara khayals of the performance were in ek taal and all chhota khayals in tin taal. A scintillating chota khayal, Balma More Chhor De Kalaiya, followed.
There was then a smooth switch from Bilashkhani Todi to Todi, belonging to a different thhat. The bara khayal, Daiya Bat Do Bara Bhayeeli, was sung in raaga Mian Ki Todi. An exquisite chota khayal, Ab Morey Naiya Paar Karo, was performed in raaga “Gurjari Todi.” An hour-long rendition of raaga Bhimpalashree was a transition from a morning to an evening raaga. Serenity and pathos dominated the mood in the bara khayal, Ab To Bari Der Bhayee. This was followed by a chhota khayal, Gorey Mukhoso Morey Man Bhabe, beautifully done.
Almost four hours had passed when the maestro coolly switched to another evening raaga “Bageshree.” Shorter than the preceding renditions, the bara khayal, Kone Gata Bhayeeli, was simply enchanting. A taraana, composed by Baidya, complemented the rendition. Fittingly, he ended the performance with a chota khayal in raaga “Bahar,” Kaise Nikase Chandni, bringing out the full flavour of spring.
It was 4:25 in the afternoon when the rendition of raaga “Bahar” ended and Baidya had accomplished what he wanted: to sing without interruption for a full five hours, and go into the record books for the longest solo rendering of this genre of music. In a noble gesture, the artiste dedicated the performance to world peace.
We in the audience applauded and celebrated. The audience was, however, extremely thin. Many were invited, and the event was announced in the media. Few turned up. Apparently this was not what interests the Bengali community in New York. Yet Baidya sang along, as if to say: Jodi tor daak shuney keu na ashey tobey ekla cholorey. But those who turned up went home with a unique experience. Those five hours of exquisite classical music remained with me for many more hours after I had left the auditorium.
The order of the day was not over, however. The five hours of solo rendition was followed by another hour of classical music by Dada's pupils at Sadarang School of Music, which was then followed by a longer performance by many others of his students, in celebration of spring, with the maestro presiding over the entire event.