Farewell To A Musical Soul
Remembering Keshav Talegaonkar of Agra
This article was last updated on 21 October 2021.
I was going through my YouTube feed and found out a new video by Sangeet Kala Kendra, Agra, with the title — Smarn Sabha, which means a meeting of remembrance. To my shock, I found that Keshav Talegaonkar had passed away after fighting and recovering from the deadly coronavirus but fell to pneumonia just three days after being discharged from the hospital. He passed away on 12th October.
I met him and his wife when, after their concert in Melbourne earlier this year, along with a friend, I went to their Airbnb stay to learn from him. My friend would learn tabla; he asked me whether I also wanted to come along to learn vocals. So, I did. He’d sung a beautiful Bhimpalasi the day before, which I enjoyed listening to very much.
Aside from the singing, I was surprised to know that he could play the tabla well. Later on, I also learned that he had created an instrument of his own, a modified Mohan Veena of sorts, the name of which I cannot remember now. It was a modified slide guitar. Born and brought up in Banaras of the early 50s and 60s, Keshav Talegaonkar had early exposure to a musical education when he started learning the tabla. With the intensive education lasting decades and the hands-on knowledge of all the three domains in music — percussion, non-percussion, and vocals one could define him as a complete musician.
I had the good fortune of sitting with him many hours across three days in three different corners of Melbourne. While my friend, Massimo, was learning complex tukdas for the tabla, I tried to absorb whatever I could from those conversations. I couldn’t follow the mathematics behind it. But I did enjoy every bit of it. I asked him if I could record the audio of the sessions for later reference, and he agreed. Maybe someday I can go back and listen to those recordings and understand the same mathematics that I couldn’t fathom.
After the class on the first day, he and his wife invited us to dine with them. It was such a nice gesture. We kept on discussing music while we ate surprisingly good North Indian food. Both of them told their stories about going to several Chinese Universities and teaching them classical music, how their children and many students learn from them, and so on.
In one of the meetings, I might have brought up the topic of learning new bandishes, and to my good fortune, he had brought several books that he gave to me. I tried but couldn’t find a way that one could buy these books online.
- आगरा के शास्त्रीय संगीत को ग्वालियर घराने के संगीतज्ञों का योगदान → मेघा तळेगाओंकर रओ (About the contribution of Gwalior’s musicologists/musicians to Agra)
- सुलभ संगीतोदय शास्त्र → मेघा तळेगाओंकर रओ (About the theory and practice of Indian classical music, especially khayal)
- सुलभ संगीत सौरभ →रघुनाथ तळेगाओंकर (About the various creations of Agra Gharana by Raghunath Talegaonkar)
I’m glad that I was in touch with him after he’d gone back home. I sent him the piece I wrote about Vasanti Tembe’s recital at the same music festival. He read it and appreciated the piece, saying that my analysis was very good and precise.
He said his idea is to create new thoughts and literature to compositions while keeping the tradition alive. After all, the traditional compositions were created by someone for the first time. To understand more about his thoughts and ideas, I wanted to do a similar piece on him. We had agreed to do an interview-like piece with him for this publication and had sent him several questions. That interview will sadly never happen now.
While the world needs more such people, one more has been taken away—my condolences to his family, friends, and lovers of music.