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Meet Anubhab Khamaru, the 14-year-old Hindustani maestro in the making

Shriya Mohan | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:51 IST

Early start

  • Anubhab Khamaru started singing at a very young age, surrounded by a musical family
  • He managed to impress Pt Ajoy Chakraborty and get a spot in his class and a scholarship
  • With limited exposure to the larger world, he retains a certain innocence that has kept him focussed

More in the story

  • What keeps the young artist going?
  • What is his training like?

At half past four in the morning, while Kolkata is still cloaked in darkness, the lights go on inside Anubhab Khamaru's small home in Vidyanagar in South 24 Parganas. He moves about the house quietly doing his morning ablutions. Soon he sits cross legged on the floor, placing his Tanpura gently on his lap, twisting its knobs and pulling its strings, until each Sa and Pa are made to sit obediently where they belong.

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Today, exploring raag Dhaani, he holds each note of its ascent deep and long, until his voice is awakened. An hour later, he is throwing paltas, to the beat of a teen taal springing from his lap. When he falters, he starts again until he nails it right. Riyaaz is a solitary act and he is his own master.

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

This might seem like the routine of any classical music student, but Anubhab is all of 14. There is something about his voice that was remarkably striking, almost magical. "Comments and appreciation have been pouring in ever since that video," says Debashish Khamaru, Anubhabh's father speaking over the phone from Calcutta.

First notes

By the time Anubhab Khamaru learnt to walk, he could sing. Tutelage occurred subconsciously in his household around the presence of his grandmom, Archana Khamaru, a trained classical singer and his father, a music teacher at a higher secondary school in a far away village. Debashish holds a Master's degree in music and was himself a student of Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty. Anubhab developed a firm grounding by hanging around his father and the music classes he conducted at home.

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

Anubhab was 4 years and 10 months old in 2007, when he was taken to audition at Shrutinandan, a music school founded by Chakraborty. When the examiner sang a popular Bengali song in an entirely different raag to confuse Anubhab, he sang its notations without faltering even once. From that moment on, Debashish watched his son plunge into the world of music and resurface with a kind of talent he never guessed him capable of.

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

Vidyanagar to Shrutinandan is a distance of 21 kilometres. It meant changing three buses to get to class each week. Five years ago, when Debashish was 47, he decided he would make his son's travel easier. He bought a bike and learnt how to ride it for the first time in his life. "Having learnt so late, I ride rather slow and take an hour to reach," laughs Debashish.

At the age of 14, Anubhab Khamaru is a trained, committed & disciplined musician, who started very early in life

At the Vidyanagar Multipurpose bengali-medium school Anubhab is presently studying in Class 9. "When we tell him to study, he sprints away to practice his music so that he'll get to escape his books," says Debashish, genuinely worried about his son's lack of interest in academics. "We're an ordinary family. We told him that you have to grow up and become somebody. If you love music, you need to reach a point in your music so that you can lead your life independently."

Finding a guru

It was on Saraswati Puja in 2011 that Anubhab, then nine, performed for the first time in front of Chakraborty, who only taught a few select students. But that evening was special, recalls Debashish. "Guruji was so moved by Anubhab's rendition that he handed out a 500 rupee note from his pocket blessing him."

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Then on Guru Purnima day in 2013, the Khamaru household received a phone call. Chakraborty invited Anubhab to Rabindra Sadan where Shrutinandan was holding its celebrations. At the event, Pt Ajoy Chakraborty announced a new scholarship for three children of Shrutinandan. Anubhab, then 11, was the youngest of the three. For the past three years he hasn't had to pay fees. But the biggest change in his life was not the 1000 rupee monthly scholarship, but the opportunity to be trained by Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty himself. Anubhab is now one of the 7 students who sit in his class

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

Pandit Ajoy Chakraborty believes that the child will go a long way in life, if he puts his soul into his practice. His family lives on that hope.

Growing up and breaking in

I call to speak to Anubhab at 6am when he finishes his riyaaz. As I hold the line, I can hear birds chirp in the silence surrounding his mud home, a portion of which has just been built with concrete. "Namashkar!" I suddenly hear a squawky voice say with a languidness typical of teenage.

A few minutes into our conversation Anubhab tells me something I didn't know: that his voice is breaking.

For the past several months he has been grappling with a falling scale. He used to sing at a natural B. It slowly came down to B. Then A, G sharp and now F. "Guruji has said it should stabilise in a few more months at a C or C sharp. So each day I'm discovering new depths," he says. "Practice isn't easy these days, sometimes my voice falls flat. I've been told to practice long notes," he explains. There is no panic or worry, merely the attitude of a witness to his own bodily changes.

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

Very little of the world enters Anubhab's home. And that lack of exposure is perhaps his greatest strength and weakness. He mainly listens to all performances and recordings of Chakraborty. And sometimes music prescribed to him like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan Saheb and classical instrumental flute, sarod or sitar. No choice is an accidental discovery on google.

His family doesn't own a computer, laptop or internet connection. The recommended CDs are played for him on an old system. Sometimes Anubhab listens to a song on his father's mobile.

His parents live on the hope that Anubhab's hard work and passion will take him to great heights someday

While his exposure to diverse musical renditions is limited, his ability to improvise is being challenged each day. "Guruji keeps telling me to never sing as he does. My paltas have to be my own improvisation. Its not always easy," says Anubhab.

He has performed a few times on Calcutta Doordarshan in the past and on local channels like Tara music and Aakash Bangla. He won a few competitions in the children's category around the city and mainly within Shrutinandan. Outside of Calcutta, he has accompanied his Guruji to Shantiniketan and Naihati for music conferences. Other than that, Anubhab has no inkling of the world beyond. When he performs, there is a refreshing innocence and confidence that comes from not knowing too much.

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

What does he want to become when he grows up?

"Singer!" he exclaims in English.

Do you want to be in Calcutta?

"No, I want to travel far and wide," he says.

Like where?

There is a long pause. Perhaps he hasn't thought of this before.

"America?" he asks, laughing.

The danger of pride

For the past two years, Anubhab has been learning khayal and focusing on five raags or paanch swarer raga - Malkauns, Bairagi, Kalavati, Hansadhawani and Dhaani. He needs to improvise each day and discover his own style. For the past year Anubhab's family say they see a new seriousness in him. They don't have to plod him to practice anymore. The lights go up each morning on their own and with his voice, the household awakens.

Photo: Swastik Pal/ Catch News

Growing up in Kolkata teaches you that fame is best kept at a distance. "Please don't praise my son in what you're writing. I don't want him to think he has arrived. He has a long way to go. He needs to work hard. This is no time to slow down," Debashish says earnestly.

Chakraborty told Catch that Anubhab is "a truly gifted child" but he was against any publicity while Anubhab is undergoing rigorous training. "You never taste food while it is being cooked. It has to be fully prepared before you allow the world to get a taste of it," he said over the telephone, refusing to comment further.

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In the cocooned childhood that Kolkata offers an artist, safe from the penetration of Google, Youtube, a thousand music apps and digital tools, free from the modern pressures to furiously "over share" your art publicly, much before it's perfect, Anubhab will perhaps become India's next Hindustani classical maestro. Until then, all we can do is wait for a flower to blossom with its own unique fragrance.

Edited by Anna Verghese

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First published: 5 April 2016, 10:40 IST
Shriya Mohan @ShriyaMohan

An editor and writer of development stories at Catch, Shriya has 8 years of experience as a development journalist, holds a Masters degree in Public Policy from the National University of Singapore and is a two-time winner of the National Foundation for India media fellowship award. When she isn't exploring the universe with her two-year-old daughter, she chronicles public anger and shelters relevant stories that don't hang sexily on news pegs.