Pandit Shivkumar Sharma’s father, Umadutt Sharma, was a classical singer and he was keen that his son followed in his footsteps. So, he taught him vocals and playing the tabla, but the young Shivkumar gravitated towards the santoor at the age of 13 and nurtured his lifelong love for the then little-known string instrument from Jammu and Kashmir.
The budding maestro gave his first public performance in 1955, when he was all of 17, and did not look back since then. He was in fact scheduled to perform in Bhopal, but death denied his admirers that opportunity.
On the sidelines of one of his shows, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma revealed a private side of his multi-faceted personality, a side that loathed negativity. “Today, there is a widespread belief that news can only be made if there are negative headlines,” the maestro had said. “So, I read the newspaper in the afternoon or evening, instead of the morning. If there is any news of a robbery or a murder in the TV channel, I prefer to watch a comedy show instead.
Shivkumar Sharma added, “However, there is a bit of vulgarity in that too. So just for fun I like to pass my time watching shows like ‘Tarak Mehta Ka Ultah Chashma’ and ‘Bhabhiji Ghar Pe Hai’. This does not mean I am afraid of the reality of an ordinary man’s life, that I am showing cowardice. But we should be clear in our minds about what is our duty in this life and what are we to achieve and what are our goals?”
Being a classicist to the core, Panditji used to enjoy traditional music baithaks and to perform in classical music festivals. One such festival is Saptak Annua, which has been running for 42 years.
Once, Panditji said during the festival that he did not even remember for how many years he had been performing at Saptak. “This is the only event in the world that lasts for 13 days,” he said. “I understand that not everyone in the audience is 100 per cent knowledgeable about music, but all of them are fans.”
He continued: “Here I am sitting on the dais in front of veterans such as Jasraj Ji, Pandit Brijbhushan Kabra, Rajan Ji-Sajan Ji. This is an inspiring moment for a large number of young people. We people also listen to each other and rehearse together, it’s a different atmosphere.
“I got a call from Pandit Brijbhushan Kabra, who said: ‘Today, I heard from Rahul [Pandit Ji’s son] some things that you have never presented. Vidushi Kishori Amonkar was to be honoured on the stage of Saptak a few years ago, and Pandit Kishan Maharaj instantly composed a poem about her and recited it on the stage. These things are not seen anywhere else today.”
Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia have given music to films such as ‘Silsila’, ‘Chandni‘ and ‘Lamhe’ under the name ‘Shiv Hari’; then, Rahul Sharma gave music to films like ‘Mujhse Dosti Karoge’.
Speaking about composing music for films, Pandit Ji said: “The music of a film depends on its subject matter as well as the sensitivity and understanding of the director. Films are doing very well today, but the director’s choice of music has changed. You see, almost every Saturday-Sunday, Madan Mohan, R.D. Burman, O.P. Nayyar nights are organised here and all are housefull. Today’s directors and musicians should think about why this happens?”
Pandit Ji is heard saying to audiences at music festivals, including Saptak, that today’s listeners have no idea when to say ‘wow’ and where to clap.
Expressing his views on the matter, he said: “Music is a tool for me, which gives me spiritual strength. When I rehearse alone, I feel the same oneness with the music. My listeners have to listen calmly to my music and connect with my sounds. The negativity around us has had such a profound effect on us that only music can bring us peace.”