THE EARLY rays entered like an audience on tiptoe into the room where we were seated. Two streams of the raag lalit danced around us — one emanated from Sir’s bamboo flute, and the other from mine, following his lead. Flame-coloured blossoms on a tree branch at the window bobbed their heads to the downtempo- taal due to a wind. I usually hesitate to call myself a morning person, but there in Dharwad, I felt like I was in the right place, doing the right thing, at a perfect time.
For several years, Naresh Kumta — my bansuri teacher and ‘Sir’ to his students — invited me to visit his hometown in Karnataka. ‘The earth is red, the air is pure and the music is everywhere,’ he’d say. So during a recent summer, in a bid for a break from Mumbai’s concrete heat, I accompanied the septuagenarian and his wife – for a week during their annual retreat. We arrived by a chattering propeller plane at the tiny hubli airport, Dharwad’s nearest airstrip. The cab ride through undulating paddy fields was a symphony for the eyes, a reset button for the soul. however, Dharwad is definitely off the tourist map. Its primary traffic is comprised of students — the institutions on its fringes provide the country a steady supply of doctors and engineers. But it is also a germination ground for hindustani classical music — stalwarts over the generations like Gangubai hangal, Bhimsen Joshi and Basavaraj rajguru, all taught by the legendary Sawai Gandharva.
It took 20 minutes to reach ‘home’ — an apartment in a low-rise complex. It is located in Malmaddi, Dharwad’s first and main residential area — essentially a road the width of two bullock carts. This is flanked by Brit-era brickwork bungalows — the town was a summer getaway during the raj due to its crispy weather — and newer apartment buildings. The road slopes down towards a sleepy railway station, where Sir, eagerly points out, caught the train to Mumbai as a runaway teen. Over the next few days, between jam sessions at the apartment, we visited the grounds of an outlying university, and headed downtown to the commercial centre to pick up the famous sugar-dusted fudge-style Thakur pedas and Kasuti sarees with detailed embroidered artwork.
Classical music legend Gangubai Hangal’s ancestral home at Shukravarpet has now been coverted into a museum in Dharwad
Nearest airport: Hubli, Karnataka
Nearest station: Dharwad
To understand Dharwad is to keep your ear to the ground. The residents don’t consider a person’s education – and existence — complete without any music in it. Behind every nameplate that reads ‘engineer’ lurks someone who can hold down a complex taan pattern. as a constant seeker of notes, being in Dharwad was a privilege. and it was the sounds I took back with me — the sustained horn of a passing train drowning out the pitched drone of our shruti box, the drip of a leaking tap on a bucolic afternoon, bhajan bells wafting from a neighbour’s open door and the sweet harmony in the trees.