There are few musical genres as protocol-bound as Hindustani classical music, but Kumar Gandharva's rare genius, searingly emotive voice and incredible mastery over ragas allowed him to not just challenge tradition, but even rewrite the rules. Officially at least, the legacy is now being taken forward by his daughter Kalapini, who will be joined by her son Bhuvanesh for a special performance at the NCPA to coincide with the maestro's 90th birth anniversary. The elaborate tribute, scheduled for April 3, will span the vast canvas of Kumar Gandharva's musical compositions in traditional ragas, folk forms and devotional bandishes.
Unfortunately, the function has reignited a long festering family dispute that threatens to overshadow the happy occasion. Mukul Shivputra, Kumar Gandharva's estranged son from his first wife - as mercurial in talent as in temperament - has strongly objected to his "deliberate" exclusion. "They are just milking my father's legacy to fill their coffers," he said bitterly. Even today in select circles, he is acknowledged as a musical genius, gifted with the rare command of ragas that had earlier been his father's calling card. Tragically, at some point Mukul Shivputra slipped into depression and crossed the proverbial thin line that plagues most musicians with truly extraordinary talent. During one particular episode a few years back, a dishevelled and unkempt Mukul was seen begging for money outside a temple in Bhopal to buy booze.
When the news reached Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan, a massive manhunt was launched to find him - he was finally traced five days later by officials of the state's culture department.
While his family treats him like an outcast and claims he is mentally unstable, the 57-year-old remain unfazed. "Don't judge me because of my beard and my clothes. I can challenge any singer to a jugalbandi and beat him," he says with quiet conviction. Sadly, as far as his own family, the Indian music industry and society is concerned, it's as if Kumar Gandharva's son doesn't even exist.