Real Voice Recording of Lokmanya Tilak – Lokmanya Tilak ends silence after 92 years

Lokmanya Tilak ends silence after 92 years

Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920)
Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1856-1920) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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No known voice recording of Tilak, who died in 1920, existed till this was found by accident as part of a rare collection. Tilak’s family will be playing it for the public
Sometime in the early ‘70s, Shailaja Datar, author and descendent of renowned classical singer Bhaskarrao Bakhle, was busy researching her ancestor for Devgandharva, a book on his life and times when she came across a document that detailed the happenings during the Kesari Ganeshotsav in 1915. 
The document, among other things, mentioned that Lokmanya Tilak was forced to reprimand the audience that had seemed to be largely uninterested in classical music, having by then been attracted by natyasangeet, the music-drama format that was emerging at the time. Unable to confirm it physically, as there were no known recordings of 

Tilak’s voice available, she nevertheless incorporated it in her book which was eventually published in 1985.

Imagine her surprise and joy when, earlier this year, two professionals digitising her family friend Mukesh Narang’s collection of rare records called her and said they’d come across a short speech in one of the records that referred to the audience misbehaving during Bakhle’s performance. 

A quick check confirmed that it was indeed the lost voice of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, all of 90 seconds and pitching for Bakhle’s excellence as an artiste and the greatness of his art form. 

Tilak’s exhortation of the audience to pay attention and not disturb went thus: “Today’s programme is of Ganeshotsav and as per the schedule.

“Gayanacharya (singing maestro) Bakhlebua has commenced singing in the programme. People should listen to his performance without making any noise. I will not tolerate any disturbance. People can leave, but the scheduled programme must take place. This is my wish.”

“Classical singing is not my domain, but what I know about Bhaskarbua’s singing is that it is a great talent. There is a lot to ponder about it and it is not fake. I am proud of Bhaskarrao. I have not learned singing but I am of the opinion that some thinking must go into the art. 

Hence, I purposely called Bhaskarbua, an artist of great standing. Bhaskarrao is here and the programme is a success. I thank him on behalf of everyone present here. With Lord Ganesha’s grace, he should perform again and again here. I stop here and I take your leave.”

Speaking to Mirror, Datar said, “We are still searching for original voice recordings of Bakhlebua. Mukesh Narang’s  grandfather and our family were close during the time of Bakhlebua. 

When we came to know about the speech in which the speaker announces that Bakhlebua’s performance will be starting right now, our hopes were raised.” Datar, her husband Sudhir and brother-in-law Suhas visited the Narangs and listened to the recording.

“As we listened to the recording, we realised that whatever the speaker is saying has been referred to in my book. We returned home and revisited all the content we had referred to in the book,” added Datar.

The content matched various references such as handwritten material by Bakhle’s disciple Ganesh Shrigondekar and Master Krishnarao who wrote separately about the music concert on September 2, 1915 during the Kesari Ganeshotsav. “In fact, Master Krishnarao also performed that evening. 

We then traced the edition of Kesari dated September 21, 1915 which reported that Tilak had reprimanded the audience for their disinterest in Bakhlebua’s performance,” Datar said.

Speaking about that evening, she said that after Narayanrao Rajhans (Balgandharv) and Master Krishnarao‘s performance, who rendered natyasangeet, the audience started leaving the venue or making noise when Bakhlebua started his classical music performance. This, she said, irritated Bakhlebua. Seeing his discomfiture, Tilak stepped up on stage and told the audience to behave better. 

“At the end of concert, Tilak presented Bakhlebua with a shawl, which we have kept preserved,” Datar said.

The LP record that had Tilak’s voice on it is part of Narang’s century-old collection, started by his grandfather Lakhmichand Isardas in pre-Partition Karachi. 

Narang said, “My grandfather was fond of classical music and used to call classical music stalwarts to his residence in Karachi. He would also visit various classical music concert venues. He was a successful businessman, and used his wealth to import a music recorder and player made by an American company, Capehart Records. With the recorder, he made over a thousand records. This LP is part of that collection.”

Narang said he was aware of this short voice recording, but didn’t know that it was of Tilak’s voice till those digitising his collection informed him about it.

Dr Dipak Tilak, Lokmanya’s great-grandson, said, “We have searched a lot in the past for a voice recording of Lokmanya, but we never managed to find one. We were only able to locate a recording by a mimicry artist, made after Tilak’s death. 

With that recording, we could at best imagine how Lokmanya Tilak might have sounded. But this recording, which has come to light by sheer accident, is indeed an original recording of Lokmanya’s voice. It is also supported by several written documents including Kesari’s edition of that time. This recording will be played for the public on August 24.”

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“Today’s programme is of Ganesh Utsav and as per the schedule, Gayanacharya (singing maestro) Bakhlebua has commenced singing in the programme. People should listen to his performance without making any noise. I will not tolerate any disturbance. People can go out, but the scheduled programme must take place. This is my wish.

Classical singing is not my domain, but what I know about Bhaskarbua’s singing is that it is a great talent. There is a lot to ponder about it and it is not fake.

I am proud of Bhaskarrao. I have not learned singing but I am of the opinion that some thinking must go into the art. Hence, I purposely called Bhaskarbua, an artist of great standing. Bhaskarrao is here and the programme is a success.

I thank him on behalf of everyone present here. With Lord Ganesha’s grace, he should perform again and again here. I stop here and I take your leave.” 

•    Tilak’s appeal to the audience on behalf of noted classical exponent Bhaskarrao Bakhle in Kesariwada (then known as Gaikwadwada) on September 2, 1915

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