I think the title of this post summarises the life of most tabla players, and Indian classical musicians in general! This art is so demanding, it seems no amount of practice is ever enough. One gradually gets better over time, but perfection – if there is such a thing – is elusive. One hears this from highly advanced players as much as from beginners. I used to find it hard to believe. But now I’m starting to understand. There is no “end point”. Only the journey. This is kind of scary to contemplate, and yet exciting at the same time.
I’m back to practicing a rela I first learned long ago: “Dhina Gena Taga Dhina Gena Dhina Dhara Gena”. It may be the toughest rela I know. It is excruciatingly difficult to play at speed, and yet it only really sounds good when played at high speed. My first guru Kulbhushanji used to play it wonderfully well. All my attempts to play it have usually ended with my giving up 😦
Abhijit Banerjee is currently guiding me through it – he has recommended practicing the phrase “Dhina Dhara Gena” as this is where the difficulty lies. Especially in the “Dhi-NA”. Sounds do-able… it isn’t. All my attempts thus far have felt like a case of one step forward, two steps backward. There are days when it feels like it is starting to come. But then the next day, I can hardly play it at all. Confounding. I am left wondering how on earth it can be so difficult, and how the masters manage to play it so well. Although, Abhijit Banerjee has admitted to me that he hardly ever plays this rela as it is “too much work”!
I’m relatively happy with my progress in other areas. I’ve been trying to focus on solidifying my core material, by practicing in a slower tempo, with only occasional bursts of speed. As opposed to trying to play fast all the time. It is really important to build up an “internal rhythm” which is best done by practicing in slower tempos (it seems), otherwise it is very easy to get off track when you play fast. This feels like a process of “gradual refinement”, which takes patience and time. Like steadily chipping away at a rock to create a sculpture. That’s a good analogy actually. At first you’ll only see the bare outlines of the sculpture. Over time, bit by bit, you’ll refine it until a life-like statue appears. But that takes time, lots of time, and you can’t rush it.