Swarsamrat Ali Akbar Khan Sahab – The Musician of musicians

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan

In last few days, due to an unfortunate incident, few words or concepts have been the talk of the town in India. One such is the word – ‘Nepotism’. Well, there is no doubt it exists in almost every field of fine arts. But we must always try to look at the other side of it before commenting on such a delicate topic.

Time – 1938, Place –Bombay, sixteen years old Shibu Dutta was residing at a Hindu Hotel. He had to do play somewhere for living. He decided to visit the Radio station there. Shibu Dutta’s first recording was broadcasted from Bombay. A staff artist accompanied Shibu Dutta on tabla. Today the music world worships this staff radio artist of tabla. We worship him as Ustad Alla Rakha  Khan.

Radio was one of the few modes of entertainment at that  time.  Their performance was broadcasted. Almost 1200 kms away, Maharaja Brijnath Singh of Maihar, listened to that program and informed Baba Allauddin, that this Shibu Dutta, could be his son Ali Akbar, who ran away from Maihar a few days back.   

Not only once, but Ali Akbar Khan Sahab had to run away from his Guru and father – Ustad Allauddin Khan Sahab – twice.

Now, why did he run away? He stated that reason clearly in his interviews. It was really difficult to cope up with the kind of Talim which was prescribed for him. Baba Allauddin, The legendary Guru of numerous eminent musicians, was also known for his very strict teaching style.  According to Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahab, he had to wake up at 5 in the morning and was supposed to start his Riyaz right then, till 11 at night with a minimum recess period.

Baba Allauddin  Khan’s life was not less than any fable. He carried the ocean of music within him through his years and years of talim and sadhna.

Probably he wanted to pass on that legacy to his disciples including  Pt Ravi Shankar, Pt Nikhil Banerjee, Pt Pannalal Ghosh, Pt Rabin Ghosh, and most certainly to his heir, Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, and Annapurna Devi. Baba nourished them all with his infinite musical wisdom. But he was uncompromisingly strict about the disciplines of his Talim.

Ali Akbar Khan Sahab had to carry forward that legacy. But the pressure of Riyaz was always there. That too with constant monitoring by Baba.  At times it must have been suffocating. But Swar-samrat, himself had acknowledged that much needed, strict schooling later.

The seed of Talim which was sowed at his very early age, started blooming when Ali Akbar was only thirteen. The tapestry of raag sangeet, which was knitted by his father, coloured the mind of innumerable listeners all across the world. The lullaby of his music take us to a journey to transcendence.

  Through a research I got a chance to dig into the archive of Amrita Bazar Patrika. There, I came across a  press release of All Bengal Music Conference. Published at Amrita Bazar Patrika, On 2nd January, 1940,– wherein the artist line up you would find the name of ‘Prof Allauddin with Ali Akbar’. He accompanied Baba so many times, from a very young age.

From the shadow of a legendary father and  Guru – the maestro emerged. Ustad Ali Akbar Khan Sahab, the musician musicians, the sage, made his journey to eternity on this day, eleven years back. His music works as an elixir to many of us, his philosophy shown us marga – the path.

 “it is a path for realization and salvation.”

….to be continued

 Courtesy: Atanu Chakrabarty, Kolkata Music Mapping, Amrita Bazar Patrika.

One Hundred Years of the wondrous advent: Remembering Pandit Ravi Shankar on his Birth Centenary.

Pandit Ravi Shankar

The Indian Music and The World Music:

It was a usual Friday night. Like many “Desi’s, we also headed towards Devon Avenue, Chicago from Deplanes for our Indian dinner. It was again a usual Desi restaurant with a spicy aroma and smokes of tandoor and old but gorgeous carpets, silverish or metal Arabic jugs, lanterns, and most certainly Indian instrumental music. We entered there and started enjoying Raag Durga on Sarod with the most prominent signature of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan Sahab and then gradually they played santoor and flute. I was a little hesitant about my identification of the Raga played on the flute and therefore I asked the person who brought us our cheque, very politely for the CD cover. It was back then in 2009, CD was still in the trend. That person asked me to wait and sent their manager/owner to cater these kinds of out of syllabus problems. The owner (non-Asian) seemed very enthusiastic. I said alright I was just enthralled by the ambiance and music and he replied promptly – “ Yes Maam, It was Pandit Raaaavi Shaaankar.”. I tried to clarify that there were no tracks of Pandit Ravi Shankar as there was no sitar track but I failed. He had a strong belief that if it is Indian Classical Music it has to be “Raaavi Shaankar”. So this is Panditji. Who became not only synonymous with Indian classical Music but also turned Indian Classical Music into World Music.

Panditji :

Yes, since my childhood I was taught to address him as Panditji. Why, because my parents and all their legendary musician associates used to call him Panditji. One day I found my mom getting quickly ready to go out somewhere. That was unusual for her to go anywhere in the afternoon. Later I found that she and my father went to meet Panditji at Pandit Kumar Bosses Northern Avenue residence. Also, I came to know that Pandit Ravi Shankar was quite fond of catfish curry (Magur macher jhol). At that age, we children had to eat that fish at gunpoint of our elders. I was really young and was really surprised that how come a world-known celebrity can be fond catfish of all things. That mystery never solved.

The new-age Indian Classical Music:

Not only Panditji’s sitar, I am also a huge follower of his talks, interviews, his philosophies. Many people at that time with probably could not take accept his views on Indian Classical Music at that time. But today we understand that he was much ahead of his time. In the first decade of post-colonial India, a huge change was occurring even in the field of Indian Classical Music. The monarchies were evaporating and the court musicians had to start performing for common people. Indian Classical Music crossed the barrier of the royal court and emerged as the music for the mass. In one of Panditji’s interview, he shared his valuable view on this. The listeners of the Royal court had adequate knowledge and Talim for listening. But when common people started going for classical concerts, many of them had neither knowledge nor patience to appreciate elaborate Alap or Behelwas. A makeover of the Indian Classical Music and its presentation was very much needed to sustain. And undoubtedly Pandit Ravi Shankar stood there as the pioneer. Even for the listeners abroad, his presentations took a different shape. He understood that pulse and as a result, we came across all those beautiful laykaris, which made the world audience glued to his music.

The most talked-about Indian Classical Musician :  

Born in a culturally inclined family, or as the young brother of the eminent dancer Sri Uday Shankar, as the young dancer at Uday Shankar’s troupe, as the students of Baba Allauddin Khan, as the Gurubhai and friend of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan, as one of the most acclaimed musicians of world music, as the father and off course as the husband of Smt Annapurna Devi – Pandit Ravi Shankar has always been the talk of the town for almost a century now. Pandit Ravi Shankar was also an accomplished dhrupad singer.  But dhrupad singing, sitar playing, discovering ragas or composing music do not intrigue us much. We feel more comfortable talking about his fictitious rivalry with Ustad Vilayet Khan or his mythic clashes with his first wife. His number of marriages or number of children doesn’t soothe my inner soul. But his music does.  We say he has shortened the process of Alap  and then I listen to his rendition of Raag Desi or Bhatiyar , and the way he establishes the Raga in just six to seven seconds astonishes me every time I listen to. That is his art, that is his music, that sustains in souls, just that music, and nothing else.

In Memorium: Sangeetacharya Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay: The Mythical Indian Classical Virtuoso: The laudable Guru: The celestial Human Being.

The Saga:

My musician friends often say that they envy my childhood. And they actually cannot be blamed. Our three-storied, classic north Kolkata house at paikpara and its very iconic narrowest, red staircases have literally carried many lotus feet of many maestros. For me, it was natural to see them almost every day and listen to many many legends of those maestros. My parents, the utmost connoisseur of music and literature, provided us such an ambiance to grow up in. And the time, they have experienced this magic world of Kolkata, the way they have drawn those narrations to me, was the most fascinating chapter of my journey with music. Now the time has changed. Many chroniclers have taken leave from this mundane world and slowly these narratives are disappearing with the course of time. But these are precious and I am just trying to save these jewels for our next genesis. Sangeetacharya Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay, The venerable maestro. His musical life and endless legends have always intrigued me to know and explore more and more. And thus, this journey began.

The Journey:

I remember, once I was waiting for my commute at Tollygunge on my way back from a long and hectic working day. I was waiting and listening to Behug. A popular composition it was – “Ab Hu Lalan Main Ka”, but it was by the Sangeet Nayak Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay, and the entire approach of that raag was different. It just made me discover the exact meaning of the terminology of ‘Alankar’. The way he was adding colours to that composition was unthinkable. Many autos came and gone, but I simply stood there, frozen in his music, frozen in his time. That was the day I probably rediscovered the maestro. I kept on listening to his music and started reading about him from whatever sources were coming in my way. Years later my Kolkata Saga journey started. On one beautiful winter morning, we headed towards Sarkar Lane, his last residence. Again, it’s located at my good old North Kolkata. We were there on time, quite early in the morning as promised, with all our equipment and props, but alas, the road was under maintenance for that time being and in a horrific state.  But we braved the challenge and reached our sacred destination. 

No 30 Sarkar Lane:

This journey was reminding me of the chapter of transportation to Diagon alley. Reaching that serene place through that bustling streets of Shrimani Market area was almost the same kind of experience for us. We reached No- 3o Sarkar Lane, where the maestro has spent the last twenty-nine years of his life. I felt like touching his precious harmonium and those photographs of Khalifa Badal Khan Sahab and Ustadji and his stalwarts’ students hoping to receive their precious touch in every corner of that house.  Ustadji’s family members including his two sons Sri Akhilananda Chattopadhyay , Sri Jayanta Chattopadhyay  and daughter in law Smt Malabika Chatterjee welcomed us at their iconic north Kolkata house with utmost warmth. I must mention here Ustadji,s eldest son Sri Nikhilananda Chattopadhyay lives in Germany. Vishmadeb’s youngest son Sri Jayanta Chattopadhyay himself is a noted singer and a prominent musicologist. He was kind enough to take us through this time traveling.

The Family:

A religious nexus can easily be found in Vishmadeb Chattopaghyay’s family for generations. According to their ancestral history, Vishmadeb’s family is another descendant of  Shri Ramkrishna Paramhanshadeb. Sadhak Gangananda Swami was one of the forefathers of Vishmadeb’s clan. Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay was born to Smt Prabhabati Debi and Sri Ashutosh Chattopadhyay at a village called Sarai near Pandua, West Bengal on 8th November 1909. His musical excellence was observed from his very early age.

The Prodigy:

Young Vishmadeb stepped into the world of music with his innate capacity. He copied the series of songs of Pala’s (Songs of Jatra or open-air theatre) immediately after listening to them once, at the age of five. Learned flute playing almost on his own. started playing harmonium with the guidance of Dwijen Seth. He also tried and mastered Esraj from Dwijen Chakrabarty. Later, Mr C.J Grifith came to teach him piano and saw him playing harmonium. He gave his wise verdict on that very moment that Vishmadeb is nothing but a genius. At the age of eleven, he performed at Senate Hall, Kolkata in 1920 and astonished many dignitaries there. His formal talim started with Sri Nagendra Dutta, a stalwart of tappa from Ranaghat. For two years Vishmadeb’s training continued under him and finally, there were not many lessons left to teach this prodigy. Sri Dutta then asked him to listen to the records of Gauhar jaan, Johra Bai and others. On one such day, in 1923,  Vishmadeb got connected to his Guru of Life, Khalifa Badal Khan Sahab. Khalifa used to teach Sri Nagendra Dutta, he came there and listened to this wonder boy singing Johrabai’s melody. Surprised Khalifa said – “ Larka Hunhar Hai, Kiska Shagird Hay” With quite a modesty Sri Dutta replied that he himself teaches Vishmadeb and immediately, absolutely with no modesty Khalifa replied – “Issey talim dena tumahare bas ka baat nehi”.  The eternal bond between Khalifa and Vishmadeb started right there. I have actually felt something after reading this story. Sri Dutta must have handed over vishmadeb very happily to Khalifa for further talim. These kinds of humbleness and honesty is something really rare to see. Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay recorded his first record of tappa from HMV at the age of twelve. This happened during his journey with Sri Nagendra Dutta.

Khalifa Badal Khan Sahab:  

History of Indian music consists of numerous gripping myths. “Sudha Sagar Tirey” is a wonderful biography of Ustad Badal Khan Sahab,  written by one of Vishmadeb’s senior disciples, Sri  Suresh Chakrabarty.  There I found this less known, fascinating story behind the naming of Badal Khan Sahab. He was born to a fakir. The fakir was supposed to leave his family for salvation after providing an heir to that Khandan. Everyone was expecting a boy and Fakir was kind of confident that he is going to have a boy. In due time a child was born but it was a beautiful girl child. Fakir received that news from the midwife. The surprised Fakir sat for meditation for half an hour and then said “Ab Jao Woh Badal Ho Gaya”. And they checked again and saw that it was indeed a boy child. For this magical “Badal’ he was named Badal Khan. Now, who is going to authenticate whether it was myth or mithya!!

Legendary sarangi and vocal virtuoso Khalifa Badal Khan Sahab was connected to Kolkata for a very long period of time. Many pupils were blessed with his talim in Kolkata. In autumn of his life, he found Vishmadeb, his beloved one. I have captured some stories of their unique learning sessions in the video.  Those stories just made me realize that some bonds are eternal. And the way they found each other is also inexplicable.

The Ustad Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay:

Like all of us, Vishmadeb was also blessed with a normal human life span. But he has lived life in such an inspiring way that it became a milestone, it became history. Khandani Talim from the  Guru of that stature, his performances stood as the awe-inspiring moment for every listener,   path-breaking records, not only khayal,  Vishmadeb Chattopadyay has mesmerized numerous audiences with his unique harmonium playing, with his mesmerizing thumris and also by his very own style of Bengali Ragpradhan Gaan. His tranquil melodies like ‘Fulero Din Holo Je Abosan’ or  ‘ Nabaruno Raage’ brings us all back immediately to that era.

There are numerous stories of the maestro’s legendary performances. One such performance took place at Chatu Babu Latu Babu’s palatial house. Vishmadeb was performing.  Legendary Bacchalal Mishra of Banaras was accompanying him on Sarengi. Vishmadeb was doing Tana and Sarengi was following. Vishmadeb kept on improvising that tana in a very intricate way. Pt. Mishra continued for a long time, then literally started packing the Sarengi on stage, as there was nothing more add to his majestic singing. After a while, Vishmadeb noticed that there was no sound of Sarengi and asked him to play again. Like many others, that day Pt. Mishra also got absolutely enthralled with Vishmadeb’s singing. Sri Jayanta Chattopadhyay, his son, once shared this story to me, as the eye witness, during an interview session for Kolkata music mapping.  

Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay, The Guru:

 As I was saying, I always feel that, in our life, certain relations take place magically. When you look back at them you will feel that magic inside you. One such magical bond is the connection between a guru and shishya. Vishmadeb himself was blessed with a Guru, who understood Vishmadeb probably the most. His unique way of teaching stands as an inspiration to us even today. Similarly, Vishmadeb also bloomed many stalwarts as their affectionate Guru. Sometimes as Guru, as father and sometimes as friend, Vishmadeb deeply touched the lives of their disciples. From Kanan Debi to Chhaya Debi, from Begum Akhtar to S.D Burman or from Rajkumar Shyamananda Sing of Banaili state to magnificent Lily Chakrabarty, Vishmadeb has nurtured the musical journey of many.

The star friends and Accolades: At a very young age, moody Vishmadeb found his moody Guru. In later life also he got associated many noted musicians.  Pt. Radhika Mohan Maitra, Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan  and many more ace musicians of that era developed a very strong musical friendship with Vishmadeb Chattopadhyay. The sagas of their nightlong drive to suburbs of Kolkata or stories of their  Riyaz in some of their farmhouse seems like fable today. During his  Megaphone days, Vishmadeb was also very closely associated with Kaji Nazrul Islam. Later at his Sarkar Lane house, eminent musicians like  Sri Nachiketa Ghosh, Sri Manabendra Mukhopadhyay or Sri Dhananjay Bhattacharya used to come to listen to the maestro.   The street used to be filled with cars just to listen to The ustad’s captivating music.

If I Ever Be Forgotten:

On 8th August,1977, The ustad, made his journey to the infinity. Leaving behind a shadow of his enormous life on many, leaving behind his music eternal. His musical and spiritual  sagas must not ever be faded away.  His glories must be preserved well in our heart and soul. ‘Jodi Money  Pore, Sedinero Kotha’….