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.