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In the true “parampara” spirit

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The Economic Times, December 18, 1988

It was the sitar maestro, Vilayat Khan who dominated, so to speak, the week-end musical activity in Bombay. He is a maestro who seldom condescends to perform in public.

Although, numerically speaking, he made two public appearances, his recital was scheduled only once. It was not a solo recital, but a duet which he partnered with his eldest son, the 27-year-old Shujaat Khan, on the surbahar.

His second appearance, which came two days later, was at a simple but impressive function which was organised by his admirers, friends and his shishya parampara. At this function, the artiste featured in solo wasa Shujaat Khan, but as a sitarist. Thus both the events generated much curiosity and anticipation in the city’s milieu.

The jugalbandi between father and son was sponsored by HelpAge India, a humanitarian organisation, to raise its resources. The programme, held at the Ball Room of the Taj Mahal Hotel in the presence of the city’s elite, comprised a thematic presentation symbolizing the love of the Moghul emperor, Shah Jehan, for his queen, Mumtaz Mahal.

The story-line of the theme, aptly styled “Shab-e-Taj” or “A night at the Taj”, began when, as a s youthful prince, he was awakened to life’s romance. Initially, we were treated to a sound vision which unleashed a flood of swaras that emanated from the swara-mandal in the background. It was designed to echo an overflow of untutored emotions expressed through the music of the sitar heralding the arrival of Mumtaz. Her sight captivated the prince who was personified in the music of the surbahar. The medley of swaras was then heard crystallized into a concrete melody – the celebrated night raga, Shahana. This part of the story was depicted in alap.

The story now progresses, with the couple, duly united in wedlock, going through various pahses of worldly life. These are experiences of success and failure, of pleasure and pain, of weal and woe which are shared by both in equal measure. These are reflected in the succession of jod and jhala movements. From romance and love, the story moves on to potray a positive expression of mundane life – the lust for power, the conquest of enemies and the sense of fulfillment. The gat compositions in vilambit and drut were designed to depict a variety of emotions and situations.

Then comes a bolt from the blue – the sudden death of Mumtaz Mahal. The mood of the melody is naturally made to change from contentment to that of the emperors agony after his beloved’s death. The emperor, deposed and imprisoned by his usurper son, Aurangazeb, took to ardent prayer to the Almighty to call him to Heaven, so that he could be reunited with his departed queen. The story ends with the musical presentation of the reunion, when the couple joyfully look down on the Taj Mahal.

Musically speaking, the presentation was such as to make a lasting impact on the audience even if the music were shorn of its thematic base. Because the partnering duo, despite a generation gap between them, revealed superb team spirit and mutual understanding in their joint effort. What is more, the complex resources of the sitar and the surbahar were so happily blended that the recital offered us, from start to finish, a treat in harmonious wholesome melody, full of intense classical appeal.

Incidentally, the sponsors’ claim tha the ideal of the concert was new and that it was “a unique landmark in the musical evolution in this country” does not hold water, if one goes by an identical experiment put through by HMV through a commercial release 20 years ago. It was even titled “A Night at the Taj” and it offered a sitar-surbahar duet played, respectively, by Vilayat Khan and his younger brother, Imrat Khan.

A touch of originality, such as it was, could be found in the story line. The HMV disc was designed to depict, musically an imaginary incident, relating to the princely pair whose souls, restless in Heaven, yearn for a return to earth and be together for a while in their temple of love, the Taj Mahal.

Even more heartwarming was the felicitation function. Apart from the Ustad’s admirers and friends, it was a sight for the Gods to see the congregation of nearly 150 artistes, all representing the Ustad’s musical lineage of three generations, present to offer their fond tribute to the 64-year-old stalwart. They came from various parts of the country.

All of them pursued their musical vocation either as teachers or as performers. Several of the performers have already made their mark on the concert platform. Their dedication came as a true symbol of guru-shishya parampara, which is otherwise seen to be going out of vogue from the traditional scene.

Equally appropriate was the choice of the celebrated Mogubai Kurdikar, who, at 84, is the doyenne of the Atrauli-Jaipur gharana. Vilayat Khan was closely associated with Mogubai during those turbulent days of the agitation launched by musicians from all over the country against AIR’s audition policy in 1952. She referred to this association feelingly in her brief prepared speech, which was read out by her eminent daughter Kishori Amonkar.

Suitably responding to Mogubai’s sentiments, Vilayat Khan emphatically pointed out that the survival of traditional music and other performing arts lay in the preservation and progress of the parampara ideology. Mr Arvind Parikh, the seniormost disciple, of the Ustad, in his welcome speech, explained how the Ustad’s ideology was being pursued by a succession of shishya parampara in a spirit of total dedication.

The function began on a sublime note with a brilliant solo recital on the sitar by Shujaat Khan. His exposition of Shree showed him as a veteran in the making, following in the footsteps of his illustrious father and guru.

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