'Abba was my true humdard'
Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan speaks to Preeti Khilnani about penning a memoir on his father and guru Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan and why he chose Amitabh Bachchan to release the book
Meeting the legend, a master with such culture, class and royalty, in the midst of luxurious modernity at the Four Season’s Hotel coffee shop, was akin to visiting a king in his court. Impeccably dressed in a suede-coloured chudidar-kurta, with a coloured shawl resting gently on his shoulders, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan personifies dignity and surreal poise.
My Father, Our Fraternity throws light on the life and times of the renowned sarod icon Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan, not only his father but also his teacher and the person responsible for his success. “This year marks my father’s 40th death anniversary. It is also appropriate because there has been no literature on him at all,” says the sarod samrat. Ten years ago, Roli Books, the publishers of this memoir, started the Family Pride series about sons and fathers, gurus and students. Ustadji’s sons, also acclaimed sarod players, Amaan Ali Khan and Ayaan Ali Khan contributed to this series with a book on their father called Abba — God’s Greatest Gift to Us.
Incidentally, it was Ayaan who pushed him to write this book on his father. “I used to write diaries in the 1980s during my travels abroad. Then I decided that I was not a good writer and threw them away. My son Ayaan found them in a dustbin not too long ago and requested me to continue, which eventually led to this book,” he reveals.
Coming from the Bangash lineage of musicians, Ustadji is the sixth generation musician and the inheritor of the musical legacy from ancestors who are known to have created the sarod. His father pioneered the unique and advanced technique of using his left fingernails to play the sarod. “I grew up with music in my veins. I had great fortune that Abba was my guru too,” he says, stressing on the fact that his book is not only about his father and his contemporaries, but also highlights the tradition of the guru-shishya parampara.
My Father, Our Fraternity has anecdotes from his early life and throws light on the man behind the musician. “The book contains an interesting anecdote about my father when he received the Padma Bhushan in 1960 from India’s first president Dr Rajendra Prasad. After the ceremony, the president asked him whether he could do anything for him and can you believe what my father said? Like a child in all innocence he asked, ‘Can you please save the Raag Darbaari?’ You see Raag Darbaari was created by Tansen himself and its practitioners were starting to adulterate it. Such was his sense of dedication to music. When he could have asked for a house or a car, he asked for such an abstractly childlike wish,” says Khan saheb, who was awarded the Padma Bhushan in 1991, the Padma Shri in 1975, and the Padma Vibhushan in 2001.
The passion with which Ustadji talks about his lineage and his music reflects a meditative relationship with music. “My father taught me that music is not a profession, it is a way of life. Classical music requires patience, tolerance and perseverance and we tried to practice those virtues in our life as well,” he reminisces.
Having served his father for the last 10 years of his life, when he was suffering from severe diabetes, Ustadji misses him and reveres him more with passing time. “In our field, there is competition and jealousy and it is hard to find a humdard. I’m not talking about a friend but ek sachcha humdard, who is happy to see you happy. Abba was my humdard and for the last 40 years, there has not been one day that I have not thought of him,” he says.
A firm believer of family values, Ustadji chose Amitabh Bachchan to release this book, “Bachchanji served his parents till the end and I believe that’s why he is such a multi-dimensional man. Who better to understand this book than him? I’m sure the soul of Harivansh Raiji is watching over the Bachchan family.”
And the souls of all of Ustadji’s ancestors are watching over him, his sons and grandsons, as the unmatchable legacy continues.