A day before his performance at the Nehru Centre, legendary musician and sitar maestro Ustad Rais Khan opens up about music, his chocolate fixation as a kid, and living in Pakistan, in a freewheeling chat with Surekha S
We begin with a confession. We haven't laughed this much in an interview, especially when it involves a legendary musician.
Ustad Rais Khan
The two hours that we spent with sitar maestro Ustad Rais Khan at his Mumbai Central residence was informal, spontaneous and so much fun.
The 72-year-old sitarist still exhibits the same passion and devotion for music as he did in his youth. We also got a glimpse of his charming persona and fun-loving attitude through the many jokes and stories that came our way as he recounted incidents from his past.
The Ustad learnt the sitar from his father Ustad Mohammed Khan since he was two and a half, when his father first presented him with a coconut shell sitar.
He gave his first performance when he was barely five. "It was at Sunderbai Hall and I performed in the presence of the then governor of Bombay, Sri Maharaja Singh," he reminisces. Since then he has been giving regular performances across the country.
"As I grew up I came to be known as the chocolate musician," he says as he breaks into a laugh. Apparently, if someone wanted to make him play faster and defeat the tabla player, all they had to do was offer him a chocolate. "I was at a performance, when after a while my hands started paining and I wanted to slow down.
My mother, who was seated on the first row, asked me to speed up and I gave her a reluctant look. Slowly, she slowly took out a chocolate from her purse and showed it to me. My speed increased. As the number of chocolates increased so did my speed, till finally, the tabla player gave up," he recalls with a glint of mischief in his eyes.
Barely a pre-teen, he came to be known not just as an excellent sitarist but also as a great singer. He was conferred the title of Ustad at the age of 11. "In those days, musicians from all India would assemble at a place to hear a performer. They would then collectively decide to give him the title. These days, there are many musicians who take on the title by themselves," he says.
For the love of music
Having been trained by his father, Rais Khan kept the legacy alive and trained his son from a very young age. "When Farhan was seven to eight months old, he would crawl on to my lap and move his hands on the sitar. I guess his journey in music started then," he says.
Rais Khan will be performing with Farhan at the concert to be held today at the Nehru Centre. Ask Farhan how it is to perform with his father, "It is amazing. But it is even today a little scary sharing the same stage," he admits.
Rais Khan moved to Pakistan in 1986, post marriage and has been living there since, but he feels appreciation for music there is not a patch on what it is here.
"From 1986, I have hardly done about 5 to 6 programmes on radio, around that many on television, and performed in one or two conferences. So, now you can guess the ratio between performances in India and Pakistan. India is the root for music, Pakistan is nothing in comparison," he says.
Ustad beyond music
Ustad Rais Khan is not just a famed musician, but also a swimming champion, badminton player and a car racer.
"I also obtained a private pilot license and won competitions in Western dance and pistol shooting," he adds, as we are wondering how he found time for all of that, along with his music. "Time was never a constraint, I always had too much on my hands," he concludes with a grin.
ON Today, 6.30 pm onwards
AT Nehru Centre, Worli.
ENTRY Tickets available at Venue, Rhythm House and Maharashtra Watch Co, Dadar and are priced at Rs 500,
Rs 300 and Rs 200 CALL 24188494