Playing personal notes

Updated: Jan 21, 2020, 09:48 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Sitar maestro Hidayat Khan to play an intimate gig at a decor store in Lower Parel

As far as musical families go, there are few in the world that are as illustrious as Hidayat Husain Khan's. A quick list of his relatives includes the who's who of Indian classical. There's his cousin, Nishad Khan, who plays the sitar so fast that his fingers blur as they move up and down the instrument. His brother, Shujaat, made a record that was good enough to be nominated for a Grammy Award in 2004. Then there's of course his father, Vilayat Khan, arguably the country's greatest ever sitar player alongside Pandit Ravi Shankar. In fact, going through his ancestry reveals seven generations of artistes who have consistently brought Indian classical music out of its constricted circles to give the art form a mass appeal it lacked earlier.

Yet, when we ask Khan whether the future generations in his family are taking up the musical mantle, he pooh-poohs the notion that there is any legacy that his younger kin need to carry forward. "Gharanas aren't like royal lineages. When my father passed away, there was no throne that I was put on and told that I am the king now, because with us, the lineage doesn't continue through the bloodline. It continues via talent. So I don't feel any such pressure and whoever among the family's students has the required capability will be the torchbearer in the future," the musician tells us over the phone, ahead of an intimate concert he will play in Mumbai.

The setting of this gig is such that it suits Khan. The maestro tells us that he prefers playing before smaller gatherings than in large auditoriums. He says, "I was talking to some friends the other day and telling them how I always ask organisers to not host shows meant for more than 500 people. There is an intimate conversation that you need to have with your audience as a classical musician. The emotional connect can't be lost. That's why I absolutely love performing at small mehfils, where I sometimes feel my toes physically reach out to the audience, feeling their vibrations. I really feel that the audience and ambience are as much the performer as the artiste is, since it's almost like a jugalbandi that I am having with them. And in an intimate setting, I am able to understand their emotions at a deeper level."

The New Jersey resident adds that this is also why he prefers playing in India than in the West; the understanding that people here have of classical music is greater than anywhere else. "This is our music. It's in our DNA," Khan says, adding that the connection he feels with the audience in the smaller towns is unparalleled. Plus, there was a time when the country was lagging far behind some others when it came to technological back-up. But not anymore. "It's become a level playing field now. The sound engineers here understand the subtleties. They know what we require."

But given the Internet and the new-fangled sounds that have cropped up these days, how does he feel that Indian classical is placed in the modern era? Is it in good health? Khan has a clear answer. He says, "Every generation feels that there is a disconnect with the next one. From audio cassettes to CDs to iPods to streaming services, the medium of listening to music has changed. But the way we played raag yaman 1,000 years ago is exactly the same as it's played today, and I don't subscribe to the view that the audience for Indian classical is fading out. It's just that it's up to the artiste to bring them on board."

On January 22, 8 pm
On Baro, Sun Mills Compound, Lower Parel.
Call 9004981728
Cost Rs 1,200 including dinner

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