A bow of many colours
Continuing the series on accompanying artistes, meet Gullu Ahmad, sarangi exponent.
Photo: Avinash Pasricha.
Here with blessings: Gullu Ahmad revels in the sarangi's moods .
When dancers refer to him as `Gullu ji who plays the sarangi for Pandit Birju Maharaj' you might expect Gullu Ahmad to be a greying, wizened musician of many decades' experience. Yet Gullu, for all his hoary ancestry - he is the seventh generation of a musical family - turns out to be your average Delhi 26-year-old in T-shirt and jeans. Like many of his contemporary classical musicians, he is able to bridge the divide between his classical training and modern times, between commuting on DTC buses and reigning on stage.
"The sarangi is disappearing as an instrument. I feel it is very important to popularise it through concerts. It has almost been relegated to dance accompaniment alone," says Gullu, of the instrument that derives its name from sau rang or 100 colours, referring to its multifarious uses. A disciple of his father Ustad Ghulam Ahmed Qadri and uncle Ustad Sabri Khan, Gullu has been working for the past six years under the guidance of Pandit Birju Maharaj as a staff member of the Kathak maestro's institute Kalashram.
Though he prefers playing solo concerts, Gullu - just back from a concert in Guwahati - enjoys accompaniment too. His aim is to be able to exactly reproduce the intonations of the singer. Playing for dance might have its limitations, as when the instrumentalist has to stick to the lehra and not deviate, but there is a chance for ornamentation when it comes to the songs, says Gullu, who has also accompanied other eminent Kathak dancers like Ram Mohan Maharaj, Aditi Mangaldas and Rajendra Gangani.
"Birju Maharaj ji is a fund of knowledge. I learn so much from him. The thumris, dadras, taranas I have learnt from him were not in my original repertoire. I also learn the technique of ragadari from him. As for tours, I have been to Holland and South Korea with him, and in India, more places than I can recount."
Gullu is a man of many parts. Besides the sarangi, he learnt the sitar from his father. He counts vocalist Rubina Ahmed among his gurus and has accompanied her on the sarangi. Besides, he has accompanied Hariharan in shows of the Colonial Cousins. A singer too, Gullu says, "I've picked up a lot of things by watching. Sometimes I sing for Birju Maharaj. I can do a creditable tatkar (Kathak footwork), and I have done a few roles in Maharaj ji's compositions like `Romeo and Juliet', `Loha' and `Hori'. I picked up the tabla too. I also teach, both sarangi and vocal music. In my teaching as in my performances, I am game to try out different aspects of music. But really, it is all due to the blessings of Maharaj ji and my father that I am here at all."
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