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Strings attached



Nizamuddin Khan.

DESTINY HAS lambasted Nizam on more than one occasion. Twentyseven years of his life given to Akashvani tuning musical instruments did not fetch him a permanent job, an accident and a resultant broken leg left him jobless for another two years, then came the loss of his brother and now his shop of 14 years at New Delhi's Minto road is on the verge of closure.

Much clued on his work of repairing string instruments, especially sitar, the impecunious deft mender is clueless where he will be in a couple of months from now, when he abrogates his cavity of a shop rooted at his late brother's Government-allotted quarter.

Nizam or Nizam sitar wale as Nizamuddin Khan is admirably known as, got smitten with sitar at the age of nine. "A carpenter can make a sitar but only a master like Nizam knows how to make a shape sing in the correct voice like sitar," Nick Bradley, a British photo journalist quotes his Ustad sitarist Mohsin Ali Khan on Nizam.

Trotting past the house of sitar repairer Mohammad Hussain Khan, in Lucknow, Nizam frequently heard the strums of sitar while the Ustad checked the strings. The mellifluous strum shook his heart's strings and got him hooked to the instrument.

Delhi arrival

Nizam came to Delhi at the age of 17 to help an acquaintance complete an export order of Indian stringed instruments and since then this city has been his home. A dab hand in repairing all string instruments - sitar, sarod, tanpura, santoor, dilruba, Israz, sarangi, he is also a dexterous sitar maker.

Nick met Nizam five years back, when at Hongkong his Ustad Moshin Khan recommended him to get sitar from Nizam.

It is his skill and humble demeanour that pulls big names to his poky shop. In over 30 decades in the Capital he has tuned the instruments of Ahmed Aza Khan, the late Ustad Vilayat khan, Ustad Shahid Pervez Khan, Ustad Zafar Khan of the Delhi Gharana and so on.

"Ghulam Ali Khan Sahib was sitting right here," smiles Nizam motioning to one other ottoman at his shop, "The famed ghazal singer from Pakistan had brought his family physician's sitar which many had condemned as `gone' but I said that the sitar can be repaired and it would cost him Rs.500. He was taken aback. Later, he called up to inform that his physician was happy with the job."

Just days ago Nick was at the shop to get his sitar fixed. He took his hoarse sitar, avers Nick, "to many shops, even big instrument manufacturers. Each one improved it a little but a visit at Nizam and it came back singing properly".

Be it Pop singer Billy Stevens, his friend of 30 years for whom he made an instrument very similar to guitar, dining at his house or his own visit to the late M.S. Subbulaksmi's house at Hyderabad, some of the memories are close to his heart.

"I still have the shawl that Subbulaksmi ji presented to me," reminisces Nizam.

An adroit worker and a father of four, he still puts up bravely with his spartan lifestyle. His children, who are not interested in carrying his creative legacy, have drifted to other remunerative jobs. The closest connection with music in his family now is his wife Nafisa Begum who belongs to a Sarodiya gharana of Delhi.

One can get touched by Nizam's naivety. His sitar doesn't even bear his mark. Comments Nick, "His instrument will speak for him, that possibly is the point he was making."

How long does it take to make one Sitar?

"About two to three months," informs Nizam. He crafts sitar from old rosewood pieces. "I pick up four to five year old rosewood, because by then the wood dries, turns black from red. Dried wood is better because then only the weight of sitar would be light. The more withered wood, the better it is."

He travels to the hills to select and buy the required wood. Parts like bridge, made from camel's bone, and the knobs are procured specially from Lucknow, apprises Nizam. "A sitar sells anywhere from Rs.6,500 to 20, 000 depending upon the type of sitar one wants to get made."

Trouncing fate has not dithered his love for the sitar and other string instruments. The journey continues to be an arduous one, maintains a straitened Nizam. The only satisfaction is that he has earned fame and respect in these years among the established devoted classical music lovers.

The amour, which began at an early age, has not faded one shade. The 52-year-old wants to live with strings attached for the rest of his life.

URMILA RAO

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