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`We don't teach just music'

The grand couple of Hindustani music Begum Parween Sultana and Ustad Dilshad Khan get into a jugalbandi of words



MUTUAL ADMIRATION Ustad Dilshad Khan calls Parween Sultana his perfect student and she considers him her perfect guru Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

When Begum Parween Sultana and Ustad Dilshad Khan pose for our camera, they're completely at ease. She tells us how beautiful his compositions are, including the one he has composed in Maluhamand. He says he calls her Yaman (the raga), because no one sings it like her. Getting them to talk to each other, but not about each other, was quite a challenge, says MALA KUMAR, who caught the exuberant couple just before they performed yet another enthralling jugalbandi.

Both have been child prodigies. Begum Parween Sultana received her early training from father Ikramul Majid, then from Acharya Chinmoy Lahiri in Kolkata, and finally from husband-to-be Ustad Dilshad Khan in Mumbai.

Ustad Dilshad Khan started learning the tabla at the age of four from his father and later took up singing under the guidance of N.C. Chakravorty, Hidan Banarjee and Gyan Prakash Ghosh. Influenced greatly by the gayaki of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan of the Patiala gharana, he later became the disciple of Fayyaz Ahmed Khan and his brother Ustad Hiaz Ahmed Khan of Kirana gharana. Having been exposed to the best in the Seni, Patiala and finally the Kirana styles, Dilshad became so obsessed with classical music that he gave up a lucrative career as a marine engineer to dedicate his life to the cause of Indian classical music.

In an intimate conversation, the musical couple speak of the tehzeeb or culture of old world music and the politics of today's "music talent" world. Excerpts:

Begum Parween Sultana (BPS): Let's talk about our music.

Ustad Dilshad Khan (UDK): What? And displease the best cook in the world! No, no... (To the writer) Parween is an excellent cook, and I love to eat. You know, we're almost South Indian in our tastes.

BPS: (Getting right back to their favourite topic, music) Achcha Khan saab, do you remember? We first came to Bangalore as musicians in 1978, invited by the Rama Seva Mandali, and today again we are here to perform for them.

UDK: Yes, the Bangalore audience has always been excellent, isn't it? Those were great days... people used to take so much trouble to listen to great artistes. The singers were great because they used to be so experienced and they used to do so much riyaaz. Everyone seemed to have time to sit through long recitals... (He then gets into a two-minute conversation with the writer.)

BPS: (Bringing him back to the conversation) Khan saab, zara idhar dekhiye...

UDK: Battees saal se dekh raha hoon... two years as my student and for 30 years after our marriage!

BPS: In the music room you are my guru...

UDK: And you are an excellent student. We do have very good students all over the world. But isn't the world itself changing? People want to learn music, learn karate, painting... everything in quick workshops.

BPS: True. But we are different. We have been teaching only those who want to become professional singers. And we teach not just music but the tehzeeb — the culture, the etiquette, that an artiste should have.

UDK: We don't want to teach students for whom it means hobby... or hubby!

(But Parween got both, didn't she?!)

UDK: That is true, but even today she is a true student. But haven't we seen people who want to become singing sensations within 48 hours? They want to become Indian Idols. See that Ravind...

BPS: Now don't bring him up Khan Saab.

UDK: But how did people vote for that besura man?

BPS: Why do you want to talk about him? We are not bothered. You know, you must be careful about what you say. We have to realise that to be successful, it is not enough just to be talented. One needs to be blessed, one needs to know the nerve of the audiences and you also need a cool temperament. Success comes and knocks on the door, but you have to open the door. And to maintain success you have to work very hard. You have to be diplomatic.

UDK: Yes, I agree, you are my guru in this department. There is a small difference between being simple and being a simpleton. And I'm often thought of as the latter!

BPS: No, no, you are just too sentimental. And too nice. We all need to be disciplined, but you are too much! So many times I have had to drag you away from riyaaz because people are waiting for us, or we have a flight to catch....

UDK: See, my guruji died on my lap. And he told me never to let go of two things — namaaz and riyaaz. So it's very difficult for me to change.

BPS: I am a singer and a performer.

UDK: So you need to add garam masala!

BPS: Yes, we need to be very practical. Knowing your audience and catering to them is not just important, it is the most important thing.

(Is that why Lata Mangeshkar continues to sing, even when her voice shakes?)

UDK: Why not, when she sings so well? And when... (turning to his wife) ok, I won't take his name.

BPS: Why are you comparing Amma with that man? She still does riyaaz before coming for a recording!

(Changing the topic to talk about their other interests)

BPS: You are an excellent artist and paint so well. You have a great sense of colour and style. You even chooses my saris, my lipstick. (laughs) But you don't like to come shopping with me.

UDK: But don't you have the best companion, the love of our life, our daughter.

BPS: At 17, she has a voice that has an excellent range. She is a kind, sensitive, loving child, and she and you are very close.

UDK: I object! You are her favourite!

BPS: Bakwaas!

UDK: (Turning to the writer) Let me take two minutes to tell you....

BPS: Bas, bas, Dilshad, these two-minutes will be endless and we have to leave...

UDK: We have to meet Sai Baba to take his blessings, let's go.

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