Proud to be an Indian
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan has criss-crossed the globe, playing the sarod at prestigious venues. But at heart, he's a true Indian
INDIA'S OWN Ustad Amjad Ali Khan: `Art and life are not two different things for me'
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan ko gussa kyon aata hai? Because whenever he alights from the plane at the international airport in New Delhi, he hears strains of Western music. "Now, it is 200 TV channels versus Ustad Amjad Ali Khan," says the world famous sarod exponent, clad in a raw silk pyjama-kurta and a reversible "dorukha" shawl draped around his shoulders. He is known for his exquisite collection of shawls, one of which a 400-year-old piece he presented to the late Princess Diana during her visit to India.
"You can hardly see the real India through our television channels. What's there for children or the rural populace in glamorous soap operas? In the name of entertainment, there's an overdose of cinema," rues the Ustad. You cannot miss the tinge of distress in his tone when he says, "It's great to see the Indian economy booming. But I want our leaders to talk about aesthetics and not just statistics."
The charming Ustad's conversation is like a raag that soars one minute and drops the next. So you can hear him talk about soul, sadhana and global reach and in the same breath about finding the perfect partner and bringing up children.
"Art and life are not two different things for me. Both teach you to relate to things at the subliminal and ordinary levels. Music helps you deal with every situation. It soothes and matures you. I have never forced my children into anything. But my wife and I have always insisted on tehzeeb and izzat (manners and respect). I am happy with the way they have imbibed the musical tradition of the Bangash lineage (seventh generation) as well as contemporary sounds."
In the age of MP3 and i-pods, it's presentation that gives you an edge, insists the Ustad. As a youngster, he had performed all night at concerts in Calcutta. It's wise to package and prune concerts to cater for today's restless audience. "I get disturbed and stop playing when there's movement in the hall. It's humiliating. Your art should have the power to keep them hooked."
Credited with putting the sarod on the global platform and creating new raags (his Priyadarsini was named after Indira Gandhi and Subhalakshmi after his wife), he says, "Following a tradition and a custom is not the same. Tradition allows you to think and create, while custom will make you stereotyped."
The Ustad, who performed his first concert at age six (he has converted his ancestral home in Gwalior into a Sarod Ghar), is all praise for how art and culture have continued to remain an integral part of the lives of people down South.
"In the midst of malls and multiplexes, the Margazhi festival still holds its own. It is only getting bigger and bigger."
Classical music, according to the Ustad, cannot have mass appeal. "People should follow it, it cannot follow people. If the latter happens, this music will lose its sanctity." The Ustad has also performed with eminent Carnatic musicians, including Emani Shankara Sastri and Mysore Doraiswamy Iyengar. His wife Subhalakshmi was a student of Kalakshetra. "After our marriage, Rukminiji hosted a reception under the banyan tree on the Kalakshetra campus. Later, on the occasion of the institution's 50th anniversary celebration, my wife and I performed."
In a way, this musician's journey is a lesson for many Indians. He has criss-crossed the globe, playing at prestigious venues. But at heart, he's a true Indian.
Send this article to Friends by