A fatal car accident in Calcutta on the fateful evening of 13th February 1974 ruthlessly stopped Ustad Amir Khan's melody-laden life's journey at its peak. He was barely 62 then. Ustad Vilayat Khan, the celebrated sitar maestro and the brother of Amir Khan's estranged first wife, rushed to be by the side of his long lost friend, and alongside the legendary Inayat Khan at Kolkata's Gobra cemetery, Amir Khan was laid to rest.
But his music rose like a phoenix, particularly in Bengal. All musicians are under its spell — consciously or unconsciously. The extra-slow, pensive temperament of his raga elaboration has tempered the styles of every other gharana. His innovative voice-throw, intimate depths of lower octave, poignantly pregnant pauses, clearly enunciated lyrics and their deep emotional bond with the raga's persona and brain-teasing taans with every conceivable rhythmic variant — all gelled well with the era of microphones and the new generation of educated aficionados. Modern intelligentsia preferred its understated sharp intellectualism to the strongly pronounced angas of standard khayal singing. The peace and piety of his music was here to stay because the distraught nerves of modernity needed the solace of this kind of serene spirituality.
That Kolkata has not got over the brutal shock of the ustad's untimely departure even after 36 years was apparent in several recent programmes based on his life, his innovative trend-setting style and his compositions.
The Ramakrishna Institute of Culture organised an in-depth analysis of his gayaki by Amalan Dasgupta, Professor of English, Jadavpur University, and a scholar of Indian classical music. It was supported by some rare recordings of Amir Khan along with Rajab Ali Khan, Waheed Khan and Aman Ali Khan, his mentors who greatly influenced his evolution as a musician. It was intriguing to know that as a young aspirant he sported a moustache, wore pagri, sang in a high-pitched voice and introduced himself as Professor Amir Ali! The intellectual founder of the Indore gharana emerged later with years of resilience and devotion.
Thema Publication brought out a Bengali version of “Sageet ke Dedipyaman Surya Ustad Amir Khan: Jeevan evam Rachanayen”, penned by Pandit Tejpal Singh (of Singh Bandhu fame), one of the prime disciples of Amir Khan. The event also included listening to Khan saheb's recordings and viewing of a documentary film based on him. It turned out to be a rendezvous of the legend's admirers led by sarod maestros Buddhadev Dasgupta, Tejendar Narayan Majumdar, vocalists Alok Chatterjee, Subhra Guha, eminent critic Nilaksha Gupta and many others. Evidently the collection of Amir Khan's oft-sung khayal and tarana compositions along with their meaning, notation and key to correct enunciation in slightly modified Bangla script intensified the interest of his innumerable Bengali devotees. Sangeetacharya Amiya Ranjan Bandopadhyay, while releasing the book, observed, “Ustad Amir Khan was much ahead of his times and appears to be more relevant now. The appeal of his style is gaining ground day by day.”
The Sangeetacharya represents the Vishnupur gharana, but the recipient of prestigious Bhuwalka Award and this year's ITC Award is a devout devotee of Amir Khan. As a faculty member of Rabindra Bharati University he trained innumerable students and continues to do so even now besides authoring books on musicology. To celebrate the 84th birthday of this incredibly youthful performer, his disciples made him do what he worships; sing. His Kedar, Basant and Bahar replete with lyrical bandish-s were at once restrained and yet full of verve. His radiant raga elaboration and effortlessly cascading taans, spanning three octaves, were reminiscent of his mentor Ustad Amir Khan.