Mahmud Mirza’s concert represented aptly his music approach — classicism with on-the-spot improvisation

While a large number of instrumentalists claim to be playing gayaki ang, thereby meaning that they are trying to offer a Khayal-based performance, they seldom specify which specific gharana or style of Khayal they are presenting. This is mainly because most of the time their music is rather eclectic than gharana-specific. Barring a few, like veteran violin player N. Rajam and sarod maestro Biswajit Roy Chowdhury, not many instrumentalists have made an effort to learn the nuances of Khayal from a recognised representative of a particular gharana or style. It may be mentioned that while Rajam learnt at the feet of the great Gwalior maestro Omkarnath Thakur, Biswajit was taught by Jaipur-Atrauli stalwart Mallikarjun Mansur.

Mahmud Mirza is not only an exception but a pioneer in this regard. He represents the authentic voice of the Kirana gharana as articulated by the legendary Abdul Wahid Khan, universally acknowledged as the acharya of the gharana. It is common knowledge that Amir Khan borrowed the typical Kirana badhat from Abdul Wahid Khan, and the extent of his influence becomes evident when one compares their recordings of Darbari Kanhada (“Gumani Jag Kari”).

In the early 1950s, when no instrumentalist thought of systematically learning the secrets of raga vidya from a Khayal expert, he became a disciple of renowned musicologist Jeevan Lal Mattoo, one of the few lucky ones trained by Abdul Wahid Khan for several decades. Before this, when he was only six, he was initiated into the art of sitar playing by his maternal grandfather Haidar Husain Khan who represented the Jaipur Senia tradition and was considered one of the top sitar players in the country. Haidar Husain Khan was highly regarded for his special technique and a penchant for constant improvisations, a trait Mirza inherited in great measure. It was after his untimely demise that Mirza persuaded Jeevan Lal Mattoo to accept him as his disciple.

In the second week of October, Mahmud Mirza performed at India Habitat Centre in New Delhi under the aegis of Impresario Asia and once again proved that true art needs no hype. He chose the time-tested Puriya Kalyan to present a leisurely Kirana style alap and went on to a well-conceived jod followed by a tightly-knit jhala. It was an essay in musical meditation and chaste aesthetic conception. Like his earlier performances, this one too offered ample evidence of his austere and serene approach to creating beautiful music, always relying on instantaneous improvisations rather than on pre-conceived musical patterns.

Puriya Kalyan is, in any case, an alluring evening raga where the mingling of the Kalayn ang in the uttarang (latter half of the saptak) is attempted with the Puriya components in poorvanga, thus mapping the entire space of the Marwa thaat. The introduction of Kalyan imbues the sombre Puriya with a certain sweetness and a kind of romantic yearning. It speaks volumes about Mirza’s musical temperament that his rendering remained within the confines of classicism and eschewed the easy romantic route that often leads to the cul-de-sac of syrupy sentimentalism.

He went on to play a madhya laya gat followed by a drut gat in Jaijaiwanti and excelled in the gat-toda sequences. He was able to create what some musicologists have called a “swar-time continuum”. His Kirana lineage was evident in his caressing of notes and the classy style of taking the raga forward by way of systematic progression. He ended his recital with a lilting Mishra Pilu dhun. Delhi gharana table maestro Subhash Nirwan offered restrained tabla accompaniment with admirable understanding and dexterity, while Jagdish Kumar strummed the tanpura.