Debu Chaudhuri and Parveen Sultana presented a befitting, if occasionally unconventional, tribute to Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan

When Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar were emerging as new formidable talents, Mushtaq Ali Khan was already an established sitar maestro in Calcutta (now Kolkata). Belonging to a musicians’ family that traced its lineage to Nayak Dhondhu of Mughal emperor Shahjahan’s court, Mushtaq Ali Khan learnt the art of playing the surbahar and sitar from his father Ashiq Ali Khan in the traditional Dhrupad style. As Ashiq Ali Khan had greatly benefited from his close association with the legendary sitar player Barkatullah Khan, a descendant of Masit Khan, he imparted the art of playing Masitkhani gats to his son Mushtaq. In view of this, it was rather surprising that Mushtaq Ali Khan played Masitkhani gats only occasionally and displayed a marked preference for the medium and fast tempo Razakhani gats. Born on June 20, 1911, the Ustad breathed his last on July 21, 1989. It speaks volumes about the attitude of our political and bureaucratic establishment that he was not even considered for the Padma Shri.

Even now, as Debu Chaudhuri, one of his chief disciples and himself a recipient of the Padma Bhushan, lamented at a recent concert organised by Ustad Mushtaq Ali Khan Centre for Culture at Kamani Auditorium to celebrate his 101st birth anniversary, not many people knew about him. It goes to the credit of Chaudhuri that not only did he establish the UMAK Centre for Culture to perpetuate the memory of his guru but he also regularly organised music programmes to carry his guru’s tradition forward. The concert included a sitar recital by Debu Chaudhuri and a Hindustani vocal recital by Parveen Sultana.

Citing paucity of time as a constraint, Debu Chaudhuri announced that instead of offering a detailed exposition of one raga, he would play short items in six ragas. In view of this announcement, one was left wondering why he spoke for nearly half an hour before striking the first note on his sitar. Moreover, as he played for over an hour, he could have easily presented at least one raga in its full splendour and the experience would have been much more rewarding to the listeners.

Debu Chaudhuri chose Kalyan as the flavour of the evening and began with a short alap in Shuddh Kalyan. Then he informed the audience that he would now present Kalyani Bilawal, a raga that he had himself crafted by combining Yaman with Bilawal. This was rather intriguing as Yamani Bilawal has been part of the Hindustani musical repertoire for centuries. Moreover, why should somebody who prides himself on being a stickler to tradition play a variant of a morning raga in the evening, because, all said and done, the raga essentially remains a Bilawal?

After playing a vilambit gat in Kalyani Bilawal, Chaudhuri delved straight into Yaman and offered a madhyalaya composition of his own. Next he chose Shyam Kalyan and took a couple of minutes to hit its core as its first phrases reminded one of Kamod. Bihag and Sohini were the other two ragas that he chose to play. A sitar player of long standing, he did not disappoint his admirers. Sandeep Das accompanied him on tabla.

Parveen Sultana, accompanied by Vinay Mishra on harmonium and Mithilesh Kumar Jha on tabla, began with her familiar Maru Bihag and sang a vilambit khayal, “Kaise Bin Sajan”, followed by a drut bandish, “Gavan Na Keeje”. In love with her wonderful voice that can easily traverse all the three saptaks, she made its full use to dazzle the listeners with a variety of cascading taans and did not miss a chance to hit the upper register notes. Her penchant for frequently resorting to this device became somewhat self-defeating when she sang Megh Malhar that occasionally lapsed into Madhmad Sarang, especially in the use of sargams. A consummate concert artiste, Parveen Sultana was, as always, in very good form and gave an impressive account of her vocal prowess.