InterviewAli Zaki Haider Khan on carrying forward the legacy of the Rudra veena.
Many may have desired to outstrip the competition, but none would have wanted it to come about in the way it has for Ali Zaki Haider, son and disciple of Ustad Asad Ali Khan, the Rudra veena maestro who died suddenly recently, leaving behind only one disciple to keep the flame of his tradition — the Khandarbani style of the Jaipur beenkar gharana — alight. In his flat in Khel Gaon, allotted to his father under the eminent artists' quota, Zaki is surrounded by memories of learning and living a musical creed. While he hopes to be allowed to retain the accommodation, being the only representative of his musical legacy and doubtless an exemplary musician, Zaki struggles to come to terms with his loss and plan his future. Excerpts from an interview:
Training under his guru
I started learning vocal music at age eight. The next stage is to learn the sitar, so your hand gets used to playing a stringed instrument. However, I learnt only a fewpaltas(solfa exercises) and started on the been (Rudra veena). I must have been about 17-18. There were two or three disciples from foreign countries with me. They learnt either vocal or sitar. It did sadden him that while Indian children were not interested, foreigners were making efforts to come here, work hard and live by the advice of the guru.
He was strict. I wasn't allowed to do a meend (gliding note) for years, though as a kid, I would argue. And he would scold terribly if you were out of tune by a fraction — it's calledhawa ka farak (the equivalent of a flutter) and he would say it is like a perfume you have to catch. But that is the guidance of a guru. I long for those scoldings today.
Posture and tuning
The instrument is tuned while it is on the floor, but the tuning comes right only when we lift it onto the shoulder. This instrument is said to have been created by Bhagwan Shivaji. My guru used to tell me that because it is made by a devata, it sits upon the player (manushya par sawaar hoke bajta hai). Other instruments are kept affectionately on the lap, or played while placed next to the heart. Once you have lifted it to your shoulder, the entire plate (containing the frets) is in front of you. To play it you have to control your breath also.Beqaida saans nahin le sakte(You cannot breath haphazardly). That's part of the reason it is a difficult instrument. When you execute a meend, you have to hold your breath for its length. The frets of the Rudra veena areachal(immovable). They are bound and set in wax. To make sure you always get the right note, my ustad would say, your fingers should have eyes.
The other unique thing is that you have to sit in vajrasana while playing.
Inner life and outer life
You have to live your life — I would say your entire life — like a sadhu. Our music is a great ocean. It is called shastriya (classical) sangeet, which means it is connected to the shastras (scriptures), which are connected to dharma (righteous living). The gurus' message is that it is one thing to play, but to createasar(effect) requires a continuous sadhana.
Making a Rudra veena
There are some Rudra veena makers, but perhaps only two-three are left. This instrument is made according to the measurements of the player, so one person cannot play a veena made for another. It has to fit you. My guru's veena is different from mine. It takes about six to eight months to make one. Some years ago it cost about Rs.80,000. Now it must be more. After taking measurements, the instrument maker looks for two tumbas (pumpkin gourds) of the same size. They taste the seed, and if it is sweet, the gourd is rejected, because then the instrument might get attacked by insects. The pumpkins used for the Rudra veena come from South India or parts of Africa. The upper part (connecting the two gourds) is made of teak in my instrument. The white carving on the two sides is of reindeer horn. Though now the trade is restricted, it gives a better sound and is long-lasting. The two tumbas can be taken off and packed separately for travel.
In Guruji's footsteps
I know I have to continue this music, but I need a bit of time to collect myself. I still see him in this room lying on his cot. Can one find such a guru today? I can only try to walk in his footsteps. In this era of fusion, to maintain that purity of music is very difficult. But at least one would have the satisfaction of having tried. If your work is true it will not come to an end. Guruji always said one flame lights another. If at present the flame is in me…. The world rests on hope…
Commemorative service will be held this Friday, 8 p.m., Asiad Village Community Centre.