Evocative strings

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INTERVIEW Farooque Lateef Khan, the sarangi player from Indore, says music is his life's mission. ARUNA CHANDARAJU

B ehag, Yaman, Sohini, Hamsadhwani… flow effortlessly and melodiously from Farooque Lateef Khan's sarangi. “I can play a few Carnatic ragas too!” he says. We are then treated to snatches of Shankarabharanam, Charukeshi….

Khan had promised to play just one raga for us, but like most accomplished musicians he can't stop once he has picked up his instrument. Finally, he looks up and says. “As a child, when learning from my father, I was a reluctant student. I wanted to go and out and play rather than attend lessons. But having gotten into the groove, now I can't stop! The sarangi is my love, my passion… it means everything to me today.”

Khan belongs to the fifth generation of sarangi-players and his father-guru was well-known sarangi-artiste Ustad Abdul Lateef Khan. At one time a solo instrument, it became an accompaniment to vocalists, and is now used in both modes. Khan himself plays solo and does jugalbandis too with other Hindustani musicians and Carnatic artistes.

Still strumming his 42-stringed sarangi, Khan continues. “This instrument is associated with old-timers and people are surprised to see a young artiste like me – after all, there are not many sarangi players around.” Why, we ask? “ Kyonki…sarangi banana muskhil, milna muskhil, aur bajana mushkil hai (A sarangi is hard to manufacture, difficult to source, and tough to play).”

‘Tough to play'

As if to illustrate his statement, he puts his sarangi before us and asks us to estimate its age. It is an exquisite piece, beautifully crafted… but the age is hard to guess. So he tells us: “It's 150 years old! It once belonged to my father's friend Ustad Yaseen Khan. I use this as it's difficult to get a recently –manufactured sarangi – not many make it nowadays. Walk into the average music-instruments store and you find sitars, violins, veenas, drums… but the sarangi… that's a very rare sight. Even if you locate one it would not likely have the rich tone and perfect strings of older ones. So I depend on this antique piece entirely – both for riyaaz and performances.”

As for the “tough to play” part, we agree as the sarangi is notoriously difficult to tune and play – the use of the fingernail/cuticle makes the physical effort very painful. Khan points to his left fingernails – they look deeply calloused. “The tissue has become dead there – it no longer hurts,” he says nonchalantly. And then adds that all musical instruments are equally great and that good music, vocal or instrumental, or of any stream, is equally hard to master. “Every flower has its unique fragrance.”

We know the sarangi as a beautifully expressive and evocative instrument. Both the chitraveena in Carnatic music and the sarangi in Huindustania are perhaps the closest to the human voice. Khan also dwells on this feature of the sarangi and to illustrate, he sings the opening lines of a few ghazals including ‘Aaj Jaaneki Zid Naa Karo' and follows it up by playing it on the sarangi. In fact, like most sarangi players, Khan can also sing and knows the words of classical compositions as good as any vocalist. “That is the way I was taught. My father would sing a few phrases first and then play them. I had to follow suit.”

He goes into reminiscence mode. “My guru, my father, was an uncompromising taskmaster, insisting on mastery of the current lesson before going on to a new one. He said patience and hard work made a good musician and not merely gharana/lineage. A gharanedaar also needs tapasya. I trained hard for 10 years before I ascended the stage. When they praise me, I feel a surge of gratitude for this attitude of my guru-father. And now, as teacher, I follow the same approach with regard to my only student, my son.”

What, no other students? No, he replies. “But I would love to accept students. And I am willing to teach them totally free of cost. That's a promise. The only qualifications – they should have talent and patience –underline patience.” Are aspiring sarangi-players listening?



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