Ustad Amjad Ali khan on his memories of Rukmini Devi

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with sons Ayaan and Amaan

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with sons Ayaan and Amaan   | Photo Credit: The Hindu

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and sons Amaan and Ayaan Ali Khan revisited the Kalakshetra’s campus recently to pay tribute to Rukmini Devi Arundale

Sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan first spotted wife and Bharatanatyam artiste Subhalakshmi Barooah performing in Kolkata, but his romance with the art of Bharatanatyam began much earlier, a tale that hardly anyone knows.

“Rukmini Devi Arundale was my wife’s guru, but our association far precedes that. Her brother actually used to learn vocal music from my father in our hometown, Gwalior!” he says.

As Khan continued to court Subhalakshmi, tracking performance to performance in the hope of marrying her one day, his association with Rukmini Devi grew. Her spirit and unilateral passion for her art spoke to him, transforming Kalakshetra from his wife’s home into his very own.

Almost 25 years after their last visit to the campus, the family was back recently to perform on the familiar stage to pay tribute to whom Khan calls “a consummate artiste.”

It’s a stage that sons Amaan and Ayaan, who joined their father in this presentation, remember well, for a multitude of reasons. And yet, they say this show was “one of a kind.”

“My mother, who often does not travel with us for performances, is here with us. After all, Kalakshetra was her home for 15 years and the final performance of her career was on this very stage in 1985,” says Ayaan during a conversation before the performance.

They call it ‘the happiest of fates,’ as Subhalakshmi sits with her grandchildren, watching her two worlds merge. And while she no longer takes the stage herself, it’s the music of her family, Amaan says, she performs through. “An artiste is always an artist after all,” he adds simply.

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with wife Subhalakshmi

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan with wife Subhalakshmi   | Photo Credit: Vijay Bate

And in the case of the Ustad and his sons, the artistry and the inspiration evolves from Subhalakshmi, as well as lessons learned over decades of practice, performance, and artistic evolution.

Speak to the three musicians and the nuggets of wisdom are endless. For instance, the veteran musician is often quoted saying: “As an artiste, it is not your job to be the best, but to be the most-loved.”

There’s also his rather unique understanding, passed on to his sons, that the audience functions as a messenger of the divine, conveying God’s appreciation and approval of one’s art through their love and sustained support.

“Talent with humility is what sustains us. We are here because of the love of our audience and it has allowed us to flourish,” says Amaan.

A product, no doubt, of the multiple global audiences that the family has cultivated over decades of propagating the sarod. Ask Khan, for instance, about his fondest memories of Chennai, and he waxes eloquent about the prowess of contemporaries and collaborators like the late Lalgudi Jayaraman and M.S. Gopalakrishnan, as well as the genius of legendary artistes that came before them.

“I have never thought of myself as a Hindustani musician, simply because, I belong to every God, every religion, and every aspect of sound across all waters,” says the maestro.

And there is another burst of nostalgia as he shares his most lasting memory of Rukmini Devi and the bond they shared.

“She was generous enough to host our wedding reception, Subhalakshmi’s and mine, under Kalakshetra’s famous banyan tree. It was a spiritual reception of blessings, with students chanting Sanskrit shlokas. After the chanting, Rukmini Devi turned to me and said, ‘if you wish, you can now chant your Arabic shlokas. I laughed in response and replied, ‘there is no need. I can feel your blessings already,” he recounts with a smile.

After seven decades of tours, workshops, residencies, performances, and over 20 self-composed ragas, the sarod exponent is now on a new mission, hoping to bring the world together through the power of seven, simple notes.

“Our new project, Strings for Peace, is a sarod and guitar collaboration with guitarist Sharon Isbin. It strives to preserve the essence of Indian and Western traditions so they can flow seamlessly into each other without artistic compromise,” informs Ayaan. The project is one of many upcoming ventures that the trio is working on.

“You see, people get caught up in the grammar, the technicalities of it all. You have let your craft metamorphise into the poetry that it is destined to be,” Ustad Amjad Ali Khan concludes.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 10:51:37 PM |

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