The call of the sitar

Hidayat Khan, son of the renowned Ustad Vilayat Khan, tells Chitra Swaminathan what it means to have a celebrity father and be his successor.

August 07, 2015 03:02 pm | Updated March 29, 2016 02:13 pm IST - chennai:

Hidayat Khan

Hidayat Khan

What are you doing these days? How many hours of riyaaz (practice) do you do? How are you going to take the legacy forward? Don’t you feel you are a blessed child? “Once I stepped out of the house, these exasperating questions, for which I had no tangible answers, were constantly thrown at me,” says Hidayat Khan, leaning gently on the sitar. Younger son of the legendary Vilayat Khan, who had the world hooked to his sitar strings that were a reservoir of exceptional notes and phrases, Hidayat felt defeated even before he could think of following his famous father.

“It was unfair being looked at differently by other people because of a name,” he says. “Nobody realised I was almost crumbling under the weight of unrealistic expectations. It wasn’t easy living up to the high musical standards set by my father. What hurt me most was that people were unforgiving when I could not measure up, but on occasions when I did, they dismissed it casually saying it was in my DNA.”

Full of candour and unerring calm, Hidayat talks about finding his own space as a child in a house that was always swamped by musicians, aficionados of his  abba ’s music and concert organisers. “It was hard getting away from it all, yet I wanted to,” he smilesadding how difficult it was to seek the attention of a fond father, who projected himself more as an uncompromising guru and performer.

Ustad Vilayat Khan was keen that Hidayat take up vocal music (since elder son Shujaat was being groomed as a sitar artiste) and began training him from a very young age. Childhood days were strictly divided between school and music lessons. “There was hardly any time to play and that is what a child would normally want to do. That is not an age when you think about your future or set goals. I would complain bitterly to my mother who seemed as helpless as me,” recalls Hidayat.  

The youngster began rebelling against the family norm and wanted to live life the way he wished to and achieve success elsewhere. “After spending my initial years in Dehradun, when my father moved to London and then to the U.S., the pressure of finding my own identity began to build up within me.”

Hidayat is a seventh-generation musician. The Etawah gharana (school and style of music) is named after his great grandfather Imdad Khan (1848-1920), who co-developed the surbahar (bass sitar) and under his grandfather Inayat Khan, the Imdadkhani gharana’s reputation reached its peak. “With this kind of ancestry, it is not easy to remain invisible, even if you desired to. It had to have a profound impact on the choices I made in life; the comparisons were inevitable too. Besides, my father was not the kind to handhold, pamper or seek opportunities for me,” he smiles again.

Yet Hidayat continued his battle to step out of the long shadow of his lineage. Finally, the day came when he mustered courage to go up to his father and tell him that he wanted to be on his own. “I thought he would reprimand me, on the contrary, he just nodded his head. I realised my father was more progressive than I thought him to be. So I came to Mumbai, and for a year stayed alone in our house there. And the only thing I did was party till the wee hours of the morning. I had many friends, some even from the film industry. During most of this time, I remained away from classical music; I neither attended any concert nor practised. Initially, I enjoyed the freedom, but somewhere I began to feel very hollow. One afternoon, as I sat by the window, overlooking the sea, I felt the urge to listen to my father’s music and played the recorder. Suddenly, I turned misty-eyed and wanted to get back home.”

Hidayat went up to his father again, this time though, telling him how he longed to get behind the sitar. He then began touring with his father and also collaborating with big names such as Rolling Stones, Usher and Alicia Keys.

“On the day he passed away, standing in the midst of hordes of mourners, I was grateful I finally knew the man behind that celebrated musician.”   

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