Precious Abba... priceless as ever

God's gift to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan... .Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash are dutiful sons, sincere pupils. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

God's gift to Ustad Amjad Ali Khan... .Amaan and Ayaan Ali Bangash are dutiful sons, sincere pupils. Photo: R.V. Moorthy  

It is never easy for a disciple to write about the guru. It is even more difficult for sons, still growing, still pursuing, to write about the father who is the icon of an entire generation of learners. Well, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's sons, Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash, undertook the challenge. The result? A eulogy of sorts called "Abba: God's Greatest Gift To Us". ZIYA US SALAM speaks to the duo to know more... .

IN A largely unpretentious drawing room in New Delhi's Sadhna Enclave, there are more than a quarter dozen books on `Tell Me Why' series. Dream possession of every inquisitive child, they are placed neatly one atop the other. And probably act as the inspiration for Amaan Ali Bangash and Ayaan Ali Bangash, the sarod-playing brothers in their early `20s, who have just penned a tribute to their father, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, a tribute they claim will not read like a eulogy. Well, when it came to compiling this book, they did not have to really ask their Abba, `Tell me why?' The book and many years of association take care of that. There is `lehaz', there is discretion, there is silence.

"It was really difficult. We have not created an image of Abba, this is what he really is. We have made no attempt at critique; we are his disciples. At the same time, we had to make it imperfect. Everybody else tended to write only goody-goody things. It seemed everything was perfect with Abba and his world. We did not try to be nice and make him like God. He is human. We wrote accordingly," reveal the brothers about Roli Books' "Abba: God's Greatest Gift To Us" which was released in New Delhi this week by the Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee.

"Abba is forgetful, has his eccentricities which can be embarrassing at times. For instance, while talking to a person he might suddenly switch off. It is not because he is arrogant or something but just because out of the blue a composition would have come into his mind and he would be lost in his own world," says Amaan. Incidentally, the book substantiates his statement and carries a 1996 picture of the ustad lost in reverie on a London street. "He does not even remember phone numbers. He constantly has to take recourse to Maa for that."

The brothers, it turns out, had also to take recourse to some dogged determination of Ayaan - "He is dedicated. He did most of the legwork for the book," confesses Amaan - and many a family anecdote to put together this 128-page, largely pictorial essay. Says Amaan: "A book is different from a concert. When you being an institution write a book, it invites criticism. It is a challenging task. When Roli Books came up with the offer in January 2001, we were a little taken aback. It seemed a bit early in our life to write about our father. We were apprehensive of whether we would be able to deliver the goods. As sons we wanted to come out clearly about Abba's life. He has been hurt by certain disciples. But we have steered clear of their names and avoided any mudslinging. We have kept in mind certain `lehaz', the values we have grown up with. Also, we are no one to decide who is right or wrong. We are too young for that. But this book is not about us. It is about Ustad Amjad Ali Khan. It is not meant to project us."

Precious Abba... priceless as ever

Well, project the father the book does! And how! It comes replete with father's pictures from growing years, his second marriage - the book maintains dignified poise on his first one - his children, his concerts, his awards, his kurtas, his disciples, his, well, life. And despite the sincere attempt by the brothers, the book at times does read, shall we say it, like an encomium. Abba could not put a foot wrong. He could pack a sandwich for kids, he would drive down to their hostel, he would impart nuances of classical music, he would inculcate traditional values, he had place for all faiths at home, got a maulvi to impart Islamic teachings for kids only when they asked for. Simultaneously, he found the kids a place in Scindia School, a little after Modern School in the Capital. He could not put a foot wrong. Much like his concert. He was indeed the "trump card".

"Abba respects so many people. He is like a pot, round with things inside. He is not aggressive. We had to persuade him to come out with his version of things in his life. We could have made it into a masala book or a catty affair. We have not done so. Abba has not even read the manuscript. But being sons, it was difficult to put down into words some of the incidents of his life." Incidentally, for putting together this book, rich in visuals of lasting value, the brothers had to meet his Principal at school, they carried their laptop with them on concert tours and utilised the time available on journey to key in small, small nuggets of information. "Abba did not monitor the book. We did discuss his personal life. We talked of our half-sister, his first wife. But we did not name them because everybody has moved on in life. It would not have been fair on our part to name them. If it comes from father, it is a different case."

The book does reveal a few interesting sidelights about Ustad Amjad Ali Khan's life. "Abba grew up with Rampur style cuisine. He is not too fond of Italian good, though we have introduced him to that. He needs his dal-chawal and qorma. He values Indian food." Also, an attempt is made to give the all-clear to Dad Dear when it comes to Maa performing after marriage. "Maa did not perform after the birth of the sons through her own decision. Over a period of time she heard rumours of her career taking the backseat. So, she stepped out at a concert in the mid-`80s. It was a fundraiser concert. After that, there was a Kalakshetra celebration. After performing there, she bid adieu to dance. She was never a career woman," claims Ayaan. "Maa got us baptised as `Bangash' keeping in mind the long tradition of the name in our family. Abba's father Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan skipped the surname `Bangash'," adds Amaan.

The brothers end on a note of hope. "We are not professional authors. We are not claiming to be the best. We are open to criticism just like a musician has to be open to everything. We only hope people like it in Abba's 50th year of performances." Well, they probably will like this book which is priceless in more ways than one - for evidence, just leaf through cover to cover of this hardbound edition!

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