The Week, August 2011

Historically many great vocalists were Sarangi or Tabla players in their formative years. The Sarangi is very difficult and challenging instrument. After years of struggle, it achieved the status of a solo instrument. Traditionally the Sarangi was always considered an accompanying instrument, like violin in south India. Both the instruments were the first preference of every vocalist as a support. Like the Sarod, the Sarangi also does not have frets, reeds or bars, but the technique is so different. Sarod is played with a plectrum on the right hand made of coconut shell where as the Sarangi is played with the bow in the right hand and to perhaps bring out a tone closest to the human voice.

Amidst my father’s generation of Sarangi players, the most revered and famous was the legendary Bundu khan of Delhi. The other great Sarangi players were Ghulam Sabir khan, Hanuman Misra, Ram Narayan, Shakur khan, Sagiruddin khan and Ghulam Jafar khan. Among the Sarangi players of Benarus, I would like to mention Gopal Mishra who was always invited to every music festival of India. His brother Hanuman Mishra (father of Rajan Mishra and Sajan Mishra) was equally great. I am happy to say that Rajan Mishra and Sajan Mishra have become the identity and torch bearers of the Benaras Gharana. Most of the folk music from Rajasthan always had the Sarangi as a permanent feature. Gradually Sarangi became a constant companion of every Singer whether the genre was Classical or Folk. Sultan Khan who belongs to Jodhpur, Rajasthan gave a different dimension and canvas to Sarangi, and inspired so many young Sarangi players. After shifting to Mumbai he made a name for himself all over the world. All the music directors of the film industry gave him so much love and work that most of the film songs had Sarangi pieces by him. One of the most popular pieces by him was being in the movie Umaro Jaan set to the music of Khayyam. Sultan khan became a weakness of every vocalist. While in Mumbai, he made a few albums where he also sang and endeared himself to a new breed of listeners. In fact, many music directors became his students. For the longest time he was a permanent fixture for Zakir Hussain’s tabla solos and ensembles. I am happy to see and hear so many young Sarangi players all over India. Fortunately the future of this beautiful instrument seems quite bright. These days Sultan khan has shifted to his birth place Jodhpur.

All the musicians, especially of India are like one joint family with our own humble missions of life. I have had the most wonderful memories with Hariji, Shivji, Jasrajji, Zakirji and Sultan bhai wherever we have been together in India or overseas. When you talk of flute, Lord Krishna’s face comes to our mind. But also you remember the name of Pt. Hari Prasad Chaurasia. Hariji has inspired many young flutists and has given a different meaning to tonal quality. His whole approach is so fresh and unique. Mewati Gharana perhaps could not have been in limelight if Pt. Jasraj was not the torchbearer and representative of his unique style. Pt. Jasraj‘s mellifluous voice and his approach to singing became a household name. In spite of so many popular classical singers around, he carved niche for himself. I am happy to see that many of his talented disciples and followers will carry forward his legacy.

In August 1999, Amaan and Ayaan had gone to Ladakh for the shooting of the National Anthemproduec by Bharath Bala Films along with many senior artists including Shiv Kumar Sharma and Sultan Khan. I was in New York at that time so I was unable to be a part of the shoot. Due to bad weather no flights were coming into Ladakh. The day the only Indian airlines flight landed in Laddakh there was total chaos. Priorities were only given to VIPs and the airport had a few hundred passengers stranded. Sultan khan and Shiv Kumar Sharma very generously offered their seats to Amaan and Ayaan to make sure that they fly out first. Our whole family will remain be grateful and indebted to Shivji and Sultanji for their kind gesture and love.