Ustad Amir Khan Saheb of Indore - February 2008
Amongst the great classical singers of our country Ustad Amir Khan Saheb was often known as the musician’s musician. His approach to music had a different and unique dimension. Having had the honour of performing in the same music festivals and spending so many evenings with him, I felt like sharing two significant incidents.

The first was when the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi, Mr. A.N. Jha, invited all the State Governors for a dinner at Raj Bhavan in New Delhi. I was invited to perform and was told that Ustad Amir Khan Saheb would also sing afterwards. On the appointed evening, a car from Raj Bhavan came to pick me up and to my utmost surprise Khan Saheb was already in the car. I offered my respects by touching his feet and got in. On the way Khan Saheb said, “Bhai, I heard lots of Governors are coming” and added, “Most of them don’t understand our type of music, so we should keep our performances very brief!”

When we reached Raj Bhavan we were warmly welcomed and looked after by the Jha family members. Among the audience that evening, there were a few eminent musician invitees who were seated close to the stage during the performance. The great tabla player of Varanasi, Pandit Samta Prasad, was to accompany me. In light of the conversation in the car, I wound up my performance within half an hour, leaving the stage free for Khan Saheb.

The concert began, and for us musicians sitting around the stage, it was an electrifying performance. As is the tradition in a classical concert, we were all loudly appreciating the music with cries of “Wah Wah”, “Bahut Achachey”, “Kya baat hai”, “Subhan Allah”. Now, Ustad Amir Khan Saheb was known for his quick changes of ragas without any gap or taking a pause. Apart from the spotlights on us the concert hall was absolutely dark. Khan Saheb had lost all track of time, completely engrossed in the ecstasy of his music. I noticed through the glare that Mr. Jha was getting restive and with gestures and wanted to know when Khan Saheb would end so that he could serve dinner. Through gestures I indicated to him to take all his guests to dinner. Those of us sitting near the stage were thoroughly enjoying the experience and were not ready to let it end. Jha Saheb was very gracious and for quite some time waited with us, but soon he too left to look after his guests. Khan Saheb had changed into the fifth raga and suddenly realised there was nobody but us left in the hall. Poor thing! He felt very embarrassed and finally stopped. He whispered to me, “Aaj, Bhai, kuch zyada hi ho gaya!” (Today perhaps I sang much more than required). Anyway, any misgivings were soon forgotten with the delicious dinner laid out by our gracious host!

The second incident happened in Kolkata in 1971. There used to be a very prestigious Tansen music conference. Music Festivals were called conferences too in Kolkata. The organizer was a senior musician singer, Shailen Babu. It was a whole night music festival and the concluding artist was Ustad Amir Khan Saheb. Somehow my flight got delayed and by the time I reached the auditorium, Khan sahib had already begun his vocal recital. The organizer Shailen Babu was very upset when I told him that I would not be able to perform as Khan Saheb was already singing. In our tradition, the senior-most or most famous always concludes any conference. Shailen Babu was greatly disturbed and said that the hall was packed and people had bought tickets would be very disappointed. The tabla player Pandit Kanai Dutt had been booked for me and was waiting to play with me. Shailen Babu was trying his best to persuade me to perform which I had to firmly decline.

In the mean time Khan Saheb’s performance ended and he came out. Shailen Babu complained to Khan Saheb that I had refused to perform after him. Khan Saheb turned to me and ordered, “Mere baad tum naheen bajaoge toh kaun bajaega’ ( meaning- you alone can play after me). It was around 5 am when I went on stage. As the curtain lifted to my greatest surprise, Khan Saheb was seated in the first row. On the mike I said, “Khan Saheb, after the kind of music you sang I don’t know what raag to play and how to play. Kindly go home, for my and your own sake!” He responded that he would not go and indicated that I should begin. I still remember I began the concert with Komal Rishabh Asawari- an early morning raag. With the blessings of god it became one of the most memorable concerts of my life.

I can never forget the humble magnanimity of the great Ustad that morning. I felt as if I received the greatest award in the world.