The Week, July 2013
There was a time when Indian classical music and dance were at their peak in Rampur, Uttar Pradesh. According to my guru and father, the Legendary Haafiz Ali Khan, Nawab Hamid Ali Khan was very knowledgeable about Indian classical music. In fact, they both were students of Ustad Wazir Khan, who belonged to the lineage and legacy of Tansen. After the death of my grandfather Nanneh Khan, my young father went in search of a job and arrived in Rampur. At that time Rampur was the hot seat of Music. Among the court musicians, there were so many great artists including the legendary Kathak dancer, Achchan Maharaj , the Guru and father of Birju Maharaj. He was also my father’s contemporary and dear friend. Their ancestors Kalka Bindadin established the Lucknow school of Kathak.

In those days Rajas, Maharajas and Nawab’s used to make very strange and challenging requests to artists with the hope to boast about their gems in court. According to my father who was there, Nawab Hamid Ali Khan surprised Achchan Maharaj with his very unconventional and unkind request to climb up the stairs while wearing his Ghungru’s (Bells). The Nawab wanted that while descending there should not be any sound or noise of the Ghungru’s. A Kathak dancer s wears 150 Ghungru’s in one foot and another 150 in other foot! Achchan Maharaj accepted the challenge and came down through each step without any sound. It was so gracefully and elegantly done that all the private audience were dazed and stunned.

The legendary Sitara Devi, her two sisters Alaknanda, Tara and famous nephew Gopi Krishna belonged to Benaras school of Kathak. In fact, I am fortunate to have seen and met Sukhdev Maharaj too who was the father and Guru of Sitara Devi The film Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje by veteran filmmaker V Shanta Ram made Gopi Krishna and Kathak dance popular. It’s a beautiful film and every Indian should watch it to experience old world culture. Title song was sung by the Ustad Amir Khan and the music director was Vasant Desai. There is a great contribution of Banaras Gharana to make Kathak dance popular. Jaipur school of Kathak has also produced great masters like Hanuman Prasad, Jiya Lal, Sundar Prasad Narayan Prasad, Jai Kumari ,Kundan Lal Gangani and Roshan Kumari. These artists became an integral part of all the music and dance festivals held in India, especially from the sixties till the eighties. Later Durga Lal shot up very fast as a young Kathak dancer. I must also mention the contributions of Raigarh Gharana of Kathak. Maharaja Raigarh for some time had Achchan Maharaj and Guru Jia lalji as court dancers. From all these branches there are so many outstanding young and old dancers performing all over the world today.

For as long as I can remember, the first mantra taught by my father, was to be a good human being and to be a symbol of the etiquette and manners. In spite of being the monumental icon of music that he was, he continued to be an individual full of humility and a high sense of simplicity. In recent times, I often question the effectiveness of his humility in the world that we live in. However, I have understood the importance of what family means from my parents. In this context, I must mention TATA capital’s Do it Right Project. Tata Capital's initiative is what India is and has been. We must design a better tomorrow for our children with these beliefs. Children may close their ears to instruction but their eyes are always open to standards. We believe that by doing the right thing we can plan a better future. The idea is to inspire our children to always take the right path, through our feelings & actions. I recorded a song that was penned by Gulzar Saheb and composed by the dynamic trio of Shankar, Eshaan and Loy for the initiative. I hope that our country realizes and understands this message which is much needed today for the youth.

Amjad Ali Khan