The Week, October 2012
The meaning of education in our family was Indian classical music connected with deep routed traditional values, spirituality, commitment, dedication and total surrender to the God Almighty and the Guru, who was my father too, legendary Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb. I cannot remember a particular day that I was initiated into the world of music. It was a part of me from as early as I can remember. Indeed, I cannot think of a moment when music has been separated from my life. It is a way of life.

There is a very deep message of meditation and spirituality associated with Ragas in general. Ragas have a certain calmness and depth that an artist is able to achieve with the choice of Ragas that we have in our treasury of music. A raga is made of a set of ascending and descending notes within a certain discipline. But it is much more than a scale which also refers to the set of notes. A raga has distinctive features with prominent notes, combinations of notes and timings of the day and season. However, there is no logical explanation as to why a raga is seasonal really or for that matter why certain ragas with the same combination of notes become a morning raga or an evening raga. However, Ragas have a distinctive feature in approach, movement, aesthetics and feeling.

It is hard for an Indian classical musician to mention the Ragas or the Taals (rhythmic cycles) beforehand because the decisions are made very near to the concert date, perhaps on the day of the concert itself! Since we don’t have a written score, it also has something to do with the accommodation of moods and emotions of an artist on that day. I treat every Raga like a living entity. A mere scale is not a Raga. A scale is more like a skeleton. Even though the literal meaning of a Raga is Improvisation within a set framework of ascending and descending notes, I feel a Raga has to be invoked. Since my childhood, I always wanted my instrument, the Sarod to be able to express the entire range of human emotions…to Sing, Shout, Whisper and cry. All the emotions! It has been a long journey so far and by the benevolence of the heavens, the Sarod has become far more expressive than it was 25 years ago.

I feel it’s very important to have a personal rapport with any artist you perform with as natures reflect in music. An interesting aspect of Indian Classical music is that, here you have two, three or four people on stage, who don’t know what the other is going to do and yet have to perform like a rehearsed orchestra! Therefore our role as performers is really that of three people, i.e., the performer, the composer and the conductor. Three in one!

While I was recently in Kuwait, I heard very beautiful and appealing Azaan (call of the prayer) from so many different mosques. I have often felt uplifted or elated with the kind of appealing Azaan I hear in that region. As a musician, I exactly know the technical musical notes behind every melody especially of the Middle East which are very close to our Indian ragas like Bhairavi, Bharaiv, Ahir Bhaira and Basant Mukhari. I heard the stories from my father about Hazrat Bilal who delivered the first Azaan. In India I feel all the Muizzin (The person or Moulavi who recites and performs the Azaan) should be trained properly especially of important mosques of India in every city. Many Maulavis and Mutavalis used to come home and learn music from my father and how to recite the Azaan, especially the ones from All India Radio. This reminds me of my childhood days in Gwalior; Adjacent to our home, there is an ancient mosque; very badly maintained and in the most dilapidated condition. several times I requested the MP waqf board to take care and maintain this beautiful historic mosque but till date the mosque looks deserted and in a sad condition. Whenever my father would deliver the Azaan back in the day, the entire area of Jiwaji Ganj in Gwalior use to realize the difference of the Azaan delivered by great Khan Saheb.