The Week, September 2009
The passing away of Rajmata Gayatri Devi has been an end of a glorious era. A Symbol of beauty and grace, Maharani Gayatri Devi was the epitome of style and dignity. May her soul rest in peace! I remember many occasions when I had the honour of seeing. In 2002, soon after the Gujarat earthquake, the French Ambassador had hosted a fund raiser concert by Amaan and Ayaan. After the concert, I was sharing the same table and she was sitting right next to me. She was looking so charming and the way she was talking was full of elegance and grace. There was another occasion Jaipur, where she was the guest of honour for my concert. I was told that the Rajmata was not feeling too well so after lighting the lamp, she was to leave. I was told after the concert that apparently, in pite of her ill health, she stayed on till the end but she sat in the last row so that people are not disturbed with her movements. My last meeting with her was in 2005 in New Delhi when she released my album called ‘Portrait of the Legend’ which had live recordings of my concerts from the 80’s. It was a very solemn and beautiful ceremony. We will always miss this timeless beautiful soul.

While talking about Jaipur I am also reminded of Gwalior (My native place). Credit goes to all the rulers of the world who always gave special patronage and encouragement to all the creative people, some of them are still serving cause of love and peace through music.

Historically all creative people of the world were court musicians or artists patronized by royalty. The Rajmata Saheba of Gwalior, Vijayraje Scindia always treated me like her son, but at the same time gave so much honour and respects by calling me Khan Saheb or Ustad. She was so gracious and magnanimous; twice she invited me and my wife Subhalakshmi Khan as chief guests in Gwalior. I felt so embarrassed lighting the lamp in the presence of Rajmata Saheba. She always used to address my wife as Subhalakshmiji.

Once she directly called me, my wife picked up the phone, she said, ’could she talk to Khan Saheb’, Subhalakshmiji asked, ’who would like to talk’, she replied, ‘Rajmata Saheba’, then Subhalakshmiji said, ‘Please give the phone to Rajmata Saheba’, she replied, ’it is Rajmata Saheba speaking’. My wife was surprised and shocked at her simplicity, especially since no one likes to hold these days! Then finally I spoke to her. She called me to invite to Gwalior to perform. When I asked about the occasion, she told me that she is holding an All India women convention or conference. I very politely said, ‘Rajmata Saheba, please invite some women artist, she laughed and said that is why I would like you to come to grace the occasion and perform for the women of all the states of India. I got more worried. In Gwalior, I always stayed in a hotel but for that occasion, she insisted me to stay in the palace. She really took good care of me. I cannot forget her love and caring nature.

In the evening, I had tough time. There were only women in every nook and corner. I remember Mrs. Margret Alva was also there. I began playing and with in fifteen minutes I realized no one was attentive, some were knitting sweaters. I suddenly stopped playing and took the microphone and said that I remember one very important saying; I saw the change and there was a total pin drop silence. Everybody was attentive to hear why I stopped playing. I said once Emperor Akbar asked his wise man Birbal, ‘what is the greatest lie of the world? Birbal replied ‘Your highness, two women in a room sitting quietly’. Every body laughed very loudly and then perhaps realized the message and for the remaining two and a half hours of concert, it was a very inspiring ambience and became one of my most memorable concerts.

In the year 1990 we invited her to Mumbai as a chief guest to give away the Haafiz Ali Khan Awards. It was indeed a distinguished audience which included the legendary Lata Mangeshkar and galaxies of artists present. In her speech she said ‘As a young Maharani in Gwalior, she use to learn Sitar from my father, but she could not practice, therefore after few months my father requested her to stop learning as she had no time to practice.

Publicly she said looking at my father’s portrait ‘Khan Saheb ki mein aayogya shishya hoon and referring me she said that yeh yogya shishya hai. (She said that she is not an able disciple but Amjad Ali Khan Saheb is a able disciple of Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb). Our family will always miss her love and kindness bestowed on us by her.

We just observed the tenth anniversary of the Kargil war. Our so many young and brilliant soldiers died in this war. My prayers always go out to all the families of Martyrs of Kargil war. We are proud of the commitment and dedication of General V. P. Malik for our country. Gen. Malik has shared and specially mentioned certain names of soldiers and officers, whose contributions and services will always be remembered in our heart and mind.