Monday, April 21, 2014


we wrote our despatch on Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan (Sitar Mehbooba Hai Kiski?) in October 2013, with a resolve to follow it up with the resident worm’s eye-view of the Ustad’s personality and his music. However we came up against too many imponderables- what Missus and Senior called mere conjectures of YT, which were open to debate. Like the writer’s view that, post the vyakhya, each sitar recital presented by the Ustad was akin to a cleverly crafted short-story- which view first saw the light of the day in the Sitar Mehbooba Hai Kiski post. Some recitals could be like the great plot-less movies of Mani Kaul, Senior said. Then: the view that  the DNA of the entire body of Hindustani Classical, be it Kirana or Maihar or Mewat- stems from a few good men, among them, Tansen, Sadarang, Inayat Khan, Bande Ali Khan..? We went through endless rounds of googling, thoroughed  every word of Pt. Ramashray Jha’s text-books, and scraped the bottoms of authoritative sites like and maverick ones like baithak2012.wp for succor, and a vindication of these unorthodox views, but alas it was not a path anybody had noticed in the tangled briar bushes, leave alone tread.  It was then officially declared by family that definitive views could be only firmed up after personally interviewing two of the greatest sitarists of all times, namely Ustad Shahid Parvez, and of course, the subject of our discussion mince obsession, Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan. Tall order….ehh…?! Senior, being virtually neighbour of Shahidbhai @ Kothrud Pune, accomplished his mission in a jiffy, but the von Bailiffs, residents of the North East that they were, had a distinct handicap. Moreover, Google Kaur, seemingly, had no inkling of the exact location of Ustad’s residence, which we knew was somewhere in a magic cove in Bandra.

we landed a hot and sultry Sunday early this year at Santa Cruz airport with Missus, and set off for the handsome Bandra Masjid, expecting to bump into somebody acquainted with the Ustad, but alas, the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’  key failed to work. The music stores were all closed. A speaker repairman took us to Bandra’s Banjo Master Rashidmiyan, who summarised the state of Indian Music thus: “haan haan, haan, kaun nahi jaanta unko, bus ye samajhiye ke Sitar ke Raseedbhai huzur hi hain.!” He helpfully suggested we go to Mehboob Studio and check, but we again drew a blank. The guard was a Marathi, and as we spoke in Marathi, we were chillar, ha, ha, aha [1]…. After 5 hours of leg-work, we retreated, exhausted, with the resolution that we’ll do our home-work neatly before we came next time. That took another 3 months to happen, and then it happened: the most intense, fulfilling day in the musical journey of YF and Missus, and Ramnavmi day 2014 AD, that is 8th of April 2014, when we touched reverentially Khansaheb’s feet, and then he embraced us as we had known him for ever and ever! We consciously felt the furrows of those magic hands that gave the Universe the Jafferkhani baaz. When the creases on those mubarak fingers bled from incessant riyaz, the flow was stanched with soft-stone called bilaw and the hands baked over fire lest the bleeding disturb the saadhana... In a trance we sat at his feet for 4 hours, and the dust settled on our so called conjectures about the फ़न of sitarbaazi..Bhatke hue musafir, manzil pe pahunche aakhir..

As we unshackled the elevator gate on the fifth floor on which is situated the humble abode, we heard the unexpected expected- the strains of the sitar! None else than Ustad opened the door, and instantly recognised the anxiety and eternal deewangi writ on our twin faces! We inhaled deeply, savouring the contentment in that air laden with the sheer fragrance of music and human kindness! Bataiye: jannat ke kiwad khule pade hain par zamana yeh ke kisi ko usse koi wasta nahi..! Behind the Ustad was his son, the handsome Ustad Zunain Khan - with teekhe nain-naksh. Little did he expect that we had been stalking him too..”Zunainbhai”, we said “aapka Basant Mukhari to kamal kar gaya Delhi mey…wo Mata Vaishno Devi wali mehfil mey..”. Zunainbhai was taken aback, and we muttered excuse for the stalking part, adding “ab kya batayein aisa junoon sawar huwa hai Khansaheb ka, arse se inki har cheez kai kai baar sun chuke hain aur unke taqreeban har afsaane se waqif hain..”
missus is moved at the spontaneous gestures, the refined human values of the Jaffer Khans. We detect the unspoken dram of gratitude in her eyes, and with an equal silence respond “my dear, all these things go together, intellect, genius, felicity with the sitar, the human decency…Zunain inherits it, so does his little grandson…”

first thing first- addressing the legend: how one legend should address another, he, he, he…those present address him variously. Between Ustad, Guruji and Khansaheb, we settle for the last appellation.

khansaheb, hum bhi Malwe ke hi hain, aur mohtarma khud Gwalior gharane ki singer hain…!” we launch into an elaborate introduction. Presenting credentials…Khansaheb politely questions Missus about her gharana, fishing out the scrapbook on which he asks his guests to write by way of communication, for by now his auditory endowments have taken the back seat. “swar matra te achook olakhtaat”, says somebody from behind.  And of course the mind is as sharp as ever. Hundreds of Urdu couplets are still in place…Missus writes about her father Prof. Balaji Pathak, originally of Sagar, and Khansaheb remembers him, as also having played at their Ram Mandir at Sagar. He remembers popular disciple Pt. Ram Hershe of Sagar. Normally Pathaks will be Hindis and Phataks Maharashtrians, Khansaheb observes, and she is exceptional everybody says in chorus, led by nacheez

As if on design, our phone rings. The ring tone is the recurrent 'sthaayiswara samooh sa re ga ma ga re sa ga re from the 2003 Zilla Kafi, that makes a determined assault at around 15.05 mins. into the masterpiece..(5.05 or so in part 2 of alap). What happens at 6.28 for 7 seconds leaves the gunijan open-mouthed. The fantastic illusion created by the merging of a number of strokes, sounding like one long 'Parvezkhani'  meend !  Everybody gets hooked to the mesmerising strains and Ustad asks us to respond to the caller bhaiya..Saheb, Chabiwala Bank ka ek babu hai, apne aap ko Deputy Managing Director kehta hai, apne matlab ka nahi”…we say cockily and launch into the Ustad’s penchant for creating such swar samoohs, which in our view are often fictitious swashbuckling characters in  his narrative. Then we play the 6.47 cut of Kirwani on youtube and write on Ustad’s scrapbook- “iske pachcheeswe second se teeswe second me faisla ho jata hai ke sitar ka malik kaun hai…”. Ustad asks us to elaborate, and we say, “aap teenon, yane ke huzoor, Pt. Ravi Shankar aur Ustad Vilayat Khan ke beech.. chhota muh badi baat muaff karen..”. Ustad has a huge laughter, and evidently enjoys the comment, for he says “ye sab yahan likho barkhwurdar, padhne wale ko samajh aana chahiye…”

the Tansen of sitar!  He is teaching one of his old disciples, a dedicated lady of around 50. Accompanying him in teaching is Pt. Varman, moderator of the day, an accomplished sitarist…Khansaheb firmly takes the reins of the evening in his hands, addressing us by our first names, ordering us to first take our seats. Then he remembers: “Sawkar, inhe Ramnavmi ka prasad khilao- ye lo, Mahim ki mashhoor firni- Sawkar hamesha lekar aata hai..”

Aur ab itminan se poocho kya samajhne aaye ho…sab batayenge, aur sath me sitar bajayenge hamare  shagird…ye koi jaldi khatam hone wala kissa nahi hai…”. “To fir baaki kissa muqwammal karne hamare ghar aaiyega.?” we scribble, and Khansahab observes sagely: ”bhai Sanjiv..tumhari likhawat padhne se to mai tumhe behtar sun loon…haan haan inshallaah, zaroor ayenge, basharte ke mohtarma Guru Purnima par apna gaana sunayen…”

the exchanges between us dabblers and the practitioners- Khansaheb, Pandit Varman and Missus are the stuff of revelation. Why for instance is the Ustad not heard playing glamorous ragas like Puriya or Darbari…or what constitutes the excellence of a sitar recital… Unfortunately, these revelations are not little shampoo sachets which can be marketed and sold for profit, hence zamana inke liye kyun waqt apna barbaad kare…?. The best things in life under today’s ‘life-model’ are destined to languish in the earnest, hospitable bosoms of irregulars like Gopal, Carl von bailiff, Senior, Junior, Missus, Mugdha, Jawahar Reddy and some deewane readers…

the discourse that followed is best cocooned into another passage. Just let us regain our orientation. So long..! Inshallaah see you behind the break!

[1] Not as trivial as it seems- big-big guys do that! Happened with Indrayanikaathi—once it was known to professionals that Carl von bailiff was not a Khasi but a khalis Maharashtrian, the blog was dropped like a hot potato, readership plummeted, and its market-cap turned negative, he, he, he- Meghalaya is as far as the spirit of holy curiosity goes, not beyond…Now you know why Shobhaa De speaks excellent Marathi, but without concession to pronunciation…!- 

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