String theory: Ustad Usman Khan recalls talk with the 'bhagwan'
“Aapki beti bhi sitaar bajaati hai? Meri beti bhi seekh rahi hai.” (Does your daughter play sitaar? My daughter is also learning.) were the encouraging words of Pandit Ravi Shankar to Ustad Usman Khan of Hubli when the two got to meet in New Delhi long ago. The latter’s daughter, Ruquia, grew up to be a noted sitar player.
Usman Khan, who hails from Hubli and stays in Pune, reminisces his interactions with Ravi Shankar. He said it was in 1958 or 1959, when he was just 18 years old, that he got to meet the sitar maestro for the first time.
“He was kind enough to enquire about my grandfather Ustad Rahimat Khan, who was pioneer in introducing sitar to South India, and father Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, who was also a well-known sitarists. He used to express concern about health of my family members whenever we meet. I never used to lose occasions of meeting him. I had met him in France, San Francisco and at many places. I had been to watch jugalbandi of him and sarod player Ali Akbar Khan in 1982 in USA and that has been a heaven-like memory for me. Both the maestroes had mesmerised the audience (who had come) from different countries of the world,” he said.
He recalled that Ravi Shankar, who had then just resigned as staff artist of All India Radio, Delhi, was curious about his daughter’s interest. “When I met him with my daughter Ruquia, he had expressed happy over her interest in music and noted that music tradition was continuing in eighth generation of our family. He used to remember our grandfather Ustad Rahimat Khan for modifying the three-string sitar into a seven-string instrument, which we have today,” he said.
Another member of the Khan family, Ustad Hameed Khan, who stays in Dharwad, slipped into nostalgic memory with Ravi Shankar. “I had enjoyed his recital in AK Industries, Hubli, in 1972. The whole auditorium was hypnotised by his programme of 70 minutes, where he had only played Raga Multani. Afterwards I had met him in Goa in 1993, where he blessed us to continue the music tradition of our grandfather Ustad Rahimat Khan. He had stated that he had listened to Rahimat Khan’s sitar-playing many times,” he said.
Hyderabadis have a deep appreciation for classical music: Ustad Usman Khan
“I can’t remember how many times I’ve come to Hyderabad, but I’ve come many, many times. I especially remember playing at a function hosted by Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. As a youngster, I played a lot with the legendary Sheikh Dawood Khan. He was beyond comparison, and was very popular in the North,” shares the Ustad.
A smile flashes across the Ustad’s face as he continues to talk about Hyderabad. “Every city has its own flavour, but there was a general understanding among us musicians that the Hyderabadi people had a deep appreciation for classical music. Not just the people, the city itself is so beautiful,” says the Ustad, as he adds, “It would be highly inappropriate to not mention how much I love the biryani here, I wish I could mention another dish other, but without biryani how can I think of Hyderabad. In fact, whenever my son-in-law comes here, he brings many packets of biryani for me to relish back home.”
Ustad, who now lives in Pune, comes from a family who’ve been sitar players for generations. His father was the great Ustad Abdul Karim Khanand grandfather was the legendary Ustad Rehmat Khan, one of the ‘Navratnas of the Maharaja of Mysore’. Ustad Rehmat Khanwas the one who modified the three-stringed been into the seven-stringed sitar that it is today. Despite the age and the lineage, the Ustad doesn’t consider himself a master of his art, the art remains his master. “Even at this age, I practise every day. The music you learn to master doesn’t leave your mind; it stays there. But if we don’t practise our skill diminishes. I need to keep my fingers working,” he shares.
But it isn’t only the sitar that does the magic for him as a listener. The Ustad has a deep appreciation for other instruments and genres of music as well. “If I wasn’t a sitar player I would have loved to play the bansuri or the sarod. The tonal quality of these instruments is something I admire a lot. I also listen to a lot of Jazz and Blues when I tour Western countries,” says the Ustad, who, however, isn’t a big fan of the fusion genre.
“It is the responsibility of us senior musicians to guide the next generation and stress the importance of Classical music. It’s our ibadhat. I’m hopeful that a few musicians can keep the purity of the art intact. We have a lot of young talent, but these days, commercialising the art has become the norm. I’m not very happy with that, but I’m hopeful some musicians can keep the purity of the art intact. Fusion music to me seems like a big confusion. See, I’m all for improvising within the limits of the freedom that basic music theory gives us, but for everyone to take up fusion music just because it is popular is just short sighted,” says the Ustad.
Ustad Usman Khan is a sixth generation musician and third generation Hindustani classical Sitar player . Born in Dharwad in the state of Karnataka in South India on 22nd September 1940, he is eldest son of Ustad Abdul Karim Khan and grandson of famous Ustad Rehmat Khan/Rahimat khan who was one of the ‘Navratnas of the Maharajah of Mysore’-One who modified three-stringed sitar into seven-stringed sitar which is today. . Usman Khan is also the eldest brother of Chote Rahimat khan
Usman Khan received tutelage starting at the age of six from his father, Ustad Abdul Karim Khan. He gave his first public performance at the age of 9 and is well known for his unique techniques of combining vocal and instrumental techniques on sitar. Not restricting himself to traditional performances, he presented 20 piece orchestra in December 1989, creation with a blend of different musical traditions of east and west. He introduced classical compositions for fashion show for ‘Laffair of Delhi’ in 1992/93. In April 1985,He was chosen Sitar player for ’24 hour Raga Session’ held in Paris . He was the only instrumentalist from east to give a full concert at the ‘International Guitar Festival’ in Marseilles in May 1986. He performed internationally over several decades and toured widely in Europe, Australia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, South Korea, U.S and Canada.Within India,his memorable performance of Raga Malkauns and Dhun,at the ‘Savai Gandharva Mahotsav 1992 received critique’s accolades. His two ragas album, published and distributed by CBS remains one of the best sellers.
Ustad Usman Khan emerged as a gifted teacher ,devotes his time to passing his unique heritage to disciples from all over the world in the true tradition of a Gurukul since 1960’s and 1944 onwards through ’Naad Mandir’ (non-profit organisation) in Pune-India.
On 1st February 1998- FIE honored Usman Khan with foundations ‘National Award for Music’ in recognition for his efforts on keeping classical music tradition alive and propagating gurukul system of teaching music. In contribution to classical music, he had been conferred with two awards, “Shree Lakshmi Art and Culture Award 2003” and government of Maharashtra honored Usman Khan with “Cultural Award for Instrumental Music 2003”.He is also Dean for Music,Temple of Fine Arts(TFA),Malaysia . TFA has also conferred him with the title of “Sitar Sitara Nada Yogi” for his exemplary contribution to Indian Classical Music.
1. Thehindubusinessline.com. (2018). A sitar maestro turns 60 with grace and poise. [online] Available at: http://www.thehindubusinessline.com/2000/12/02/stories/18024492.htm [Accessed 23 Jan. 2018].
2. News, C., News, H. and Joseph, D. (2018). Hyderabadis have a deep appreciation for classical music: Ustad Usman Khan - Times of India. [online] The Times of India. Available at: https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/hyderabad/hyderabadis-have-a-deep-appreciation-for-classical-music-ustad-usman-khan/articleshow/57145842.cms [Accessed 23 Jan. 2018].
2. The Hans India. (2018). Follow discipline and enjoy freedom. [online] Available at: http://www.thehansindia.com/posts/index/Telangana/2017-02-13/Follow-discipline-and-enjoy-freedom/280458 [Accessed 23 Jan. 2018]. 3. Iapa-usa.org. (2018). Sitar. [online] Available at: http://www.iapa-usa.org/April302016_Usman%20Khan_flyerv2.pdf [Accessed 22 Jan. 2018].
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