Tonight was amazing. It’s been ages since I attended a live concert and time costs less when the wait is for the harmonious concerted efforts of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan and Ustad Zakir Hussain.
Thanks to a friend of mine, I dragged my tired feet to fetch the tickets from a Planet M outlet (on Brigade Road). While I was purchasing the tickets I heard the melodious chatter (and one doesn’t often associate melody with chatter) which made me ask the guy across the counter: “Kaun aaye hain aaj?” (Who is here today?). He raised his chin to the TV screens suspended from the ceiling.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan sat there with a microphone in his hand fielding questions that were alternatingly apt and appalling. Someone asked why there are fewer women in the field of Indian classical instrumental music. Someone asked about his favourite raga. Someone asked about his personal relationship with Ustad Zakir Hussain sahab outside the event of jugal-bandis (and the Ustad corrected the young lady that what was to be conducted wouldn’t be a jugal-bandi as the nature of the instruments was different). His wife was asked a few questions too. Standing there, unknown to him, I watched him as he carefully drew a lopsided grin. and gesticulated while trying to put his blissful experience, when confronted with a new raga, in words. English wasn’t his forte and it would be stupid to expect that. The man is a true Gandharva (and I go by the definition in the Vishnu Purana) and is indeed blessed by the Goddess when she was in her finest cheer. He spoke of his joy in presenting to the crowds in Calcutta and once, for about 10 hours straight (21:00 hrs – 7:00 hrs). He said that was only possible in Calcutta as they truly appreciated the arts (he also gets his sarod made there). I felt envious and yearned to meet up with a few Bengali friends of mine, in a vain hope that some of their finesse would rub on to my mien. He spoke with a grace and elegance that made me want to clasp his hands and kiss them. This was yesterday.
Today was an enriching experience. The maestros brought their skills to an unrehearsed performance, enacted for the first and last time (in this form) on stage right in front of our eyes and to the bias that such musicians place on our ears.
Ustad Zakir Hussain sahab was practicing when I entered the concert venue (1 good hour ahead of time). For a few minutes I enjoyed the percussions. Thereafter I spent my time warding off human beings from the 6 seats I was guarding for my friends (and woe to me for refusing those fine ladies a place beside me for the cause of people I hardly knew!). The Ustads started late but one could blame the Bangalore traffic for that.
For the earlier part of the concert, Zakir Hussain sahab followed Amjad Ali Khan sahab’s lead and this was expected in the traditional upbringing of Indian classical musicians (Amjad Ali Khan sahab is older in years and experience). That Zakir Hussain never tried to grab centrestage is something noteworthy in these days of narcissism. I watched and waited (a writer always hopes for the worst, such that his repertoire of human characters increases and gains credibility) for Zakir Hussain sahab to pull the performance with the slaps on the leather that brought him fame. He never did, and always waited for Amjad Ali Khan sahab to instruct him. An amazing man. Both.
Zakir Hussain sahab is the wittier of the two, equally matched in their sense of humour. He was clear in instructing the photo/videographers who kept shooting into his face to step aside and patient enough to allow the emcee to complete his horrible talk (I would have strangled him, but I don’t have to carry the name of Zakir Hussain, hence, it’s ok!).
The later parts of the concert were fabulous, with Amjad Ali Khan sahab playing the Ragas Ganesh Kalyan, Kamal Shree, Durga, Saraswati and Kirvani. Zakir Hussain sahab provided the perfect accompaniment that Amjad Ali Khan sahab could ever ask for. The sheer joy in their faces as they exchanged salutes and praise was delightful. One could notice how Amjad Ali Khan sahab would hint at Zakir Hussain sahab who had already expected that indication. Both Divine musicians took no measures to hide their gratitude for the Supreme after one phenomenal piece that I have captured in part (on my mobile). Enjoy this while I upload other portions from the concert. Watch how they do an amazing job of matching the other.
I am sorry, if you expected a brilliant account of the concert. All I can hear are the strings plucked and melodiously bouncing off the stretched hide. They were one. They were beautiful.