In the ‘60s, there was a concert at Chhatu babu and Latu babu’s Beadon Street address. Shipra Basu was one of the first performers, and, as far as I recall, Pandit Gobinda Bose was playing the tabla. Father was to perform after that. We had gone later. Bachche Lal Mishra was accompanying him on the sarengi and Sandip Deb on the tabla. Sandip Deb was a young man at that time. He would wear a red vermillion mark on his forehead because he was the disciple of Nanku Maharaj of Benares. He still follows these things, I know. Father came to the dais and began to sing. When we were children, we used to hear that when father performed a taan, everyone would swept off their feet. Now, I had a logical bent of mind. I didn’t believe this story. I always thought, what is so special about taan that the audience will be swept off their feet for it? But, I hadn’t seen anything yet.
On that day, he was singing the Maalkosh, and he was in a very good mood. I remember that performance very well. He was performing a taan which had many twists and turns, it was rolling upwards, higher and higher, and it sounded like a fishing wheel, and when the music reached a crescendo, all of us in the audience moved forward, drawn as if by some magnetic force, and when the music came crashing down, we were thrown back as well. Then I understood what everyone meant by being swept off their feet. It was literal.
I have always had the blessings of Khan sahib, I still do. Vilayat Khan is the main person. We used to live next to his house. One night, it was around midnight, my elder brother and I were practicing. My brother was playing the harmonium and I was playing the tabla. Suddenly we heard someone knocking on the gate. So we called out and asked who it was and what they wanted.
A voice answered, “People call me Vilayat Khan. May I come in?”
“Oh, Khan sahib, come in, come in.”
“Who is playing? They are playing well. I want to hear. May I come in?”
I had stopped playing.
“Oh, play dear man, play. I am like your elder brother. Play. Let me hear it. You play well. Who taught you?”
I answered him.
“Hm. He is a great master. Why don’t you come over to my place? Visit me sometime. I have a younger brother. Make friends with him and practice with him as well.”
That is how he invited me to his home. I began to frequent his place. I used to meet Imrat Khan. One day he said, “Come, play with me. This is the beginning for you.”
-Was this in late ‘50s? ’57-58?
-It would be…the first time I went with him was in ’68…so this should be around ’64-65.
– This was happening at Park Circus? The entire thing? Both of you lived their!
-We used to do riyaaz. Then once or twice he took me here and there – to Patna and Allahabad. One day he suddenly called for me (AUDIO UNCLEAR) “Shankha, Guruji is calling, what’s the matter? He asked, “What are your plans for next week?”
I said, “I have no plans. I don’t even have a job.”
“Take this money, go to Bombay. You’ll accompany me to London.”
“Oh, you just go. You won’t have to do a thing. You’ll buy the tickets with me and go to Bombay.”
So I went to Bombay. Then one day he said, “Shankha, you really are something. You’ve at least studied in a school or college. How will you get your passport made from here? You’ll have to go to Kolkata for that.” I didn’t want it, but he said, “Oh, Khan sahib does this all the time. Now see what I do.”
da in Kolkata He filled up the form in Bombay and sent it to Sona. he was a gazetted officer. He got my passport made, and sent it back. I went off to London. That was the first time. Thus it began. There are so many stories!
Translated by: Sarbajaya Bhattacharya
Picture Courtesy: Pt, Sankha Chattopadhyay, Google