At Chowringhee, near the Lords Bakery, there was an open space, where the Sadarang Conference would be held. There would always be a huge crowd at the conference. Tickets were priced at Rs. 4 or Rs. 5. There had come to perform in the morning session, a Baiji, who was not very acclaimed at that time; referred by Kanai Da. The Baiji had said, “I do not prefer to be accompanied by a Bangali Babu…” And Kanai Da had assured, saying, “Oh, don’t you worry… I will play with you.”
Dabir Khan Saheb said, “Hey what are you doing? This is such a trouble!”
But the Baiji continued, saying “No no… I won’t allow a Bangali Babu…” (voice not clear)
Thus, Khan Saheb had to play, though the Biaji was not an infamous one.
That day at the morning session…
Do you understand, Kanai Dutta was refused!
No no, just see the way of talking- “I won’t allow a Bangali Babu…”
These Bangalees are the one who were famous Tabla Players.
Pandit Sankha Chattopadhyay is a reputed Tabla player from Kolkata. His style blends three leading Tabla Gharanas of India, Farukhabad, Delhi and Punjab.
Listener, Ravi Shankar, Alluddin Khan, Keramatulla khan, Anokhelal Mishra, Ashish khan, Vilabit, Theka, Programme, Rangmahal Theater Hall, Allarakha Khan, Rupak Tala, Kalika Cinema Hall, Tansen Conference, Late 50’s, Samta Prasad
This is a very old story from a long time ago. I was then a student of Khan Sahib, and perform very little. I was still not out professionally in the market, but everyone important knows that I can play. Because I used to carry the bags of Keramat Khan sahib, followed him with my tabla set, sat beside him, tuned the table, and as a result, I was a known face.
At the Tansen Conference, when Vilayat Khan got ready to perform, Shailen Da told him, “Today, Kanthe Maharaj Ji and Thirakwa Sahib would play with you… a duet.” Vilayat Khan said, “They are both big names, elephants in their own right, why not give them a turn? Not together.”
Shailen Da replied: “No, we decided for a duet today.”
But they didn’t agree. They said, “We shall perform separately.” Kanthe Maharaj ji took the first turn. I was near the stage at the time. I went with Keramatulla Khan Sahib and was allowed at the first row, and I was watching the fun. Out of nowhere, Vilayat Khan took up a complicated tune. Maharaj was known for the uniqueness of his technique.
Hafiz Ali Khan Sahib was playing along. In this context, I must say that the beat he chose was Tintala but the Theka was surprisingly balanced, making it a astonishingly beautiful rhythm. Dha Den Na Ke, Ta De Na Ke, Tin Tin Na Ke, Dha Dhin Dhin Dha, Dha Dhin Dhin Dha… went on fading bol.
So, he was demonstrating the rhythm with a movement of his feet, and Vilayat Khan found it extremely offensive. Suddenly, someone from the audience made a taunting noise. And at that time the rivalry of Vilayat Khan and Ravi Shankar was akin to that of the much publicized rivalry of East Bengal and Mohan bagan football teams. Suddenly, Vilayat Khan dropped the sitar with a bang and walked out. “No, I won’t play. They’re all agents of Ravi Shankar. I won’t play.”
Karamat Khan Sahib stood up. “What are you doing, my brother?”
Vilayat Khan: “No, Keramat bhaijan, they’re taunting at me.”
Karamat Khan Sahib: “No one is taunting at you.”
Vilayat Khan understood, and then came back on stage after a few smokes. His performance was first class. And then it was Thirakwa Sahib’s turn.
-Allow me to interrupt, I have a question. Around what year did this happen? Was it in the forties?
-No, abruptly 1954 or 55.
-Where was this musical conference held?
This was, as I feel… The program was explosive. But there was that one interruption. Music is music, after all. Vilayat Khan, with his electrifying music, would often throw out challenges to the crowd while he played. “Is there anyone who can play like me?” That’s what he used to do whenever he performed.
Anyway, then Thirakwa Sahib took his turn. What music it was! Kanthe Maharaj had already performed, but Thirakwa Sahib was another matter entirely. It was pure passion. What else would you call it? Keramat Sahib went inside again. “What are you doing, my brother? They taunted him so much, but no one said a word to you.” He was always obsessed with taunts from the crowd, whether it was his own group that was responsible for the taunts.
Anyway, Khan Sahib coaxed and persuaded. It was Dabir Khan’s turn next. And after him, someone else took his arm and sat him down at the stage. Thirkua sahib performed. I was new to Kolkata then. I came to Kolkata at around fifty and that happened around in fifty five.
– That was around fifty five?
– Fifty four or fifty five I guess.
– So it took place either in Indira hall or Basusree Hall.
– Could be Indira or Bharati hall as well, I can’t remember clearly.
This is an incident which I would have said about anyway, but since Pt. Ramesh Mishraji left us yesterday, I think it fit to be told at first, as he was involved with this. This was in the 1980s – I do not remember exactly, but close to1986 or 1987. At that time music was released on cassettes. The recording for PanditSwapanChaudhury’s first Tabla on cassette was being done at Audio Centre Studio at Behala. Recording started at around 7 in the evening. Rameshda, Pandit Ramesh Mishra was keeping the Nagma on Sarengi. Pt. SwapanChaudhury was to play the VilambitTeentaal.
This happened at the very beginning of the recording. When everything was ready, recording had started, Pt. Ramesh Mishra, playing with his head down, started with a short Auchar and went in to the Gat. He had played it exceedingly well, even within that short timeframe. When he arrived at the ‘Sam’, it was expected that Pt. SwapanChaudhury, sitting opposite from him, would take his entry from there. But he did not play anything, just sat there, looking at Rameshda. Rameshda played a few more matras, then, having heard nothing from SwapanChaudhury, he looked up.
Pt. SwapanChaudhuri was so engrossed in his music that he said, even though the recording was going on, “Ramesh, you play today, I am going to listen to you. You are playing so well that anything I play after this will ruin the ambience. You go on playing, I will listen you today. The recording can wait for some other day.”
This incident naturally left Rameshdaembarrassed and he stopped playing. The recording was done afresh. But this incident has remained imprinted in my memory.
It was the year 1985. Nisar Hussain Khan, the grandfather of Rashid Khan was the Guru of S. R. A. (Sangeet Research Academy). NisarHussain Khan was to be awarded the Bhuwalka Award, and it was decided that he would also sing at the Award Ceremony. My Guru encouraged me to play the Harmonium with him, and I agreed.
Nisar Hussain Khan used to sit on a high stool while performing, because he couldn’t sit with his legs folded owing to his old age. He was running on his 83rd or 84th year at that time. The program started and he asked me on stage to play the note for tuning other instrument accordingly. Thus I began to follow him with the Harmonium, suddenly he asked me to play it softly, said, “Why are you playing it so loud? Play it softly.” So I tuned the Hamonium to play it softly. He again interrupted and said. “No no. You are playing it too loud. Slow it down…” Amidst this, the Tanpura was also tuned and Nisar Khan started singing. In between songs, he would ask me to play softer. It was not that I was playing it very loud, but still he kept on insisting that I play it softly. He was renowned musician after all and also the Grandfather of Rashid… and I too was a bit intimidated.
At one point, I was playing the harmonium so low, that I myself was unable to hear it. But even then, he found it to be too loud. At the end of the program, my Guruji, who happened to be a South Indian, came to me and scolded me in broken Bangla, complaining that my harmonium was not audible at all. He said, “Are you mad or what! What were you playing up there? We couldn’t even hear you play the harmonium!” I told him that it was Nisar Khan, who himself had asked me to play it softly. Guruji said, “Yes, I had noticed that he was instructing you about something, but couldn’t make it what he was asking for…”
Later the Tabla player, Aslam Khan revealed to us that Nisar Hussain Khan had his hearing aid on high volume. His son in law was Gulam Akhbar Khan and his son was Julfikar, who had told the Tabla player about this. Since the volume of the hearing aid was pitched very high on the side where I was sitting, NisarHussain Khan always felt that I was being too loud. Later, I had also told Rashid about this incident, and he too assured me that this had happened a lot of times in the past as well. Rashid also told me that at home, when Nisar Khan would have his morning tea, he gets very irritated at the crows screeching outside, though the noise wasn’t that unbearable. He would also get angry at the crows and ask others to scare them off.