Back in those days, the music conference Tansen was held in MahajatiSadan. My father used to sing at these conferences. In ‘68–69, my father wasn’t in good health, but he was supposed to perform at the Tansen music conference. He didn’t take us with him. We went with a woman (who we called pishima) from the family of Duggadas Banerjee – they were our neighbours. Theirs was a zamindar family. An elderly woman of their household bought the tickets and took us with her. A huge crowd had gathered there to hear my father sing. He sang the ShawaniBeh?g. Pundit Bishwanath Bose, the father of Kumar Bose, was accompanying him on the tabla. There were other instruments as well, including the sarengi. After his performance was over, there was great excitement. We are unfortunate that we could never learn such songs. We saw father entering the greenroom and a crowd around him asking for his autograph. We told him we were leaving and went home with pishima. He was surrounded by people.
Translated by: Sarbajaya Bhattacharya
Data processed at SAP-DRS Lab, Department of Instrumental Music, Rabindra Bharati University.
It happened like this, my student the Raja of Panchkot expressed his interest to listen to Begum Akhtar. Her songs were always being played. This Raja was named Bhubneswari Prasad Singdeo. They had their estate at the village of Kashipur, Panchkot near Agra where their palaces still stand. Anyway, I said I will try and asked Ustadji.
Ustadji took me to Broadway Hotel where Begum Akhter was staying for a performance. She gladly consented to go and asked about the time. She asked us to send a car at ten p.m. She arrived punctually at the raja’s residence at 2/1 Loudon Street and performed about fifteen of her songs. The only audience consisted of myself, the Raja, Ustadji and a couple of other people. It was a wonderful performance and this was how I got acquainted with Begum Akhtar. She used to take a very costly and aromatic jarda which was heard to come by. I used to consume betel leaf a lot and also used this jarda in a very small amount. The time frame is around 1964 or 67-68.
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
-Yes…riwaz…That reminds me; Dipakda once showed me a letter. Dipakda was a student of Panditji around the year 1967. He received this letter from Panditji three or four years lat
er. So, the letter must have been written exactly around late 1960s and early 1970s. Now, as most musicians and even some music admirers know, the relationship between Pandit Ravi Shankarji and UstadVilayat Khan wasn’t exactly friendly. Anyway, their relationship has been extensively talked and written about, and we all understand that. What is interesting is, however, that in the letter – I’m not sure whether or not the letter has been preserved by Dipakda’s sister – but Panditji had written “When playing a Taan, you must listen closely to VilayatBhai’s rendition. Try to follow the way VilayatBhai plays the Taan. A perfect Taanwill exactly belike VilayatBhai’s”.
This is fascinating! Pandit Ravi Shankar Ji may not admit it publicly, but I have seen the proof of his secret admiration. Whether Vilayat Khan harboured similar feelings, I wouldn’t know, because I’ve never learned his style from him. But this is a fact nevertheless.
I don’t know if someone has told about this incident. I heard this from Shyamal Bose, the husband of Mili Bose.
This happened sometime in the 70s, when begum Akhtar was to sing at Rabindra Sadan. The day of her programme coincided with the wedding ceremony of Pahari Sanyal’s nephew on his sister’s side. Naturally he would have to accompany his nephew as part of the groom’s retinue or ‘barjatri’. But he still paid a visit to Rabindra Sadan as Begum Akhtar would be singing. He went to the hall and sat in the front row.
When the screen went up, begum Akhtar spotted Pahari Sanyal and said, “Why are you sitting there? Come up here, on the stage…” and made him sit beside her on stage. Pahari Sanyal told her, “Begum, I was not meant to be here tonight, it’s my Bhanja’s wedding today. I have to go and join the Barjatri. I came only because you are singing today. It can’t be that you would be singing in Kolkata and I wouldn’t be there to listen! I’ll stay for one song and then leave. Please forgive me , I cannot stay today.
Begum Akhtar said – All right and then started singing.
And she sang it so splendidly, so wonderfully. After the song was over, Pahari Sanyal stood up and said – “Forgive me today, I must leave”….and started walking away towards the wings. But Begum Akhtar had went into the next song in the meantime, and such melody she had put into the opening of the song, it made Pahari Sanyal turn around and sit down there again. Eventually he stayed on for the full duration of the programme.
Later, after the programme was over, he told her, “You can well understand what my position would be in my family after this, what I would have to face when I return home. But what could I do? If you sing like this, what choice do I have? How can I leave such music?”