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An evening forever – 1 April 15, 2006

Posted by Sharath Rao in CMU, india, movies.

My hands are sore – I have spent the evening clapping away. Its been one of those landmark evenings – was at a concert by Ustad Amjab Ali Khan at the Carnegie Music Hall here in our campus in Pittsburgh. He was here on a concert organized by AID ( Assoc. for India’s Development – more on them in the next post ) playing with his two sons – Amaan and Ayaan.


The man is a genius. He is so soft-spoken, he almost sounds like an apologizer every moment. His gentle smile that he uses to affect to encourage his co-artists, his very presence in the hall – sitting there in the center of the stage, that orange kurta that stood out, the stunning acoustics at the Carnegie Hall – it was a night to carry with you for a few more nights to come.


The audience was in complete awe of him – I have never been at such a gathering before. He came in to a standing ovation that lasted nearly a minute. Unseen. I have no idea whatsoever about classical music – so I may not be able to describe or critique what he played but I know that for those 2 hours I was completely spell bound by the man. When you look at no one in particular and smile, when you find yourself gaping looking at his fingers and how fast they move, when you stop clapping only because your palms are read and you cant take it anymore, you know that you are in love with this stuff and are witnessing something unprecedented.


He played three compositions – the 2nd of the three was a dedication to Lord Ganesh – it was probably the best solo piece of the evening. When it ended people stood up and a roaring applause followed that lasted nearly 2 minutes. He played another one and left and we thought it was over. It was only an intermission.


After the intermission, his two sons came on stage – they started out not quite so extraordinary but soon picked up tempo. Amaan in dark red kurta and Ayaan in a green kurta – on a pseudo-jugalbandi – again attracting applause for nearly a minute. And the end of it, Ayaan said, “Normally, the senior artist performs last but this time my guru and father insisted that we do it this way. Now, for the last section of the day, I would like call on stage again – Ustad Amjab Ali Khan !!”. The crowd erupted ( yes, now I know what that expression really means ) – they really did erupt, welcoming him to another standing ovation. After performing a Bengali folk song solo, he went to the final piece – the jugalbandi – and yes, that had to be best – 2 on tabla and 3 on the Sarod – sons and father – what a sight that was and what sounds ! Its one of those highs you rarely experience and you want it go on forever. Ofcourse it didn’t.



Lets get one thing clear – what he is requires a lifetime of dedication, nothing less will do. That is why there are so few of them around. It involves huge sacrifices, shutting yourself to a whole range of other experiences. Why would someone want to do that – unless ofcourse you love the stuff so much so that you can spend hours, days and every moment thinking about it. And herein lies the truth – its hard, very hard to do so without for a moment asking yourself that question we so often ask in our everyday life – “Is this worth it?”. Its one of those scary questions you will never want to be in a position to ask yourself – not to say I am averse to self-examination and reexamination, but its too fundamental a question and if you falter on that one, if your answer to that is in the affirmative, you have to start from scratch.


Is there something I can keep thinking about day in day out, dedicate my life without ever asking myself the dreaded question? No. I have not found any such interest yet. I am far too restless to remain excited about one thing all my life. And I know none who has. I will never know what a musician’s mind is like – not because just I cant think in terms of music, but because more importantly, even at a higher level, I don’t sustain a single-minded devotion to anything to the degree that musicians like these have for their music. They love and worship it with an intensity most of us here will never ever know.

For all that work and sacrifice they put in all their life, one can never grudge their success. Don’t give me the Khans and the Kapoors or any of these other contemporary Bollywood jokers! Give me a Ravi Shankar (and possibly with Zakir Hussain) concert at the Carnegie Hall in New York City – what wouldn’t I give for him !




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