Du­elling Sitars

India Today - - LEISURE - —Partho Datta

For afi­ciona­dos of sitar, it is ei­ther Ravi Shankar or Vi­layat Khan. Both were epochal, and the mod­ern sitar owes ev­ery­thing to these two amaz­ing mu­si­cians. The ri­valry was mostly one-sided. Shankar had worked as a mu­sic di­rec­tor at the All In­dia Ra­dio and re­ceived gov­ern­ment hon­ours; Vi­layat re­jected both. And Vi­layat’s con­tin­u­ous barbs did not af­fect Shankar’s spec­tac­u­lar world ca­reer.

It was a ques­tion of pedi­gree for Vi­layat. Af­ter all, Shankar was an out­sider, who had trained with a mav­er­ick first-gen­er­a­tion mae­stro, while Vi­layat’s grand­fa­ther Im­dad Khan and fa­ther Enayat Khan were ac­knowl­edged mae­stros. And here was the irony. Vi­layat was a pre­co­cious 10 when his fa­ther died. He was left to his own re­sources, the good­will of his fa­ther’s dis­ci­ples and the ded­i­cated am­bi­tion of his wid­owed mother.

De­v­i­dayal, the bi­og­ra­pher, is very good at fer­ret­ing out facts about the hazy early years of ap­pren­tice­ship. Vi­layat was taught by his ma­ter­nal grand­fa­ther and un­cle; the vo­cal­ists Bande Hasan and Zinda Hasan Khan of Sa­ha­ran­pur; D.T. Joshi, a dis­ci­ple of his fa­ther; Wahid Khan, his pa­ter­nal un­cle; and Khan Mas­tana, his cousin. Most of all, he ab­sorbed re­pose and in­ward­ness from Amir Khan, who was briefly mar­ried to Vi­layat’s sis­ter and who went on to have a trail­blaz­ing ca­reer as a vo­cal­ist. Very early on, Vi­layat had the pa­tron­age of AIR hon­cho Zul­fiqar Ali Bukhari in Delhi and the friend­ship of Arvind Parikh, a wealthy mer­chant in Bom­bay. The sup­port from Cal­cutta was im­por­tant too, though it’s thinly doc­u­mented in this bi­og­ra­phy. Basheeran

Begum, Vi­layat’s mother, looms large through­out. She was, by all ac­counts, as­tute on mu­sic mat­ters. In a story re­counted by the mu­sic critic Mo­han Nad­karni and missed by De­v­i­dayal, she had se­cretly kept a writ­ten record of raga com­po­si­tions and of­fered this valu­able col­lec­tion to her fa­ther and brother in ex­change of lessons to her el­dest son.

Vi­layat’s mu­sic was mod­ern. Closer to the vo­cal graces of khayal and thumri, the famed gayaki style he pi­o­neered dif­fered in tone and flavour from the tra­di­tion­al­ist dhru­pad-based ap­proach of Shankar. In life too, Vi­layat tried to be mod­ern. In early adult­hood, he cul­ti­vated a love of clubs, ex­pen­sive cars, liquor and ball­room danc­ing. Then, in a re­mark­able move, he aban­doned the me­trop­o­lis and moved to Shimla. The seclu­sion helped him grow into a ma­ture per­former. But his mar­riage un­rav­elled in a few years, and his re­la­tion­ship with his mother and brother Im­rat be­came strained as the lat­ter emerged as a talented in­stru­men­tal­ist. His re­la­tion­ship with his chil­dren was un­even too, es­pe­cially with his first born, Shu­jaat.

Driven by De­v­i­dayal’s smart prose, the nar­ra­tive com­bines fact with fic­tion though it veers on the glib with flour­ishes like ‘paan stained heart’. She has a keen sense of place, which had made de­scrip­tions of Bom­bay in her ear­lier best-sell­ing The

Mu­sic Room, such a de­light to read.n

Vi­layat Khan clashed with Ravi Shankar, yet laboured in his shadow

THE SIXTH STRING OF VI­LAYAT KHAN by NAMITA DE­V­I­DAYAL Con­text380 pages; `699

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