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The Glorious Tradition of Etawah-Imdadkhani Gharana

Nesting snugly between the covers of an elegantly designed book titled “The Glorious Tradition of Etawah-Imdadkhani Gharana – The Greats of Seven Generations” is a compact disc with twenty-five very exclusive and rare tracks that are a collector’s delight. Authored by Arvind Parikh, octagenarian sitar guru and leading disciple of the legendary sitar maestro Vilayat Khan sahib, the book offers an “analytical presentation of its”.. (Etawah-Imdadkhani Gharana) “glorious traditions evolved during the last two centuries.” The accompanying CD is meant to provide an aural complement to the analysis presented by the author and contains rare gems for those with a fine taste in Hindustani raagdari music. And if that wasn’t bounty enough, the gorgeous archival photographs that adorn the pages of the book make it even more delectable.

There is musical bullion dripping from each pit and bump on that CD, with the twenty-five representative tracks providing glimpses of the gharana greats including Imdaad Khan sahib, Enayet Khan sahib, Hafeez Khan and Wahid Khan. Among the seventeen tracks by Vilayat Khan Sahab, there is a rare Miyan ki Todi recorded by the genius at age nine. It may be noted that this track does not contain the Li’l Champ variety of precocious talent that is the flavor of the day, but is an invaluable record of the blossoming of a master musician anchored to his art by the force and gravitas of discipline and taleem.

But the one track on this CD that is unique in its charm is Track 24, labeled or rather mis-labeled as Raag Thumri. There is of course no such raag, and it is rather surprising to see how such an error could creep into a book that otherwise is very evidently a labor of love and dedication. Nevertheless, Track 24 has Vilayat Khan Sahab teaching none other than Begum Akhtar, great ghazal and thumri diva, the subtle twists and turns of thumri gayaki. Recorded at the author’s residence, it makes for fascinating listening. Vilayat Khan Sahab leads and the Begum follows obediently, never stepping out of line or adding an extra flourish to show her prowess of which she had plenty. A harmonium accompanies the two legends, and makes one wonder who was playing the harmonium. Could it have been Khan sahib himself or was it the Begum, who regularly accompanied herself on the harmonium? Possibly only the author could tell, as his voice too is recorded on the track encouraging Begum Akhtar with a “Bahut khoob, bahut achha” as she declares “Khan sahib, thak gaye isse..” (Khan sahib, I have tired of this..”) possibly meaning that the rigor of the lesson was demanding and tired her out. The ustad and the diva never move to the actual bol or lyrics of the thumri, but float effortlessly in the prefatory movements till she falters slightly in repeating a glide that the ustad had enunciated. He points out the mend or glide to her again, and she attempts it repeatedly till she bursts into an infectious giggle, laughing at herself. Sadly, that is where the track is cut short and the listener left high and dry, wondering what happened next. Perhaps a petition could be made to the author to reveal the rest of this unique recording in subsequent editions of his book, which incidentally, may not be easy to find in stores. Possibly the only way to get details of how to acquire a copy would be to write to the International Foundation for Fine Arts, Mumbai.

This article was first published in my column Music Matters for Lounge, Mint in October, 2011:

Shubha Mudgal

Shubha Mudgal

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