This book is written by Ustad Alauddin Khan’s great grand daughter, Sahana. She narrates the story of Ustad Alauddin Khan piecing together various handwritten manuscripts and stories from her grandparents house.
Tracing the family tree, Sahana discovers that Alauddin Khan’s ancestors were actually Hindus. Somewhere along the way, one of his ancestors converted to Islam and married a Muslim. AK’s father was a Sitar player and the music rubbed on to AK from a very young age. By the age of seven, AK had already decided to give up school and devote his life towards music. At the age of eight, AK stole money from his mom’s safe box and left home in search of a guru. He traveled ticketless to Calcutta and not knowing anyone in Calcutta survived on some food doled out to beggars, slept on the entrance of a dispensary for many days.
Finally Luck smiled on AK. A young boy approached him, listened to his tale and took him to his parents who were music lovers. After listening to AK’s voice, he was immediately taken to a known guru, Nulo Gopal, who was a court musician of the Raja of Calcutta. Nulo Gopal told AK that he has to practice sur sadhana for at least 12 years to become good at it. AK immediately agreed and so began a journey of learning Hindustani vocal for 8 long years before one day, something happened. AK’s family members somehow came to know about him and they requested his guru to send him for a few days to their village. AK was least expecting the already underway marriage preparations in his village. Despite his reluctance, AK is married to Madan Manjari. Then a strange thing happens. On the wedding night, AK seeing his wife sleeping, steals all her garments and runs away to Calcutta so that he could practice music with his guru. Why did he have to steal? He was anyway going to go Calcutta for his riyaz? Why cause misery to the poor Madan Manjari? Nobody knows what made him do such a thing. I guess god gave an answer to his mad act. By the time AK came back to Calcutta, he was told that his vocal guru had passed away.
Heartbroken and nowhere to go, he breaks down. Fortunately, his host guides him to another teacher, Habu Dutta, who was an instrumentalist. AK decides to give up vocal training and pursue instrumental music. Habu Dutta offered to teach AK violin and cornet. AK spends about 7 years taking instrumental lessons and by the end of it, becomes proficient in various indigenous and foreign musical instruments like the sitar, flute, piccolo, mandolin and banjo. Instead of being satisfied and complacent, AK became frantic to master every instrument that he could lay his hands on and eagerly looked for opportunities to further his music knowledge. He started finding gurus who could teach him Western instruments. He learnt the Indian style of Violin, Western style of Violin, learnt sanai, naquara, pakhawaj, mridangam, tabla etc. To fund his education of various instruments, he started giving his services to a theatre group. Despite being financially ok, thanks to the theatre job, AK decided that the light hearted nature of theatre was not the right environment for a serious in-depth musical experience.
Lucky smiled on him again and got him in close proximity with great sarode player, Ahmed Ali Khan. As things turned out, AK begged Ahmed Ali khan to be his sarode teacher and thus AK spent some years learning sarode. However AK’s relationship with Ahmed Ali Khan ended up in a bitter note mainly because the latter was jealous of his disciple’s amazing music repertoire. AK was soon without a guru and became lonely. He tried committing suicide. Thankfully at the crucial moment, a maulvi of a mosque rescues him and tells him a plan to meet and learn music from the then popular guru, Ustad Wazir khan. But things don’t work out with Ustad Wazir khan. Soon, AK started scouting for other gurus. Subsequently he learnt sarode from someone, dhrupad from somebody else. All the while he was content that he was learning music. He had no idea where his life was taking him.
Meanwhile Madan Manjari who was left alone by AK, was still a devout wife. Despite her family members pressurizing her to remarry, she never did so. Her family members tried contacting AK and they did so, by getting in touch with Ustad Wazir Khan. One thing leads to another and soon Wazir Khan takes AK as a disciple and teaches him all aspects of music for 33 long years. After this long tutorship, Wazir khan gave AK permission to play in front of audiences. On a side note, I wonder why things are changing nowadays. Nowadays students or aspiring artists want to practice and play an instrument with the primary aim of showcasing in an event. In fact my sitar guru says he gave up on at least 20 to 30 his students when they grew restless with the pace of their learning. They were primarily looking forward to playing at an event, not realizing that the real joy is in playing for the self. I guess someone should have handed over this book and made them realize that learning music is a lifelong task.
Anyways, coming back to the story. In one of the AK’s performance, the prime minister of Maihar, a small state located some 120 km from Khajurao in Madhya Pradesh, was in the audience and was thoroughly impressed with his rendition. He requested AK to come to Maihar and teach music and be a court musician. Maihar became a turning point in AK’s life. AK started teaching many students in Maihar. Some of his students went on to become stalwarts in Indian music. AK single-handedly created an entire gharana named after Maihar. The book also gives some idea about the rigor that AK followed while teaching music to disciples. Any aspiring musician or instrumentalist should read the section on practice to get an idea about how someone becomes good at an instrument.
Alauddin Khan passed away in 1972 after spending 100 years of life in learning, practicing and teaching music. He left behind a great enriched tradition of music, which has since been passed down to generations of musicians and music lovers, keeping his memory alive. Through this book, his great granddaughter gives a picturesque glimpse in to the various facets of maestro’s life.