The Secret for Growth

The Secret for Growth

It is always my wish and prayer that my students and all those that I know will grow with each passing year. As we begin 2010, I would like to share a small story that illuminates a secret for growth, whether in your spiritual life, professional life, or personal life.
Tānsen had been appointed as a musician in Akbar’s court. In his times, to become a court musician was a major accomplishment. You were given immense resources – a palace to live in, an elephant to move around on, etc. It was a musician’s dream. Upon receiving this news, he made the long journey to visit his Gurū Swāmī Haridās deep in the forest. After sharing the news, he bowed at the feet of his teacher and sought his blessings.
“I am very happy that you have accomplished so much. Always stay like this,” his Gurū said, “if you want to continue to grow.”
Tansen rose and asked him to explain.
“Observe the posture of one seeking to climb a mountain. He is always leaning forward, keeping his head bowed. Observe the posture of one going down a mountain. He stands tall with his chest out. If you want to reach great heights, you must keep your head bowed and keep your ego in check. When you stand tall, you will no longer be able to go higher.”
Tansen got the message.

State of Today’s Indian Classical Music Concerts

State of Today’s Indian Classical Music Concerts

A musician needs two types of people in the audience – those who really understand the depth of the music and those who may not understand its full depth, but offer financial support for the musician.
Commercial music concerts of Indian classical music have changed over the last two to three decades. On the good side, it is becoming more financially possible to be a classical musician; on the bad side, audiences with a deep understanding of music are decreasing.
There was a time when the first five rows of commercial concerts were reserved for people who deeply understood music. Rich people in suits and expensive Kurtās were actually seated behind these rows. Only then did the artist get into the mood to play real music because there were people who understood it.
I remember one concert that happened in Ahmedabad 20-30 years ago. It was a concert of a well-known musician who was travelling abroad. A short time into the concert, the audience had stopped the concert. Five people were on stage. They asked the musician not to play Palṭās. If he was to play, he had to play real music or there was no need for the concert. This was the strength of the audience. There was no room for gimmicks. The audience understood Indian classical music and did not accept anything less than true playing.
Today, things have changed. Today, in many commercial concerts, the financial supporters, who often do not have a very deep understanding of music, are the ones who occupy the front rows, while those who understand music, the students and connoisseurs, end up sitting in some corner. The demand for high-quality has decreased, and the artist consequently does not play that kind of music because it is not expected of him.
You can clearly see the changes in commercial concerts. Commercial concerts of a single artist used to begin at 8pm and end at least 3-4 hours later. Now, they finish in a span of 45 – 90 minutes. The ālāp alone used to last 1 – 2 hours. Now, we hear perhaps a 5 minute ālāp and 2-3 Rāgas in that time period. This is not necessarily because the artist is incapable of performing a long concert. In the younger generation, there might not be as many who can (as the concert demand has changed), but we still do have artists who can perform these “real” concerts. However, the general audience is not ready or trained to listen to and enjoy these concerts.
The training of an audience will not happen overnight. It requires regular exposure to high-quality musicians. Those who have an understanding should not be afraid to demand high-quality music, while those who are developing an understanding should not simply accept whatever the market is giving them to be the best.
The development of an audience takes time and commitment, but if it is not done, there will be a very small chance of hearing a real Indian classical music concert in the future.

Rhythm in Plants, Laya in Everything

Rhythm in Plants, Laya in Everything

I always tell my students that music has to be digested. Laya (variations of rhythm) has to become a part of you. The experience that one gets when music becomes a part of their being is incredibly beautiful.
Today, I was re-designing the layout of my garden. I have over 200 potted plants in my garden. As I worked with my gardener to sort out the plants, I was examining each of my plants and was mesmerised by the rhythm that each plant had.
Each plant was unique, each had its own laya. One had a straight branch that had three offshoots at the end; in it I saw ādi-laya. On another plant, there were seven leaves, a flower, and then seven leaves again; in it I could see a laya of 8 beats. The leaves represented the laya and the flower represented the sum. The cycle of 7 (leaves) came to the sum (flower) and continued on. Each branch of one of my palms was split into 13. The plant had a laya of 13. In this way, I saw the rhythm in each plant.
Everything has its own natural rhythm. The disruption of natural rhythm leads to things breaking down, but when something runs in its natural rhythm, it is in harmony with itself, with its surroundings, and with nature.
Music and rhythm are to be digested. When it is, one can see it in everything.

Finding a Tablā Teacher

Finding a Tablā Teacher

Today, a young man and his father came to my music school. The son wanted to take tabla lessons at our institute because he had been referred to me by a music friend of mine. At Rhythm Riders, we take very few new local students as a measure of quality control. I told him this, yet the father persisted in saying that his son wanted to learn more seriously. His son had been learning from someone else for 4 years, but now, finding a tabla teacher who could take him forward was very important. I could see that the boy was talented and very interested in music, so I conceded and gave him a chance to play.
Once our general class had thinned out, I called the boy to me with a pair of Tablā. On one hand, what happened saddened me, yet on the other hand, invoked no response, as I had seen this so many times over the years.
The boy’s basic hand was incorrect, meaning that his hand placement and movement to play basic bols was incorrect. Four years of carelessness or incompetence on the part of his teacher, and now, the boy had potentially formed bad habits that were irreversible. If I were to have taken this boy as a student at our school, we would first ask him to forget everything he has been taught and start from the absolute basics. But even with that extreme measure, it wouldn’t guarantee the development of a perfectly set hand (like those of students who start their training with us), as it is near impossible to forget what has become ingrained in the hands over the course of 4 years.
This scene is not new to me. I have experienced it time and time again. The lack of effort and research that is put into finding a Tablā teacher both saddens me and angers me.
Indian classical music has the potential to spiritually uplift the musician and the listener. It is a vidyā (art/ knowledge) whose learning is said to carry forth from one birth to the next. It has the ability to heal and empower and do so much more, yet when someone seeks to learn this art, they often spend less time on finding a teacher than they do on buying a shirt.
For example, I have seen people start learning from a particular teacher simply because their neighbour also learns from them. They start without asking any questions and doing any research. When we choose what school to send our child to, we look at the quality of the education, the caliber of its graduates, etc, so why don’t people do the same for training in Indian classical music?
Quality should not be excused for the sake of convenience. I understand that in today’s day and age, time is viewed as an increasingly limited commodity, but does that extra 30 minute drive take precedence over you losing the opportunity to reach a certain level of mastery? (Recall the young boy I mentioned at the start, who now has a very low chance of learning from a genuine Tablā teacher because his hand is damaged).
The caliber and qualifications of a teacher are crucial considerations. One does not necessarily have to begin learning from a maestro. (In fact, most maestros do not take beginner students. They only take on new students once a certain level of competency is displayed). Maestro or no maestro, one has to look at the level of competency the teacher has in their own playing and/or knowledge. The caliber of a teacher can be gauged by the caliber of his students. If a teacher does not have any (or very few) students that play well or have a good grasp of the art, this is clearly a reflection of the teacher’s poor skills.
An often overlooked question – How long have they been learning?
In my years abroad, I have seen countless Tablā players come to me who learnt Tablā? in India (or elsewhere) for a few years (most likely, not seriously but as a hobby) and then migrated abroad. One of the first things they do upon migration is teach Tablā. Why? Because with a few hours of work in the evening, they can cover their basic expenses at the least. To me, this is an absolute crime. They are not necessarily even qualified performers, let alone qualified teachers. But they do it and get away with it because they can find the students – people who did not do their research and decided to learn from the person closest to them.
How long have they been teaching? If they don’t have many years of experience, do they have someone who is monitoring their teaching? Teaching Indian classical music is not an innate capability, but one that has to be developed.
Who did they learn from? If they have learned from 5 unrelated teachers in a period of 3 years, a question should arise in terms of the teacher’s grounding in the art as their own learning has been “all over the place”.
Is there a potential for growth? Once you have reached a certain level, can you access a more knowledgeable teacher – for example, the teacher of your teacher? This question is particularly important if you are considering learning Indian classical music seriously. The concept of lineage loyalty, while diluted, still exists to a certain degree.
It is important to note here also that a great performer is not necessarily an equally qualified teacher. Teaching and performing require different qualities to be successful. For example, the smartest student in the class may not be the best tutor. Well-renowned artists also pose a general disadvantage to the student with regards to time.
Time and level of attention or love are also important considerations. How much face to face time will your teacher give you? A frequent performer may not be able to sit with you every week, but when they do sit with you, do they give you their full attention with love and affection? The feelings of love and affection are very important in Gurū- śiśya paramparā, which is the way that Indian classical music is supposed to be taught. Also, if the teacher is not able to give you regular attention, does a senior student of his/her sit with you on a regular basis? Regular contact/supervision is important, as that is the only way to prevent bad habits from developing. I know of many people who took lessons for some time and then practiced on their own for a period of time. That unsupervised practice led to damage in their hands because no one was correcting them.
The level of supervision must also be considered. Even if you sit with a teacher regularly, are you being corrected or simply given more and more material and minimal corrections? By watching videos of maestros, even a beginner, without understanding the complicated patterns, can get a sense of basic practices. You can see how basic notes are played, where hand placement is, etc. For example, in terms of tabla, you can get an idea of how Tīntāl is played, as it is played with similar movements by all maestros, regardless of gharānā. You can make out the difference between tin and tun just by watching videos.
For Tablā students, you can find countless videos of maestros in order to get an understanding of basic bols and hand positioning. I call this “standard playing”. Some names include: Ustad Allarakha (Abbaji), Ustad Zakir Hussain, Pandit Swapan Chauduri, Pandit Anindo Chatterjee, Pandit Sharda Sahai and many more.
There are many other things one can consider, but I have covered the major points here. In short, learning Indian classical music or any vidyā is a lifelong journey that can open up many beautiful worlds. When embarking on this journey, your guide or teacher is of utmost importance, so do take the task of deciding upon a teacher seriously. Please do your research and find a good teacher. A good teacher can unlock the doors to these beautiful worlds. A bad teacher can potentially bar the chances of the doors to these worlds opening. If a good teacher is not available to fit your convenience, I would not suggest learning that instrument or art form at that time from a substandard teacher. At the same time, once you have found a teacher, it is your responsibility as a student to follow their instructions very carefully. Carelessness on the part of the student also leads to poor or slow results.

First Meeting with Abbāji (Ustād Allārakhā Khān)

First-Meeting-with-Abbaji

First Meeting with Abbāji (Ustād Allārakhā Khān)

It was 1975 or 1976. I came to know that Ustād Allārakhā khān was coming to Ahmedabad to accompany Panḍit Ravi Shankar. It was a program arranged by Sur Singār, an organization for which I was a young volunteer.
I received news of Ustādji’s arrival and that he had checked into a hotel across from Town Hall (I can’t recall the name). I went to the hotel at 8:30am with a small bouquet of flowers. I knocked on his door. I distinctly remember how he looked when he opened the door. He looked royal and emanated an immense personality. I gave him the bouquet, took his blessings and introduced myself.
He asked me who I was learning from. I gave my Gurū’s name – Panḍit Sudhirkumar Saxenā.
“Yes, I know him. He looks like me,” replied Abbāji.
This all happened at the door of his room. I began to doubt whether or not he would invite me into the room. But with a broad smile, he asked me to come in. He asked me to join him for breakfast. I was very hungry, but was too excited and shy to accept the food he offered. When I said no, he placed the piece of sandwich in my hand and encouraged me to eat. That was the moment when I fell in love with this great maestro.
After breakfast, he asked me to recite some compositions. He listened very seriously as I recited a composition of Ajrāḍā Gharānā. After I spoke the composition, he said, “See, in Punjāb, we do it like this,” and he started speaking some amazing compositions, which sounded like magic to me, but were beyond my comprehension, as I was a junior at that stage.
“I would love to learn this, if you feel that I am competent someday,” I told Abbāji.
“Yes, I will teach you, but the thing is that I don’t spend much time in Mumbai. I spend more of my time abroad.” Then again he started to speak some more compositions.
After an hour and half, I don’t know how, but I asked him, “Can you come to my home for lunch today?”
He started laughing. I was only a young youth. He asked where I lived. I lived only 20 minutes away.
“I would be honored if you would come,” I said
“OK. I don’t disappoint anybody. Let me call Raviji. If he does not have a commitment for me, I’ll come to your house.”
He called up Raviji and said to him,”There is a kid in front of me. He is very sweet and is asking me to come to his house. Do you have something for me?”
Raviji wanted to rest, so Abbāji was free to come to my home.
I called my parents, who were very excited to hear the news and insisted that Abbāji have lunch at our home. When I told Abbāji about lunch, he told me that he would see.
Now as I was only a young teenager, I did not drive a scooter, let alone a car. I asked Abbāji if he would be willing to travel by rickshaw, which he kindly agreed to.
A portion of the drive was along a lonely road next to railway tracks. Our luck was such that the rickshaw stopped working right along this lonely road! There was no one around and the rickshaw driver’s many attempts were futile. I was very embarrassed at this point, but to my surprise, Abbāji turned to me and suggested we find another rickshaw.
We walked about 1 km in the hot sun of Ahmedabad before we found another rickshaw and arrived at my home.
After meeting my parents and formalities, Abbāji asked me to get a pair of Tablā and play for him. After hearing some of my playing, he taught me a Punjāb composition, and this was my first Punjāb composition. I greatly enjoyed our time and it continued as we had our lunch.
After lunch, I had called a neighbour who has a car, so that we could drop Abbāji at the hotel in an appropriate mode of transportation.
The time we spent together that day is something I will always remember. After that day, whenever Abbāji came to Ahmedabad (once or twice annually), I would always be present as his sevak, and he regularly visited my home.
About 15 years later, after the demise of my second guru, Ustād Latif Ahmed Khān, I followed through on my desire to learn Punjāb Gharānā and became a Ganḍābandhit student of Abbāji. I’ll save stories about my Ganḍābandhan ceremony and other experiences with him for another time.

Great Nakkārā Player – Ustād Dilāwar Khān

Great Nakkārā Player – Ustād Dilāwar Khān

One day, I received a phone call from some friends in Jaipur. A nakkārā player, Ustād Dilāwar Khān, was coming to Ahmedābād. (At the time, I did not know it, but he is one of the greatest nakkārā players in the world. I highly recommend that you listen to him.)
The Tablā has many influences and origins. The nakkārā (picture below) has a very strong influence on Tablā. It is two drums that are played with sticks. They are not widely played as an instrument. It is typically just played with the Śehnāi (Shehnaai). It is also rare to find nakkārā soloists of this caliber. Before hearing him, I had never heard the nakkārā played with such virtuosity.
The program was held in an old haveli (villa/ mansion). Almost all the good musicians of the city had congregated to hear the Ustād play. Before going to the program, I did not know what to expect, but my Jaipur friend had been adamant that this was not to be missed. I went to the program with a student of mine, Nitin Tripārti. As I watched him tune his instrument, I could anticipate the caliber of his playing.
His solo blew me away. He played all the complex compositions of the Tablā using sticks on the nakkārā . His solo was set in Tīntal. Similar to a Tablā solo, he began with a peśkār. He produced amazing mīnḍ using thin sticks. You could see his sādhanā in his playing. The speed of his kāidās and clarity of his relās. It was a Tablā solo, but with sticks. It’s difficult, but try to imagine Tirakiṭ compositions played with sticks. He played La killa (naga naga naga) with tremendous speed and power on one drum.
Everyone in the audience was amazed. Dilāwarsāheb took farmāiś from the audience. Panḍit Kishen Māhārāj was present and requested to hear a laggi. The way he played Dha Te Na Da laggi, with amazing speed and fluidity! The concert was truly a treat for musicians, especially for Tablā players.
I had always heard that Tablā, came from the nakkārā. That evening, I could clearly see and hear the relationship between the two.
After that solo, I never heard or saw Dilāwar Khānsāheb again. I searched for other nakkārā players, but never came across anyone who could play his level of playing and mastery. That evening was one of those rare concerts in my life, and even though there was no recording, I can hear it as clearly as I did nearly 30 years ago.

8 Things to consider when purchasing Tablā

8 Things Consider when Purchasing Tabla

For any artist, the quality of the instrument is very important. There are many factors to consider when purchasing Tablā. It is only in recent times that the wide majority of people purchase ready-made Tablā. Previously, each piece was bought individually to create a pair of Tablā.

Here are 8 things to consider to keep in mind when purchasing Tablā:

1) Wood A Good quality Tablā set is made from śīśam (Sheesham) or biyā wood. Śīśam is black in colour. A śīśam shell will have a solid bottom. Biyā, on the other hand, is yellowish in color and softer than śīśam. When looking at the shell, it is important to make sure that the shell does not have any fractures in the body and that the top of the shell is even. A good shell will have been seasoned for 3 years (or 3 monsoons) before it is used.

2) Vādhar The thickness of the vādhar is important to consider. Thin vādhars? are more susceptible to breaking, while very thick vādhars are difficult to stretch when tuning. I remember when I used to buy vādhar and soak them in butter (Makkhan) before using them to make a pair of tablā. This was a common practice to make the vadhar smooth and easier to stretch. These vadhars never dried out or snapped.

3)Gaṭṭā The thickness and length of the gaṭṭā are two important factors. The thickness of the gaṭṭā affects how much the pudi is stretched when moving the gaṭṭā. If they are too thin, then the pudi will not be stretched enough. If it is too thick, then it is difficult to increase the number of vādhars on the gaṭṭā, and when the vādhars are increased, the pudi can become overstretched. Generally, gaṭṭās should be 1 – 1.25 inches in diameter. If the gaṭṭās are too long, then the gaṭṭās will not stay in line when tuning, making precise tuning very difficult.

4) Gajar The Gajarā on a new pair of tablā should be even all around and in the middle. No house should be higher or lower than another. If any house is higher or lower, then that house is more likely to become imbalanced in tone.

5) Kinār The width of the kinār determines the amount of resonance that one gets. A wide kinār makes for a less resonant sound (which is sometimes required), but in general, a very wide kinār is not recommended. If the kinār is too thin, then the kinār bols can become metallic in sound because the application of “Tā” ends up on the top edge of the shell.

6) Shahi / ( syāhī , shahī ) The shahī/ syāhī gives weight to the pudi. A good shahī/ syāhī will have concentric circles and no loose “beads” or dānā. When playing a TeṬe on the shahī/ syāhī, it should result in a very crisp sound. A good shahī/ syāhī gives the best Tirakiṭa and TeṬe.

7) Pudi Size The pitch of the tabla changes with the size of the pudi. For beginners, a 5.5″ diameter is recommended.

8) Bayan (bāyāṅ) Bāyāṅ are generally made from German silver, copper or brass in original color or coated in chrome. Personally, I like brass bāyāṅs because they have a deep and round tone. There are two styles of bayans – tall or with a stomach. Those with a stomach have a bit more bass than the tall ones. Bāyāṅ come in three sizes – S, M, L. For a beginner, medium size is recommended. Bāyāṅs can come with vādhars, or strings. Those with the vādhar keep their stretch for longer, but they are susceptible to weather effects, while stringed bāyāṅs are not. Punjāb, Delhi, Ajrāḍā, Farukkhābād use bāyāṅs with vādhar, Benāras uses bāyāṅs with strings.

9) Tone Tone is the most important factor to consider when purchasing tablā. All the above are factors that influence the tone of a tablā. The tablā tone should be round, have good resonance and be balanced. The bāyāṅ tone should be round and not have too much or too little bass.

It’s a lot to consider, but a good instrument can greatly improve one’s practice, so take the time and spend the money to buy a good quality tablā , and remember to keep these 8 things in mind when purchasing tablā . Happy tabla shopping!

Looking to purchase Tablā in the US? Taalim School sells Tablā for beginners and professionals alike.

Playing with Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā

Playing with Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā

It was 1979 or 1980. I was working as the youngest tabla teacher in the city at the Gandharva Māhāvidyālaya Manḍal, one of the oldest music institutes in Ahmedabad. Our principal, Mr. Rāvjibhāi Patel, called me and said, “We are doing a national conference of Māhāvidyālaya Manḍal at Valsāḍ for three days. I am very happy with your playing and want you to play one solo and one accompaniment during the conference. We will all go to Valsāḍ the day before the performance in the morning by train, so be prepared for this event.”

At that time in my life, I did not understand the value of being able to travel with some of the greatest musicians of Ahmedābād and Gujarāt. I picked up Jhālāsāheb and Rāvjibhāi in my student’s car, and we arrived at the station at 6 am to catch the 7 am Gujarāt Express. At the station, we met up with Prānlālbhāi Shah (one of the best violin teachers of that time), Lāljibhāi Patel (best harmonium player), Neenā Shah (Rāvjibhāi’s student) and many young musicians.

Once we boarded the train, I was amazed to learn that all these senior musicians took great interest in eating snacks at each station. At the first stop, someone got off to get Fāfḍā and Jalebi; at Naḍiād, it was goṭā; at Baroḍā, yet another snack and the list goes on. Every stop was a new treat.

The accommodations for all the musicians was in a school and that was quite the nourishing experience. In one corner, someone would be singing, while a couple of beds down, another musician would be playing the violin. It was a great energy to be a part of. I was the youngest tabla player. Everyone gave me love and respect, which just increased my confidence.

The next day, the second performance was my solo. I played pretty well and got a lot of applause from the audience. After my solo, I went backstage. There, I found internationally-known singer Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā. He was so impressed with my playing that he made me his accompanying artist for his program the following day. I was not too enthused about the idea, because the Tablā player generally only plays ṭhekā for vocal performances.

I thanked him for the opportunity and told him that I was not in the practice of accompanying vocals. I believe he understood why I said no because he immediately said that he wanted powerful Tablā in his vocal performance and that I had the freedom to play whatever I wished.

Excited by this, we decided to practice in the morning to prepare, and the performance that ensued is what I consider to be one of the best performances I have given.

Some thoughts on Kāydā and Palṭās

Whenever my mind is free, I think primarily about two things: experiences with my gurūs and experiences with my students. The truth is that what I learned from my gurūs was “half” learning. I fully learned what they had taught when I, in turn, taught it to my students. I may have taught a beginner kāydā like Dhā TeṬe, Dhā TeṬe more than a thousand times. This means I have learned Dhā TeṬe more than a thousand times. It is only through teaching the kāydā that I have truly digested the kāydā. The more I taught the kāydā, the more familiar with and attached to the composition I became. It has gone so deep in my soul that whenever I teach it, it comes out with a new form (palṭās or design). Every composition has its own mood and identity. To maintain the basics elements of the composition and create palṭās of the composition is the greatest fun.

Let me talk about Dhā TeṬe today.

Dhā TeṬe Dhā TeṬe Dhā Dhā TeṬe DhāGe Tinā Kinā/
Tā TeṬe Tā TeṬe Dhā Dhā TeṬe DhāGe Dhinā Genā

This composition is one of the famous compositions of Delhi Gharānā. This composition has existed for over 200 years in the field of music. In Hindustāni classical vocal, we have rāgas. We divide rāgas in three main scales: Oḍav-jāti, rāgas with five notes; Shāḍav-jāti, rāgas with six notes; and sampūrṇa-jāti, rāgas with all seven notes. In tablā compositions, they have maintained this concept. We, too, have compositions of five notes, six notes and seven notes. Dhā TeṬe is a composition of five notes – Dhā, TeṬe, DhāGe, Tinā, Kinā. These are the five major notes of this composition.

As I mentioned, this is a composition of Delhi Gharānā. The use of only the first two fingers is permitted. Almost all the compositions of Delhi Gharānā are played solely with the first two fingers. That is why Delhi Gharānā is also known as Do uṅgalīyo Kā Bāz, the Gharānā of Two Fingers. The most important thing in a kāydā is its palṭās or variations. Without disturbing the main composition’s form, by using the small changes, we create palṭās.

There is an interesting combination between technique and creativity. You can make hundreds of palṭās of each kāydā, but in performance, generally we play 7 to 15 palṭās of each composition (according to time limit and the nature of performance). The challenge is that every palṭā must have its own identity and we shouldn’t play palṭās that seem repetitive or very similar to others. With this challenge in mind, one has to take into consideration the balance between the bāyāṅ and dāyāṅ, the rules of the gharānā, and aesthetic values. From their variety of palṭās, we can assess the understanding and strength of the performer.

My First Meeting with Panḍit Saxenāji

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

On the first death anniversary of my first Tablā Gurū, Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā, I want to reflect on this great man who had immense knowledge of Tablā. I had a great love for him, and he had the same for me.


It was an evening in the month of February, 1971. My father told me that a big music festival, called Baiju Festival, was going on in the city, arranged by the Government of Gujarat. In addition, he informed me that Tablā maestro Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā was coming to perform and encouraged me to attend. I was very young at that time, but I was learning and playing Tablā for more than seven years. My teacher, Mr. Narmadā Śankar Bhaṭṭ, was a senior disciple of Panḍit Saxenā ji. I requested my father to take me to the festival.


He took me to the newly opened Jai Śankar Sundari Hall. With great curiosity, I sat in the third row, waiting anxiously for Saxenā ji’s turn to perform. He was slated to play two items: the first, with Gujarāt’s great vocalist Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā, and the second with a sitārist.


When he came onto the stage, I was amazed by his presence and personality. He had a very small frame, not more than 5 feet in height. He wore a very nice kurtā and black koṭi. I would later learn that the koṭi was his signature style. Before him, I had already met many, many tabla players. Amongst of them all, he struck me as the most sober, most learned and calm person. His playing style mirrored his personality: neat, steady and balanced.


In his first item with the vocalist, he played nothing in vilaṁbit besides ṭhekā. I found this disappointing as I was expecting rolls and powerful drumming. But when madhya laya began with Rāga Megh, he played a small composition followed by a gat, which was enough to prove him to be the best student of Ustād Habibuddin Khān. In sitār accompaniment, he played some compositions, which I just could not understand at that time.


After the concert, I rushed backstage and touched his feet. I introduced myself. He told me he was coming back to Ahmedābād after ten days as a judge for the Gandharva Māhāvidyālaya competition. I told him proudly that I was participating in the same competition.


My father then arrived, did namaskar to Saxenāji, and asked him about me. Very humbly, Saxenāji replied, “I will be coming to Ahmedābād next week. Then I will get a chance to listen to him and give my remarks.”


With the determination to impress him at the upcoming competition, I returned home with my father and lasting memories of my first meeting with Saxenāji.


What happened next, I will write at another time.


Postnote by Gurūji Panḍit Divyāng Vakīl’s Student:
Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā was one of the last Ustāds of the Ajrāḍā Gharānā. He spent many of his years in the care and service of the great Ustād Habibuddin Khān. He was the first professor of music in a higher-education institution in India, serving initially as a Professor, then Head of the Music Department at MS University in Baroḍā , Gujarāt. He passed away on November 30, 2007. He continues to live in the memories of his students and through his teachings.