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.

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.