The story of discovering a Guru is always compelling. A celebrated figure whose qualities and personality you are curious about, whose genius you have always admired from afar – what happens when suddenly you are face to face, your idol in front of you, in flesh and blood!
My discovery of Khan Saheb was no less riveting. Here’s how it started.
Way back in 1970, upon the completion of my Masters at the University of Tulsa, Oklahoma, (I marvel at the way Americans always tag the name of the state with the city! Tulsa Oklahoma; Pittsburg, Pennsylvania; Lincoln, Nebraska) I moved to Houston to find a job. There I was introduced to a Bengali guy who worked as a DJ at Radio Pacifica in Houston – a radio station that aired Indian classical music. He was generous enough to share with me some of the Sitar recordings of great stalwarts, which I promptly recorded on my spool-to-spool tape recorder that I had bought on credit (more on how precious it was, here) offered to me by my bank. (I do not know how the bank agreed to consider my request for the advance at a point of time I had just landed my first job in Houston.)
These recordings then became my background music for the rest of my stay in the U.S. Night after night I played the music of Ravi Shanker, Vilayat Khan and a relatively new artiste called Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan.
There was freshness and unpredictability in the unique ‘gats’ (compositions) and in the ensuing superfast taans in the music of Halim Jaffer that I lapped up obsessively; it felt like an addiction. It played on in my head as I slept and haunted my waking hours even when it was not playing.
There was no easy way to start a hunt for this artiste – no Internet, no Youtube. I could only imagine how he would appear as he played those cascading lightning taans.
I was then like a toddler when it came to knowledge of Sitar music then. Didn’t know enough but was impatient to learn more. At Tulsa, there was a Sitar recital by Debu Chaudhry and I eagerly approached him during the interval. He brusquely set aside my confession that I had been trying to learn Sitar from a book, saying “One can never learn Indian classical music from books”. He was a great artiste and so I did not take offence to this terse injunction. But the thirst for a Guru close by, guiding me, grew stronger and stronger.
Bereft of the right guidance, I picked up a voluminous book at the University of Houston Library on Indian classical music, written by a German! Alas, I found that the book described the intricacy of various raagas in the notation style of western music.
I found someone to teach me the basics of notations, free of cost, and then went back to the book. Wow! I found the compositions mesmerizing, just by reading the score.
So by the time I was ready to return to India in mid-1972, my quest for a Guru became intense.
How did I finally get to meet the Guru of my dreams? More about it in my next blog.
For now, here’s the great Ustad Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan reminiscing about his Sitar performance in the song ‘Yeh zindagi usi ki hai’ in the movie Anarkali, explaining the raagas embedded in the song.
Anyone else who went on a mission to find a Guru? Would love to hear your stories!