At a recent seminar in the city, experts looked back at the lost glory of the Patiala Gharana and recalled the magical music that Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan (1902-1968), a famed exponent of the Gharana, created during his period. Many stories are recalled from the legendary life of the great maestro and a favourite among them is when filmmaker K Asif and music director Naushad requested him to sing two songs for Mughal-e-Azam.
The Ustad was at the apex of his fame and was hailed as an all-time great in Hindustani classical music. He declined at first saying, and rightfully so, that he did not sing for films. Asif placed before him a blank cheque and asked him to fill it out. The Ustad filled what was then an impossible sum: twenty-five thousand. To his surprise, it was accepted. The two numbers that he rendered, Shubh din aayo and Prem jogan banake, are now treasured in the history of cinema music. Gharana in music was a family of musicians with its special features was handed over through several generations from the Guru to the Shishya.
Among the different gharanas such as Jaipur, Kirana, Gwalior, Agra, Indore and others, the Patiala Gharana had its own special place of prominence. Exponents of the Patiala Gharana excelled in casting a spell on stage as they created music with its intricate tans and layakari. Purists often raised their eyebrows at the creative improvisations and the many different features from other gharanas that were aesthetically merged to take khayal gayiki to never-before heights and ending the concert with the singing of the thumri in Punjab Ang. As one explores the salient features of the Gharana, which went on to make magic in the light classical singing of say Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan rendering the qawwali or Gulam Ali unfolding the ghazal, one appreciates not just the creativity but the distinct Punjabi spirit. Punjab, with its peculiar geographical position, learnt to live with multi-culturalism.
The exponents of the Gharana had their roots in Kasur but they have imbibed the best from Jaipur and Delhi.
The style was Punjabi to the core, singing from the chest and not the throat. So was the Punjabi courage to experiment. The Gharana, like others, was scattered during the Partition. The absence of the princely patronage was a setback.
Now the time has come to look beyond Gharanas to the larger issue of the future of classical music in the country and attracting students to a training that goes with the times. While recalling the past glory, it is time to look forward to the future.
(The writer is a prominent art and culture critic.)