It is indeed surreal for me to think that Pandit Kishan Maharaj is no more. My association with him goes back 45 years from our first concert together in Varanasi in 1963. He was a dear friend to me and a tabla player with whom I have shared some of the most memorable concerts of my life, especially when I was in my twenties. He was the last remaining tabla player who had performed not just with Amaan, Ayaan and I but also with my father Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan. Three generation of my family!
He was a man of his principles. So much so that sometimes he could be misunderstood by people. Musicians like him carried the entire era with them. All tabla players today owe him a lot, not just for his musical legacy but also because he was the first tabla player to demand remuneration per item. In earlier years, at festivals, a tabla player was booked for numerous items and given a lump sum at the end of the festival. The number of appearances did not matter. Pandit Kishan Maharaj put an end to this trend and rightly changed this system. Apart from being the monumental icon of tabla, he was a great painter and sculptor. His music room in Varanasi has a life size image of Lord Ganesha playing the pakhawaj which he patiently hand-made in six months. In fact, he had a very landmark unveiling ceremony of the statue in 1966 with performances by me, Bhimsen Joshiji and Ravi Shankarji.
We had some very memorable concerts all over India, especially in Kolkata and Mumbai. My first solo all-night concert (which was never done by any artist) in Kolkata in 1971 had him perform with me. The concert went on over nine hours! We also traveled together to Afghanistan in 1966 and Mauritius in 1967 (this was the first Air India flight to land in Mauritius). Varanasi, of course, was a permanent feature. We had also awarded him in 1985 with the Haafiz Ali Khan Award and he was the first recipient.
Over the years, although we were not performing together for many years, he developed a great fondness for my family, especially Amaan and Ayaan. They are blessed to have performed with him and also have him hear them on numerous occasions up till very recent times. My wife, Subhalakshmi, also had a great rapport with him and there were times when he would only call her and discuss certain things. For us as a family, it is a personal loss. We were very fortunate to have met him and spent time with him just before he had a cerebral stroke last week. Due to health reasons, he was unable to make it to Ayaan’s wedding, but the young couple was very fortunate to get his blessing in Varanasi. I will miss him no end and the time and years that I have spent with him will remain in my heart for eternity. May his soul rest in peace!