The day that this article gets published, I will be in Washington D.C. getting ready for a concert with my father. It’s the first show of a tour that we’ll be doing together here in North America, after a gap of several months, since we’ve been in India this whole last winter. I’m really excited, because nowadays my father (recently turned 89!) naturally performs much less than he used to. And performing with him is a high unlike any other.
The thing is, my father has been my teacher right from the very beginning of my learning the sitar when I was eight years old. Right from how to hold the instrument and where the notes are along its neck, it was all taught to me by my father. After several years, when I was 13, I did my first concert, and then began accompanying him at his concerts worldwide. I didn’t start touring solo until I was 18, but before that, I had a good five years of experience touring with my father. And ever since then, I’ve continued to perform with him at his shows along with doing all of my own solo projects. So it’s safe to say we’ve done hundreds and hundreds of concerts together around the world. Along the way, all the growth I may have gone through as a student and as an artist has also happened onstage while with him.
Now, after learning with him for nearly 20 years and performing with him for 14, I have to say I’m lucky to have a really unique artistic relationship with him. We are just so intrinsically in tune with each other as musicians. Partly it’s because I’ve been so shaped by him as a student, and partly it’s the way I am with him onstage. See, when I perform with him I am the accompanist, and my role is that of an assistant, which can mean many different things in a given show.
Sometimes it means just giving support to the melody my father may be playing, sometimes it means playing a contrasting line to enhance whatever he’s doing, and sometimes it just means being able to take over what’s happening at the drop of a hat without interrupting the flow of the show. But it’s all improvised, which means you don’t know what’s going to happen more than a second or two before it happens!
So I’ve spent 14 years onstage with my father, watching him so closely and intensely, trying to mirror and complement him, and at this point our relationship while playing together is almost telepathic. It’s the most beautiful feeling. Obviously it’s extra-special because it’s my father, but really, you’re lucky to share that kind of understand with any fellow artist, and there is so much joy in playing music with someone that freely.
Sometimes I worry that I sound cheesy when I describe performing with my father, but the truth is that what I’ve written here is totally from the heart, and not a trite exaggeration at all.