Last week, in a ceremony graced by Indian classical music luminaries ranging from Pt Shiv Kumar Sharma to Pt Hariprasad Chaurasia, tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain was crowned the guru of tabla’s youngest gharana by the Ustad Alla Rakha Institute of Music.
Hussain was presented the traditional turban, safa, by his brothers Taufiq and Fazal Qureshi, and is now the apex authority on the Punjab gharana’s style of tabla-playing. Speaking about the felicitation, Hussain says that he is "honoured and touched," and adds with a smile that he is also "very scared."
"I travel all over the world so I was worried how I would meet the requirements or needs of the students, but Fazal and Taufiq insisted, saying they’ll help out too, so I agreed. They had said it will be a low-key affair, but they invited the whole city!" he laughs.
The tabla legend says that the crowning is also a "huge responsibility" because while his father, Ustad Alla Rakha, was alive, he would personally be part of important moments in the lives of his students.
He says, “My father would attend a student’s thread ceremony, or help him out if his mother wasn’t well, or help him choose a school he would go to,” Hussain says. “I won’t be available for the students 24/7 like him, so I’ll have to designate the work to my brothers.”
But Hussain stresses that the conventional guru-shishya system has changed, and the teacher is more of a friend now than an authoritarian figure.
“Because when a teacher is teaching, he’s also studying,” Hussain explains. “He’s studying the methodology of the student, compiling information about how his student is picking it up, etc. In a sense, teaching is also studying, so it’s not necessarily right to call teachers ‘gurus’.”
“Although technically I’m the guru, whenever I need help on something my father had taught us, I will give my brothers a call, and they can do the same.”
For the same reason, Hussain humbly says that he doesn’t feel that his students should follow his style of playing. “No master will tell his student that,” Hussain says. “I ask my students to learn everything, but forget it all when they go on stage. Because on stage, it’s about the statement you make on your own.
For the art to survive, it’s important that students find their own way rather than follow their guru.”