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Zakir Hussain: ‘I saw the world through my father's eyes’

Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain on his relationship with his father.

music Updated: Jan 31, 2015 16:47 IST
Zakir Hussain,Ustad Allarakha Khan,Shankar Mahadevan

There are usual equations in a father-son relationship. A father watches his son grow up, ensures he gets all that’s needed for him to succeed. He provides avenues for the son to find his way in life, and somewhere along the line, they discuss the son’s future, marriage and so on.

My relationship with my father wasn’t just that. He wasn’t just responsible for my education and my upbringing; he was also my guru. We had an ashram-like atmosphere at home, just like Dronacharya had his ashram, and the Kauravas and the Pandavas were living with him and studying about everything in the world.

For me, it was my father who taught me about the world — the geography of it, how people think in various parts of the globe, what languages they speak, what kind of music they play, and the cultural elements of various countries. All this is just one aspect of it all.

‘We became friends...’
The other aspect was being my guide. It began as father-son; then as father/guide-son; then, in my teens, it became father-son/student and in the late teens, it became guru-student. I went on to become his apprentice; I travelled with him and saw the world through his eyes. And then, we became colleagues and travelled around the world together. In that process, we also became friends.

‘Music was part of growing up’
He never forced anything on me; he never said, “You have to practise for eight hours a day.” I was made to feel that I was doing something as a daily routine, as opposed to a daily discipline.

When you’re in a discipline, you have to shower, do your pooja, sit down and practise for six hours without being distracted. I had none of that. My daily routine was like talking to someone, going out for a cup of tea, going out to see a friend, or playing some cricket on the streets. And in between all this, there was practise, which was just sitting with him and learning a composition. So, it was like part of the growing-up process.

I was never made to feel like I had to block time to do riyaz. The bond we shared was an amazing one, without seemingly saying something he taught me. My father didn’t just teach me the tabla, he taught me the music of the world.

‘I became a mentor to my brothers’
We’ve all learnt from our father. But since I am 11-12 years older than my brothers (Fazal Qureshi and Taufiq Qureshi), I was already performing and was a senior apprentice to my dad by the time Fazal and Taufiq started.

They had a spiritual connect with the art and it was left to me to help them along at the ages of five and six, because my father was travelling a lot. So, my relationship with them became that of an elder brother and a mentor. They accompanied me to concerts when they were 11 and 12.

Taufiq was a fine tabla player. But he decided thathe needs to find another avenue to be able to express what he has learnt. So, Taufiq chose to be more of a percussionist. Fazal stuck to traditional tabla playing and I think he has made a mark admirably. He now runs my father’s tabla school. I am very happy as both of them have done so well.
— As told to Soumya Vajpayee Tiwari

It’s a tribute concert held in the memory of late tabla maestro Ustad Allarakha Khan. Apart from Zakir, the 15th edition of the Barsi concert will also feature Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Ranjit Barot, U Rajesh, Sivamani, Ganesh Rajgopalan, Niladri Kumar, Sridhar Parthasarathy, Sabir Khan and Rakesh Chaurasia. It will be held on February 3, at Shanmukhananda Hall, Sion.

“When we do the memorial for him, it’s not just for him;it’s for what he represented. He was just a human being, who did his bit to elevate the art and culture of our country. And so did 500 other great musicians. So, in that sense, he is not unique. He is one of those great 500, people who we look up to. So, I want to pay a tribute to him and our art, and thank my good fortune,” says Zakir, adding, “It has been a difficult time for us. We’ve lost U Srinivas, who was a great brother and a friend. We’ve also lost Sitara Devi. If not for her, girls wouldn’t be doing Kathak.”

First Published: Jan 31, 2015 15:55 IST