Anant Gatha- The Divine Joys of Music
For many young, old, happy, sad or just simply pensive – music is a constant companion. Living in airwaves and devices we access, it willingly fills our lives with melody and rhythm at clicks of several buttons. A no fuss, low-maintenance presence, music beautifully blends into our schedules while travelling and working. However, there are occasions when all we want to do is to lose ourselves to it and be its willing companion.
One such occasion presented itself on 26th August at Nehru Centre, Worli. Anant Gatha organised by Banyan Tree is an event designed to be a musical evening with a maestro. This evening’s maestro was Ustad Shujaat Khan.
Here's a quick recap on my first brush with Ustad Shujaat Khan’s music. It was in the mid-1990s when my mother tracked down the audio cassette of his album Lajo Lajo. Those days she was the designated Cassette Jockey. With an enviable collection that boasted of Jagjit and Chitra Singh’s ghazals to the blissful bhajans of Anup Jalota, the house was abuzz with their music from the time I was little. I discovered the maestro’s music through his singing which to me was as good as it could get. The prelude was a fairly long (to a 14-year-old) instrumental piece on the sitar which leisurely leads into the song. Back then, I remember waiting (not so patiently) for the words to make their first appearance before I started enjoying and grinning through the song. The language was foreign and so was the music. But I instantly connected to the innate nature of the sound it created. I was open to the warmth of the melodious voice but still quite closed to a complete, immersive experience. My mind snoozed through the classical instrumental music as if it were the opening and closing credits of a movie. I could never have imagined that someday, I would actually sit through two hours of just that – live instrumental music with no vocals.
Now back to the present. Seated in the Nehru Auditorium I looked up at the abstract art on the walls and realised that I was not ready to give up on this experience just yet. Lack of formal training in music or my procrastination to understand its nuances with a basic online search, were not going to deter me. I had taken a Tone Deaf Test and with an encouraging score of 88% I let my latent abilities take over.
The Ustad on sitar was accompanied by two artistes on the tabla. He expressed his gratitude to the audience for appreciating and honouring music and musicians with their presence and support at events that are celebrating and upholding the traditional forms. He followed this up with a dash of humour on how he planned to perform some pure classical pieces now that he had the chance and a captive audience. I nervously laughed with the rest while my eyes sought the Exit door. Just in case.
He strummed the sitar, the evening had begun. I closed my eyes and opened my heart to the possibilities of experiencing the unknown with no indication of where it might lead. The evening progressed with the Ustad’s calming sitar rendition that sent me into a trance with notes hitting surprising levels of highs and lows, layered all throughout. The vibrations of the music could be felt, especially because I had absolutely no visual input, which helped center all my focus to what I was listening. Just when I started to gather some sort of familiarity to the sound, the tabla players joined in one by one for their solos. This I watched with my eyes wide open. Their hands commanded and controlled the beats with amazing dexterity and speed, a treat for both the eyes and ears. In the last half hour of the event, Ustad Shujaat Khan began his vocal renditions. I secretly hoped for my childhood favourite (Lajo Lajo) to make a tiny appearance. The Ustad sang one of Amir Khusro’s noted works - Chaap Tilak. A Sufi musician, poet and scholar, Amir Khusro’s writing though intense is relatively easy to understand. The music and words combined and song after song took me on a journey, tugging at the heartstrings all along. Lajo Lajo did not make a comeback that evening.
I left the auditorium and stepped out into the cool night air with the hint of a grin and heaps of hope for my ways. I truly believe a purist or traditionalist one need not be, take pleasure in the divine joys of music as you please.