“Spoiling something is very easy but to make it better is the skill”
This is the teaching Dilshad Khan received from his uncle, the legendary sarangi player Sultan Khan Sahab.
Dilshad belongs to the Sikar Gharana of music which has given several stalwarts to Indian classical music. At the age of 6, he started learning the sarangi under the tutelage of his grandfather, the renowned, Ustad Gulab Khan Sahab. He also studied music under his father Ustad Nasir Khan Sahab who is also a great sitar player. Later he started learning under his legendary uncle.
Ustad Sultan Khan Sahab is known to give a new dimension to sarangi. He played a key role in popularising this ancient classical instrument of India. Inspite of his achievements, Khan Sahab had a grouse that after him no one from his family had selected sarangi as their choice of instrument. The other members of the Gharana had choosen the sitar over the sarangi. So during one of his yearly visit, during Mohurram, he made his complaint known to his family.
“I was just a kid that time. But I felt bad for my uncle and instinctively told my father that I will follow Khan Sahab’s footsteps,” recalls Dilshad.
His wish elated Khan Sahab and he got a handmade smaller sized sarangi for his newest disciple. Dilshad picked up a relatively lesser popular and technically more difficult instrument to play. The sarangi is played not only in Hindustani classical music but also has an extensive presence in folk music. It is the only instrument with a sound that is closest to the human voice. The sarangi can produce almost all the nuances of vocal music.
Just like with any other instrument, sarangi requires years of practice and endurance. It is not an art that can be mastered overnight.
“That is not possible. Classical music is not like fast food. You have to devote your time and soul to it. All our greats dedicated a good part of their life in learning their art before they started to teach it,” asserted Dilshad.
“When I started learning, for the first three years I was learning only two raags, Bhairav and Yaman. It was only when my Ustad felt I have reached a certain level that he introduced me to new raags and nuances.”
Dilshad has learnt his art under the traditional way of learning and memorising the raags. He would spend all his days practising and imbibing the art from his Ustads. This method ensures that the musician can relate and perform any song across genres with relative ease.
“Our gurus taught us 80-100 raags and this has helped us to play any song easily. When we play concerts abroad people are amazed by watching us perform without reading any notes. They have been taught to play music as per notes. We have all the notes memorised,” smiled Dilshad.
Performing with Ustad Zakir Hussain
At the age of 10, Dilshad performed at the All India Radio Youth festival in Jodhpur along with his cousin, the famous sitar exponent Imran Khan. Since then he has performed alongside greats like Pandit Swapan Chaudhuri, Pt. Ajay Pohankar, Pt. Ajoy Chakrabarty, Pt. Anindo Chatterjee. But it is his first concert with Ustad Zakir Hussain that remains close to his heart.
“Zakir Sahab asked Khan Sahab to join him for a concert but he put my name forward. I was so nervous that throughout the performance I was praying to god that I don’t make a mistake. It is impossible that Zakir Sahab would err. If I made a mistake, my career could have ended even before it began,” chuckled Dilshad.
Sarangi in the synth sound age
Sarangi as an instrument is not very popular maybe because no recent Bollywood star has played it on the screen. But Dilshad has played for over 500 movies, even in this age of the synth instruments. He attributes this to the beauty of the acoustic sound.
“Acoustic instruments sound sweeter than the electronic ones. They have a soul because it is a human producing the sound through his hard learned art. Machines cannot replace the human soul,” quipped Dilshad.
The great Ustad Aamir Khan Sahab, when asked who his competition was, answered ‘filmy gaane banane wale’ as they make a song beautiful in just under 5 minutes. Dilshad feels that to keep the flame of Indian classical music burning bright, a similar adaptation is required.
“Our classical music should be presented in such a manner that even for a two hour concert the audience stays glued. Nowadays you cannot play a single raag for an hour. You have to break it down for the audience. You have to adapt with the needs of the time. People have a shorter concentration span now. They want things finished within that span,” said Dilshad.