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regular-article-logo Wednesday, 24 April 2024

Musician duo Soumyojit and Sourendro recalls their memories with late Ustad Rashid Khan

The Ustad who loved his Ferrari, as also leather, perfumes and paan — and talked passionately of rare thumris. That is Rashid Khan to us

Soumyojit Das And Sourendro Mullick Published 12.01.24, 09:56 AM
Rashid Khan sang Kishore Kumar’s Raga Shivranjani-based classic Mere naina sawan bhadon for the first time on S&S World Music Day Concert in Calcutta, dressed Bollywood-style

Rashid Khan sang Kishore Kumar’s Raga Shivranjani-based classic Mere naina sawan bhadon for the first time on S&S World Music Day Concert in Calcutta, dressed Bollywood-style Pictures courtesy: The authors

The Ustad who loved his Ferrari, as also leather, perfumes and paan — and talked passionately of rare thumris. That is Rashid Khan to us.

Exploring this Rashid Khan took us several years. And for him to judge, accept and embrace us took a fair amount of time too. But once RK (as he was referred to by his team) considered one a friend, one became an insider with ready access to his world full of anecdotes, perceptions and infinite humour. The galawati kebabs served at the intimate gatherings at his home were delectable and rare finds in Calcutta.

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We first met Rashid-da when we were second-year students at St. Xavier’s College — I, Sourendro, in B.Com, and I, Soumyojit, in English. We were headed for Shree — his home-cum-school in Naktala — to get an interview for a book we were curating for Valentine’s Day. We wanted to know about his perception of love.

Classical musicians are known to be quite conservative in nature. But to our surprise, he turned out to be a romantic at heart who readily shared with us a story of infatuation in which he proposed to a girl he barely knew in Agartala. Such was his conviction and courage that he could fall in love at first sight and propose to a young Hindu girl, just back after completing her management degree.

Rashid Khan with other musicians on World Music Day

Rashid Khan with other musicians on World Music Day

Thus we came to know of Shoma-di (Joyeeta Basu Khan, Ustadji’s better half), a person whom we can never separate from his identity. They always came across as two souls and one mind. They had a superb understanding of personal spaces.

We valued our friendship with Shoma-di more at times. Who would dare befriend an ustad! But truth be told, this ustad was always friendly and gradually bestrode our life as a guardian.

When we went to Shree in the initial days, we had to wait for a long, long time for Ustadji to get in the right mood to talk. The first round of adda was always with Shoma-di. In the old office, there used to be a red double-seater couch, which was always left free for RK. And he always came with a warm smile, radiating a positive vibe. That gave us the confidence to make the oddest of requests to him.

As Lata (Mangeshkar) ji was celebrating her 80th birthday, we conceived of a concert where vocalists of diverse backgrounds would sing her songs in tribute and we asked RK to give voice to the Madan Mohan composition Tu jahan jahan chalega in Raga Anandi-Kalyan sung by Lataji in the film Mera Saaya. He said he needed to seek permission from Lataji herself. Thus, we came to know that Lataji often called Ustadji and discussed music. After a fortnight, RK gave us the green light.

Somehow, at that point, we could not produce that show. But a decade later — at our World Music Day concert in 2022 — RK chose to sing another film song — Mere naina sawan bhadon, set to Raga Shivranjani. This Kishore Kumar hit was his student-life favourite. He knew the lyrics of this song by heart. During the rehearsals, he instantly composed a thumri and sang it as an interlude. He was a natural composer and many segments of the film songs he had recorded, he said, were his improvisations while recording.

He sang multiple times with us live on stage, presenting a diversity rare in the world of classical music vocalists, but his only condition was that I, Soumyojit, would sit right next to him and take over if he missed a cue. Imagine our trepidation! But so fluid, devoid of ego and open to all forms of music was he that it was always a pleasure to play and sing with him. He loved guitars, drums, technology — things that a classical maestro would not generally be comfortable with. He was always in awe of new gadgets.

Rashid Khan in performance

Rashid Khan in performance

When the lockdown happened, the Sunderbans were hit by Cyclone Amphan. Musicians and villagers were in distress. We thought of putting up a fundraiser digital concert to stand by those in need. The first call went to RK where we explained how we had been able to find a way to record him in his living room and shoot him too. He loved innovations and welcomed us. He was full of curiosity about new techniques of recording.

By then, Taj (his son Armaan) had grown up and had started playing. So we all sat and jammed for hours during the lockdown and recorded Aaoge jab tum sajna, his delightful rendition in Jab We Met, with just a condenser mic, harmonium and laptop. Ustadji was fascinated to hear the perfection of the software in the course of our socially distanced adda. When the moment came for a compulsory selfie, we all masked up with a smirk. How lovely were the times spent in his room with the gigantic white sofa over lovely elaichi chai!

We recall driving down Ustadji to Studio Vibrations, where he was to record Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore’s tune of Vande Mataram in Raga Desh for our album Dekha Hobe Ei Banglae. So diligently had he memorised each line of Sanskritised Bengali. He explored the magical contours of the raga in a minute on the floor in the styles of different gharanas. It was always so musically edifying to spend time with RK. He had also sung the Rabindrasangeet E ki labanye purno pran on stage for us in 2017.

He was full of anecdotes on Nissar Hussain Khan sahab, Ghulam Mustafa Khan sahab and Bhimsen Joshiji.

When we played with him we took extreme care as he was very moody as an artist and sensitive as a person. Small things hurt him, while he could simply overlook big fights. Personal relations and respect mattered a lot to him.

At the Indian Museum, two winters ago, we invited him to sing Faiz’s Bol ki lab azad hain tere to sketch a concept we were presenting. We had a live band with drums, distortion guitars, acoustic piano... Thousands of music lovers had gathered at the museum courtyard. He promptly picked up the song and was delighted to play with a band of Western instruments. He was an extremely progressive musician.

When we accompanied him to a concert and were in the audience, he would stare at us for a couple of signals in sequence. First was possibly to check our reaction to the sound balance, and the later was to see if he remembered the antara lyrics of the modern songs on the day’s song list. Despite being a classical music maestro, he was trying to evolve. He had sung duets with Shankar Mahadevan, Hariharan, Jagjit Singh, T.M. Krishna — some of which are available online — but the most fascinating to us is his duet set with the sitar legend Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan.

RK was looking for a way to do something new. He used to say that it was high time that classical soundscape and presentation changed. He was introducing guitar and keys in the classical khayal presentation at times. So we proposed to him to pick up Lalan Fakir’s Shona bondhu re. A master of the pukar (high bridge notes), he picked up the folk song at one go! The embedded passion in his voice just made it sound magical. It is our loss that we never got around to recording it.

He had a set of compositions in mind which he planned to record. He wanted to produce them himself. As we stood at Rabindra Sadan (where he lay in state before his last rites) for one last look on Wednesday, we regretted not acting on the idea immediately. His compositions had great influence of ghazal and geet, and were very simple. His aim was to reach out to a new generation of listeners.

He walks with us to this day as we head to the stage for our concerts. Michael Jackson had rightly said that the most difficult journey in an artiste’s life is from the green room to the stage. It is during this critical time that we listen to him to compose ourselves. His voice calms us just as it does millions of his admirers.

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