In sync with the masters - Zakir's tabla maker

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  • Published 21.02.09

He tried learning the tabla but realised he wasn’t good at it; so he started learning how to craft the instrument better than anybody else.

Mukta Das is now tabla maker to Ustad Zakir Hussain, who he calls Dada, and the first choice of many classical and fusion percussionists in the country and abroad. Pt. Kishan Maharaj, who passed away last year, didn’t trust anyone else with his tabla and the Calcutta trinity of Shankar Ghosh, Bickram Ghosh and Tanmoy Bose go to him whenever they seek a new beat.

It has been a long, arduous journey for Mukta — from his birthplace Ranaghat, in Nadia, to his studio on Baburam Ghosh Road, in Tollygunge.

“I started off as an apprentice in a music shop and am amazed that I have ended up here. When Dada visited Calcutta for a concert last year, he told me: ‘Mere liye kuch banao (make something for me).’ I have crafted around five tabla and bayan sets for him to choose from,” says Mukta, 33, of his most famous patron.

Mukta discovered his talent at Mridangam, the Kalighat music shop where he once worked. After honing his craft there, he quit the job in 1997 to set up his first shop, Rhythm, at Behala Sarsuna. He shifted his studio to Tollygunge a few years later “because most of the tabla artistes of the city stay close by and the Sangeet Research Academy is just 5 minutes away”.

According to Bickram, what sets Mukta apart is his precision and ability to innovate. “He is very good at making the siyahi, or gaab, of the tabla. It’s the black part of the skin, which is a mixture of cooked rice, iron dust and some other components. Getting that mix right is important because it determines how the instrument will sound. Almost 75 per cent of the tablas I use are crafted by him,” says Bickram.

Mukta’s list of patrons includes Swapan Chowdhury, Suresh Talwalkar, Sukhwinder Singh Namdhari, Kumar Bose, Anindya Chatterjee, Mayookh Bhowmick and Sanjoy Mukherjee. Bickram thinks nobody customises a tabla better than Mukta. “I like the tabla skin and siyahi to be a little thinner than normal and the width at least 5.5 inches larger to suit my large hands. Mukta has the ability to create what I want without compromising on the sound.”