Resurrected, the sarod maestro's dream

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  • Published 7.07.09

Ustad Ali Akbar Khan took Indian classical music to the West but the one dream he couldn’t fulfil was to bring music back to where it all started for him: the defunct Ali Akbar College of Music in Calcutta.

The good news is that the music school started by the sarod maestro in the city in 1956 is set to be reborn two decades after its closure, and three months after his demise, with a different identity.

“We plan to lay the foundation stone (of the new school) on September 6. It will be a five-storey structure with classrooms, a seminar hall, an archive, a meditation hall and guest rooms,” Uma Guha, a former secretary of the Ali Akbar College of Music and the officiating secretary of the Baba Allauddin Memorial Committee, told Metro.

Ali Akbar had started the college to keep his father Allauddin Khan’s legacy alive in the city that was his learning ground and first stage.

But while the Ali Akbar College of Music that opened in California in 1967 prospered, the Calcutta institution folded up in 1989 because of problems ranging from lack of financial support and a permanent address to government apathy and dwindling students.

The attempt to revive Allauddin and his son’s Maihar gharana began with former members of the college staff getting together and convincing the government to allot a five-cottah plot at Kudghat for the proposed Allauddin Sangeet Bhavan.

The driving force behind the initiative was Ali Akbar’s sister Annapurna Devi, who was part of the staff at the Ali Akbar College of Music.

Annapurna Devi’s Allauddin Sangeet Sadhanaloy, started in September 2005 with 25 students, had so far kept the Maihar flag flying but the Allauddin Sangeet Bhavan promises to be a much bigger symphony of the family’s classical music traditions.

Ali Akbar’s daughter Amina Perera, a sitarist, said her father would have been delighted had he been alive to see her aunt reviving the Maihar gharana in the city. “Baba (father) had approached the government several times for help in finding a proper space for the original school but received no response. The school was forced to shift from one location to another, and the number of students declined over the years. Baba had to shut down the school when he could no longer stretch his finances. He would often call himself his father’s messenger. He was full of regret when the college closed,” she recalled.

Ali Akbar, who left for the US in 1965, had kept his bond with Calcutta alive by holding workshops whenever he came to the city. His daughter hopes that bond would be sealed for posterity once Allauddin Sangeet Bhavan saw the light of day.

Ali Akbar’s disciple Anindya Banerjee said: “I am glad the Maihar gharana will be propagated but it is very important to be selective about teachers. They should be able to maintain the authenticity of the gharana.”