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Interactions of a Personal Kind

Abhik Majumdar

By Malti Gilani and Quratulian Hyder
Har-Man Publishing House, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 295, Rs. 1200.00


Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan makes a wonderful subject for a biography. A seminal figure in Hindustani music, an epicure, and a vibrant personality in his own right, he has spawned disciples, fans and anecdotage in equal measure. Any account of his life is thus bound to be eagerly welcomed. I confess, however, that the work under review left me with mixed feelings.   The very appearance of the book raises doubts. On the one hand, at Rs. 1200, it is surely priced steeply by any standards. Moreover, the cover illustration has been drawn by M.F. Husain, no less. Yet the book doesn’t contain a single art-paper insertion, and the photographs are printed so badly as to often render their subjects quite unrecognizable.   Though Malti Gilani and Quratulain Hyder are jointly credited as authors, the personality of the former predominates throughout. Much of the material is derived from her interactions with Khansahib. Indeed, in the later stages, the narrative even lapses into the first person singular. The introduction begins with a brief précis of Malti Gilani’s life upto her meeting with Khansahib, and then seamlessly moves on to the origins of the maestro’s family in Kasur. The main narrative begins with Baba Pir Fazal Daad Khan, the progenitor of the Kasur lineage (and thus a forefather of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan). This is set against the backdrop of Kasur town itself, with its rich cultural and spiritual traditions. (It even boasts the shrine of the Sufi saint Bulle Shah). From here, it recounts the maestro’s early days, his training under his uncle Kaale Khan, his ceaseless riyaz on the banks of the Ravi river, and so on. The story of how the maestro came across the ancient barbath or psaltery, which he subsequently modified and christened the surmandal, makes for interesting reading.   From there on, the narrative moves in a linear manner to Khansahib’s life as a young man. His brief first marriage, the untimely death of his wife, his struggle to establish himself as a vocalist, even a brief romance with a courtesan, are all narrated here. Khansahib’s life changed dramatically after the 1944 Vikramaditya Music Conference, where he created a sensation by presenting the closely allied ragas Marwa and Pooriya in succession. National fame beckoned; even South India welcomed him with open arms.   By this time he had married again, and his ...

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