Last Interview of Ustad Azmat Hussain Khan (Exclusive) – Prof. A. A. Syed

-Let us begin from the beginning Khan Saheb. Could you please tell me something about your family and early life?

I was born in the village of Atrauli in 1911. My late father Khairat Ali was a simple man of ascetic habits. Having come under the influence of a Sufi Saint, Azmat Ali Shah, he led a pious and secluded life. My mother died while I was very young and it was because of a wish expressed on her death-bed that my maternal uncle Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan took me under his tutelage. It was feared that my father’s indulgence would spoil me though he had a good command over Sitar. I was the only male child both from my father as well as mother’s side.

-What impressions do you retain of Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan?

My uncle was a rigorous man, and apart from music, he also taught me Urdu and Persian. Under his training I emerged as a mature vocalist at the age of eighteen and accompanied him all over Bengal, Bihar, U.P. and Nepal as well.

-Can you recall any notable event at about this time?

Yes. At about this time, that is, in the year 1929, being officially invited, I appeared and sang before the then Maharaja of Baroda and was awarded a prize of Rs. 150, an amount which was usually presented to seasoned and senior artistes only. This was a very important turning point in my career.

-When did you give your first recital in Bombay and how it was received?

I came to Bombay (Mumbai) in 1927 and appeared at the Shastri Hall in a program to commemorate the anniversary of Shri Bhaskar Buwa Bakhale. The other artistes who participated were Shri Govindrao Tembe, Master Mannerikar, Shri Keshawrao Bhosle and Prof. B.R. Deodhar. My performance proved conspicuous especially because of my young age. Soon a Radio Station was setup in Bombay by Fateh Mohammad Chinai and I began singing there along with Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, Ustad Fayyaz Khan, Smt. Kesar Bai Kerkar and Smt. Sunder Bai. After this concert I became extremely busy, as a concert artiste.

-Khan Saheb, was it dissatisfaction with one particular ‘gharana’ that made you to draw from three famous ‘gharanas’?

Not at all, it was a matter of pride for me that I had such close ties and relations with distinguished vocalists of different gharanas. Moreover, there are no limits and barriers in music. Since I had the chance to acquire “Vidya” from such great artistes, I made use of my good fortune. Life is a learning process. I imbibed whatever was the best around me in Music and Knowledge (Literature).

-I understand that you visited Afghanistan in 1954 and sang before Zahir Shah who was the King then. How was your music received?

During my stay of 23 days, I sang twice before Zahir Shah and in addition gave three public performances. Both the Ex King and the people displayed a deep understanding and I was particularly impressed by the mature appreciation of Indian classical music showed by Zahir Shah. I may as well tell you that my three public performances were arranged on the occasion of Jashn-e-Istiquelal and I had with me about a hundred copies of my poem on Jashn-e-Istiquelal which I distributed among the people. Smt. Rasoolan Bai and Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and Ustad Amir Khan. I particularly noted that Afghans are very live hearted loving, innocent and faithful people.

-It is possible for you to differentiate and tell us what exactly did you learn from your different gurus?

I should think so; I was trained in ‘badhat asthaee’, ‘anatara’ muktee taan and ‘akar’ by Ustad Altaf Hussain Khan. Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan (Agra Gharana) trained me in “laykari” and “boltan” and my knowledge of ‘Khayal’, ‘achop ragas’ ‘phirath’ and the unexpected arrival at the ‘sam’ has been derived from Ustad Allahdiya Khan. In this way, I was able t acquire from each maestro what was considered to be his specialty. Moreover, I also regard all the great artistes of my time, such as Ustad Fayaz Hussain Khan, Ustad Mushtaque Hussain Khan, Ustad Rajabally Khan and Ustad Nasiruddin Dagar as my gurus. The amalgamation and beautiful confluence of these Gayakis’s made me create an individual novel singing pattern of my own.

-Have you been in Bombay since then?

Not entirely. I came to Bombay (Mumbai) in 1927. I began gaining knowledge under the late Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan (Agra Gharana) who was my brother-in-law. I then accompanied him to Belgaum where he was teaching Smt. Ratnaprabha. At Belgaum I had the opportunity to hear Shri Ramkrishna Buwa Vaze. I finally returned to Bombay in 1937 and have been here since then. My association with Ustad Vilayat Hussain Khan was very fruitful.

-When did you begin training under Sangeet Samrat Ustad Allahdiya Khan?

That was in 1937. The late Ustad Allahdiya Khan was my paternal uncle and I remained under his influence till his death in 1946. He was very close to me. He loved me most encouraged and shared his precious knowledge. He restricted me to enter the film industry.

-And now please tell me something about your poetic compositions which have been used in Classical Music? And which of your many performances in India, do you regard as memorable?

It was Deval Club Palace Theatre, Kolhapur in the year 1944. A conference was in progress and many top-ranking artistes of the time were present. I made bold to sing a new raga “Dutiya Bhairav” (Devta Bhairav) with a cheez which is my own composition.

Ja re kagwa piya ke des

Patiyan mori diyo jaye

Barsan beete sudh nahi leena Dilrang

Kaun des basaye

I began singing the raga Dutiya Bhairav, my own composition, at about 9 am. I was scheduled to sing for an hour and Ustad Fayyaz Hussain Khan was to sing next. But, when I ended my performance, I found that I had sing for over three hours and everyone, myself included were so lost in music that no one noticed the passing time. Moreover, I found that many people in the distinguished audience were wiping tears. In the midst of it all, Ustad Fayyaz Hussain Khan got up and not only congratulated but also blessed me. He declined to sing immediately and said that he would only sing in the evening. I consider this performance memorable and the gesture of Ustad Fayyaz Hussain Khan, the greatest tribute my music has ever received. The encouragement which this received from Ustad Allahdiya Khan inspired me to compose over fifty asthaees and antaras which my disciples sing even today, all over India.

-Since your name is also well known in the world of Urdu Poetry could you give me some background about this?

Poetry, like music has been in my blood. I have had a rich heritage in this field as well. My mother was a Persian scholar and poet. My grandfather Zahur Khan “Ramdasji”, was a Sanskrit scholar and an Urdu and Persian poet with a ‘diwan’ to his credit, it bears the title of Nazara-e-mumkin, his nomme-de plume being ‘Mumkin.’ Moreover at one time of my life I used to visit Agra quite frequently and young poets were encouraged by the people of Agra. In about 1937, the well known Urdu poet “Seemab Akbarabadi” happened to come and stay with us for almost a month and a half. On reading my youthful compositions he accepted me as a disciple. My ‘nomme de-plume is ‘Maykash.’ Allama Seemab was great poet. My association with him is unforgettable. He was a great fan of my singing and always insisted me to sing his ghazals.

-What sort of future do you visualize for Indian Classical Music?

At first sight it would appear that the future of vocal music is not particularly bright. The departure from the scene of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan and the recent sad demise of Amir Khan has created a sudden void which may prove difficult to fill. Moreover, Altaf Hussain Khan, Allahdiya Khan, Kudratullah Khan (Sikandara), Fayyaz Umrao Khan (Delhi – son of Tanras Khan), Abdul Karim Khan, Mushtaque Hussain Khan, Rajabally Khan,  Master Krishna Rao, Aman Ali Khan (Bhendi Bazarwale), Vaze Buwa, Bhaskar Buwa Bakhle, Shri Ratanjankar and Amanat Khan, all of whom I have heard were colossus and have as such not been replaced. Music would certainly have suffered a decline but for a few young artistes who have propped up the falling dignity of the ‘parampara’ and maintained the purity of Classical music. I would specially mention the names of Bhimsen Joshi, Sharafat Hussain Khan, Pandit Jasraj, Yunus Hussain Khan, Jitendra Abhisheki, Niyaz and Fayyaz Ahmed, Nasir Ahmed, Wahid Hussain Khan, Mumtaz Ahmed Khan Ghulam Mustufa Khan, Latafat Hussain Khan and Hafeez Ahmed Khan among others, who have kept the torch burning, I pray to God that these youngsters prosper and succeed in keeping alive our rich parampara and heritage. Our Indian classical parampara (tradition) has proved to be a strong medium for not only National but International Integrity and Peace.

-Why is there a decline of our ancient parampara?

It is difficult for the Parampara to continue in the present set up and even more difficult for good artistes to take shape in the fast-moving life of today. There is no time for the leisurely development that classical music requires. A budding vocalist today cannot afford the kind of food which is essential for him. It is also a pity that people who possess money do not normally have a taste for classical music and vice-versa. Artistes of olden days flourished due to patronage. Too much of westernization has also done the damage. Our Indian classical music is very rich and it has the capacity of competing with any type of world music. Let there be a competition or exchange but not the confrontation.

-Can you suggest some steps to countermand this?

The government has done a lot no doubt and some institutions and academies have been established but the method needs attention. No noted artistes have been put in charge of such institutions and academies. Imagine what happens when a new bride enters a kitchen for the first time and she has studied some recipe books but has never cooked before. The archives and libraries of precious music be strictly preserved and be utilized for the young generation. New digital techniques should be implemented to preserve the precious music from All India Radio Academies and Music Institutions. Posterity is very, very important.

-Now that you have retired from active music what are your present activities and future plans?

I have retired from my post at The All India Radio but not from music. However due to a severe set-back in my health my involvement with music has been considerably reduced. I still train a few disciples and write occasionally in newspapers and magazines. As regards the future, I plan to publish two books, one on the music of my ancestors and contemporaries, both vocalists and instrumentalists and my impressions of some conferences, Secondly, I also plan to publish a compilation of my Urdu Poetry consisting of about fifty ‘ghazals’ and a hundred poems. As an active musician, teacher and musicologist, I have done great efforts and services to enhance and popularize Indian classical ragas and its popular variation.

-Khan Saheb, I think your rich heritage needs to be preserved but I do not think you have appeared on any long-playing records. Has your music been taped extensively?

Not really, except by a few disciples, academies and institutions. I have always been eager to leave behind a record of my five hundred year old ‘vidya’ for posterity. But “the powers that be” must also desire that. The big institutes and music academies along with AIR Akashvani should come forward to record the ancient classical music on a large scale and preserve them in the safe Archives for the future generations. I have so many Bandishes (Classical Compositions). Can I take them along with me to my grave? I am giving to the nation what I got from it. It is my sacred duty. I wish to impart my knowledge to all my disciples. I will serve the Nation till I breathe my last.