“Master on Masters” by Amjad Ali Khan.
ISBN No: 978-0-670-08954-3
Publisher: Penguin Random House India
‘Master of Masters’ is a collection of short accounts by SarodMaestroo Shri Amjad Ali Khan’s relationship with twelve great musicians of his times. The author explains his and his father’s ties with great musicians like Kesarbai Kerkar, Bade Ghulam Ali, Amir Khan, Begum Akhtar, M.S. Shubhalaxmi, Bismillah Khan, Alla Rakha, Ravi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, Kishan Maharaj, Kumar Gandharva and Vilayat Khan. Through pictures, anecdotes and personal experiences the book intends to provide interesting insights into lives of the stalwarts who contributed to the glory of the Indian classical musical tradition in India.
The introduction is a general account of the author’s views on practice, scope and relevance of Hindustani classical music today. While he believes that there is a sustained interest, it has certainly been altered with electronic and social media. He expresses hope that new generation understands the spiritual nature of the Indian music tradition where art is not merely for entertainment but a way of life-based on dedication, surrender, faith, trust, spirituality, religion, religious practice and discipline. The author also believes that from the guru shishya parampara to recording studios and live public concerts, the nature of practice of music has changed but with proliferation of CDs and records, the interest in classical music tradition has been generated and the legacy of knowledge and wisdom sustained.
The rest of the book contains twelve general accounts of the greatness of the musicians, their contribution and the author’s personal encounters with them. An otherwise undetailed account of Kesarbai Kerkar’s life may interest the reader only for a list women musicians who made success stories, similarly, an account of Bade Ghulam Ali Khan contains stories of his humility and genius through his relationship with author’s father. The author describes vocalist Ami Khan’s magnanimous gesture at a Music festival that makes him not only a legend of music but also an epitome of self-effacement. Paying respect to the era of ghazal singing infused with classical music, the author describes his acquaintance with the “queen of music” (as he describes); Beghum Akhtar. Paying tribute to the legendary MS Subbulakshmi the author describes the tradition of rendition of devotional songs, her association with Hindi cinema and her contribution to public and social causes in India. He glorifies the great life of shehnai player Bismillah Khan whose music he believes is a celebration of life. Describing Alla Rakha as a miracle (as he came from a non-musical household) the author describes his journey into music that defined a new dimension of table playing. He pays his respects to the veteran sitar player Pandit Ravi Shankar, the account describes their differences of opinion highlighted in the media that caused a rift in their relationship which was later revived by his wife after which they spent some memorable times together. Bhimsen Joshi, an undisputed face of Indian classical music was close to the authors family and he describes his personal life and his level of concentration and dedication truly inspired the author. The author pays homage to Kishan Maharaj’s unique ability to play cross rhythms and producing complex calculations that truly made him one of the most gifted table maestros of the times. He also talks of his multifaceted personality as he was fond of painting, horse riding, sculpting and motorcycles. The author offers an accolade of Kumar Ghandharva’s genius and his liberties with the conventional ways of creativity and lastly, the greatness of the Vilayat Khan’s personality and his families contribution to the era of classical Indian music.
Almost all accounts are brief, general and lack details. The descriptions offered, list the achievements of the music legends, the anecdotes explain their strong personalities and the author’s encounter with the same as he shares platforms at various performances with them. The book does not stand out as unique as the author explains their already much celebrated eternal contribution to the world of music. The author’s engagement with the lives of musicians neither offers an alternative methodology into history of the journey of Indian classical music nor does it offer any unique insight into his or the musician’s personal journey that may interest patrons or students of classical music. It remains Amjad Ali Khan’s personal account and the reader may see little relevance in engaging with the text.