New Delhi: Leading sitar exponent Imrat Khan of the Etawah gharana, who is one of the few surviving players of surbahar, a variation of veena, says that India should put clamps on “sleazy songs and movies” as Bollywood and mass entertainment was “killing the culture of Hindustan.”
“The whole world looks up to India for art and culture, but we are following Bollywood and Afro-American culture. Russians are censoring their culture and the Chinese culture too has censorship…,” Khan told in a chat.
In the face of stiff competition from mass entertainment, he wants a separate slice of the government largesse for the Indian classical music for the survival of lesser-known traditional genres.
“Bollywood and mass entertainment are killing the culture of Hindustan. You can’t bring anything from foreign countries to India these days – there are curbs on everything, including medicines. But there are no clamps on sleazy songs and movies,” said Imrat Khan, who lives in St Louis in the US.
“India is very competitive. Horses and donkeys are treated on a par. But the horse looks around and flees to places where they are rewarded,” he said on the exodus of classical musicians in the 1970s-80s.
The 77-year-old maestro was in the country to perform in the Delhi Classical Music Festival, a five-day carnival of music, this week.
The brother of legendary musician Ustad Vilayat Khan has been carrying forward the illustrious Etawah or Imdadkhani gharana of music with his brood of five sons – four of whom have carved niches for themselves on the mainstream classical stage. The fifth, eight-year-old Azmat Khan, debuted at the Delhi fest.
His gharana, named after his grandfather Imdad Khan, dates back nearly 400 years to the Mughal court in Agra.
“So long as the government pays little attention and the media does not write about it, classical music will not flourish,” the maestro said.
The country “should have a budget of five percent of the outlay for culture for the promotion of classical music education in schools,” he said.
Born to sitar and surbahar guru Ustad Inayat Khan and talented vocalist Bashiran Begum, Imrat Khan was guided through the rigorous rite of passage to music by his mother and older sibling Vilayat Khan.
“My brother was very strict and disciplined. As the second son of Ustad Inayat Khan, I have the same position as Ustad Vilayat Khan. But I polished my brother’s shoes and did his laundry.
“No student would do that today… Over time, my brother fell in love with me and we practised sitar and surbahar together,” Imrat Khan recalled.
Surbahar is a string variant of ancient kacchapi (tortoise) veena created by Imrat Khan’s great grandfather.
“In the 1950s, we changed the sitar when we reduced the number of strings from seven to six. We played the ‘gayaki ang’ (a special musical sound) which required full swing of the right hand and the seven strings jangled…,” the musician said.
Imrat Khan’s ‘gayaki ang’ is more grounded on the techniques of classical vocals.
“It is a little different from that by my brother Vilayat Khan because of the influence of the icons like Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, his son Munawar Khan and Barkat Ali Khan,” Imrat Khan said.
The maestro, who is recovering from an illness, wants to bring the surbahar to his father’s home at Kolkata’s Park Circus to perform.
“I will have to go back to the gym near my home in St Loius to strengthen my shoulder, biceps and triceps to play the surbahar. It requires sheer physical strength,” he said.
By Madhusree Chatterjee