Confessions of a Rashid Khan groupie

Shivaji Dasgupta
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Rashid Khan's health

Ustad Rashid Khan (File photo)

New Delhi: The first confession to be duly made is that I do not 'understand' the nuances of Hindustani Classical Music. Thus, I react to expressions straight from the heart, no avenues for analysis. Exactly why Ustad Rashid Khan will forever be my North Star. 


Exactly thirty years back, in a conference at Kala Mandir, Calcutta, I was first exposed to his abundant influences. Not that I 'understood ' but truthfully 'felt', the impact of an exceptional gift. Beyond Rasputin in the mesmeric quotient, an ability to engage with every recipient of his creative largesse, as if long lost family from the ages. Quite quickly, I became an incurable addict, no hope for rehab. 

The Malhar festival of 1993 moved on to 1994 quite effortlessly, when I hounded the man with vigilante gusto. A charming event at the diminutive Gyan Manch, where he delivered with heavenly graces. Then the annual gig to commemorate the birth of Swami Vivekananda, the rendition in Raga Madhumanti clearly a spiritual calling. Shows in Barasat and Uttarpara, wherein I discovered the splendour of Raga Desh, a signature offering from his beautiful playlist. 

But the malai on the rabri was a unique opportunity from that very year, courtesy of an acquaintance with champagne taste buds. A charity concert was the need of the hour and none other than the scion of the Rampur Sahaswan Gharana was the preferred performer. What's more, it was my diligent duty to ferry the performer from home to the G D Birla Sabhaghar. In an ably embellished Ambassador Mark Four, with fortified upholstery. 


Nothing ever, even the most debilitating physical regression, will erase the memory of that thirty-minute ride, me in the front and he in the rear, a rare role reversal. The Ustad was clearly in net practice mode, unleashing indulgent strokes from his limitless range, on a whim and fancy it seems. This was no ordinary prelude, truthfully an abbreviation of ethereal greatness, currently available in teaser mode.

As the years progressed, my obsession recognised no ceilings. When living in Amdavad, Mumbai and Gurgaon, every opportunity to capture him live was shamelessly usurped. At home, in gleeful possession of many accomplished CDs of his creativity, the music would reign on many a joyful evening, the playful single malts as mute percussion. Even the deeply uninitiated and the borderline philistine would be caught in mid-crease, such was the seduction of his genius. 

A remarkable consuming experience was a duet with sitar superstar Ustad Shahid Parvez in Bombay,  in some suburban venue I now forget. It was Raga Desh on stage but Ustad Rashid Khan's vocal integrity was so persuasive that the strains of the Etawah sitar were consigned to mere accompaniment, no longer the designated peer. A sentiment felt most recently during a World Music Day concert where in a talent-studded finale of 'Rahe Na Rahe Hum', his was the voice above all.


In recent years, pandemic et al, the chance to engage on live platforms was reduced considerably. At times, I did feel that his 'ageing' process as a musician was stuck en route, unrelenting genius leading to premature maturity, like Tendulkar the batsman. Unlike many celebrated peers, whose later years had ample dosages of hitherto undiscovered gravitas. Perhaps this is the bane of ruthless exception, as arrival is a destination by itself. 

In my limited listening acumen, no critical training, the raga which was piece de resistance was Sohini. His bandish ' Dekh Dekh Man Lalchaiye', a daily staple for fanboys like me, is an abundant dose of inspiration. Luring the willing, and the unwilling, to a delectable destiny while being firmly grounded, alas, to every predictable routine. The Ustad at his caressing finest, a Pied Piper with blissfully noble intent. 

Those in the know insisted that he had the finest genes of Ustad Amir Khan (Indore), especially at the commencement of the khayal. Further evidence of this uncanny lineage appearing in an affinity for the tarana and abdication of the thumri. His truthful Guru, of course, being Ustad Nissar Hussain Khan, clearly Rampur Sahaswan. But then, such academic technicalities belong to a different mehfil and not the moment that is today. 

To many and not just me, Ustad Rashid Khan remains a welcoming emotion, a timeless invitation to a beautiful universe. Where there is room for every willing heart and space for each seeking soul. The earthly passing on the 9th of December will not thwart his gorgeous mission. To make music ammunition for all who believe in the beauty of living.