There is an event buried in the annals of India’s history and overshadowed by the Partition. Just when the British occupation of India ended, the mournful cry of a sarangi had resonated in the President’s house as famous singer Sucheta Kripalani sang Vande Mataram. Lord Mountbatten was in attendance along with a plethora of dignitaries. Sabri Khan, a young sarangi player, whose family had decided not to go to Pakistan and stay in India, spoke of this incident often. His memory would fail him sometimes, but this is one performance of his that remained with him.
In the ’70s, around the time legendary violinist Yehudi Menuhin was collaborating with Pt Ravi Shankar, who was teaching George Harrison the concepts of alaap, jod and jhaala, Khan was doing his own share of collaborations with the two.
Khan, who traced his lineage to Senia gharana of Mian Tansen, Akbar’s much-loved navratan, breathed his last in Delhi on Tuesday morning. A chain smoker, Khan’s lungs deteriorated with age. He was 88 and survived by nine children. His last performance was in 2007 in Norway. The burial will be held
in Delhi today.
“Music was his lifestyle,” says his maternal grandson Suhail Yusuf Khan, the eighth generation sarangi player from the family. “As a teacher, he understood our personalities, and asked us to never copy him but establish our own uniqueness,” says Suhail. Mumbai-based sarangi player Sabir Khan, adds, “The way people find sukoon in a temple or a dargah, we found that sukoon in his company.”
Interestingly, Khan was also quite experimental as a musician. He collaborated with American rock ‘n’ roll band Blind Melon on a song for their 1992 eponymous album. Suhail says, “According to Nanu Abbu, music was all about seven notes, and how different people perceived and played it differently. Often, he would tell us stories about having dinner with George, and when we’d ask ‘George who?’, he’d say, ‘George Harrison’.”
With inputs by Dipanita Nath