Music Was Above Religion for Pandit Jasraj ji: Ustad Shujaat Khan

Ustad Shujaat Khan remembers music maestro Pandit Jasraj.

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Music maestro Pandit Jasraj breathed his last on 17 August in New Jersy. He was 90 years old. Recipient of Padma Shri, Padma Bhushan and Padma Vibhushan, Pandit Jasraj was a pioneer of Hindustani classical music. He belonged to the Mewati Gharana with a career spanning over 80 years.

The Quint spoke to Ustad Vilayat Khan’s son and Grammy-nominated sitar player Ustad Shujaat Khan who talks about the relationship he shared with the legendary Pandit Jasraj. They have been part of the same shows for the past ten years.

USTAD SHUJAAT KHAN REMEMBERS MUSIC MAESTRO PANDIT JASRAJ

“I spent some lovely times with him. He insisted on performing before me, which was a terrible thing, because seniority wise he should be after me. But we used to laugh about it and he would say, “It’s okay Shujaat. You are the next generation and you have to take over from me and you're one of the few people who should go on after me”. And he used to bless me. That gave me a lot of courage to perform after him, because traditionally it's a wrong thing to do.

I was performing in Delhi, just after him, Kamani auditorium, it was a full house. I met him on his way out and said, 'You know, again, you've got to go after you, and it’s killer for me'. He blessed me and said, “Nah nah! I knew it was you, so it doesn't bother me." So, I got on stage and started tuning. I turned around and saw Pandit ji walking back on stage. I stood up and he came all the way, took the mic and told people, 'I was about to walk out, and I saw Shujaat had started tuning. Even while he tunes, he reminds me of his father and his Gharana and how beautiful music can be'. This is a great endorsement for me from my senior. And so, I always think of him very fondly.”

THE LESSER-KNOWN SIDE OF PANDIT JI

He had a very dry sense of humour. Even when he said something funny, there was no change in expression on his face. Only people around him knew that he was saying something which is funny.

I remember many, many, years ago, someone asked me that through music have you ever seen God? I said ‘Yes, I have a few times.’ And one time I remember was with Pandit Jasraj ji. I heard him singing an early morning raga, Raag Bhairav in Delhi, Kamani auditorium. It was many years ago, and I was there. And I remember... I don't have many words to explain how, at one moment, it was like, everyone, everyone in that room was transported to another world. These are the moments that makes an artist memorable. You live your life and then you go, pass away, but there are only few who are remembered for their music.

HOW RELIGIOUS DIVIDE IN THE COUNTRY AFFECTED PANDIT JI

When you create a religious divide and unhappiness, no one stays happy. It's not that one side will be happy, everyone becomes unhappy. Any artiste will be unhappy with this because you can only create beautiful music, think of beautiful music when your mind is happy and at ease. If there is tension around you and unhappiness around you and mistrust around you then music starts drying up. Everyone is sad about that, and I know he was also sad all the time. So, yeah, he was unhappy. He used to tell me very clearly, "I am from a generation wherein I can just pack and go off. You and your children are going to go through this. Think about it. What kind of country, what kind of life, what kind of planet you are making for your children?

He has gone with me to the mazhar of my grandfather in Kolkata. You know, because I was in Hyderabad and he took me to the samadhi of his father. And so, when he was in Kolkata once he said, ‘Take me to your grandfather's samadhi.’ And I said sure. Something that had Islamic inclinations or thought has never bothered him. It never bothered him.If he was singing a composition which had words like Allah or Ishwar or Khuda, it never bothered him. If you believe that your life is ruled by a religion and ruled by fanaticism, then at the end of the day it is you who is unhappy and is bitter from inside. But as a musician you have to be above this and one of the people like many others I met, he was above this. Religion doesn't mean anything. It's a very personal relationship between him and his God and this is how it should be.

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