Centenarian Tempo

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ON HIS WAY to a concert in Vrindavan in October 2006, Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan was so moved at the sight of his driver shouting “Radhe Radhe!” to get a rickshaw-wala to move (instead of honking or abusing) that these words came to him in a flash:“Gaur varan chanchal nain sakhiyan sang mil, dhol karan nainan band Radhe.” That evening, he sang the composition, moving the audience to tears.

Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan
Ustad Abdul Rashid Khan
Age: 101
Profession:
Hindustani classical vocalist and exponent of the Gwalior gharana
A master’s riyaaz: Every morning, after praying for an hour, he smokes his favourite hookah and composes bandishes Photo: Pintu Pradhan

Abdul Rashid Khan is two months away from turning 101. “I get all my energy and strength from reading the namaaz and the Koran,” he says. His day begins at daybreak. Students arrive at his home at Calcutta’s ITC Sangeet Academy at 7am.

Watching the ustad perform makes one realise that the body makes no difference to what artistes like him give to the world. His grandson and accompanying tabla player, the first in the family who didn’t take to singing, is happy to narrate what it is like to live with him. “This morning, when he was in the bathroom, he called for me to take down the words of a bandish he had just composed,” he smiles. When asked if he still practices, the ustad laughs, “I stopped practicing 20 years ago. Those days, I would sing for 12 hours a day. As long as Allah makes me sing, I will continue,” he says. A Baul singer once said, “There is a flute in our hearts. Our bodies will drop once it finishes playing its tune.” The ustad continues to reel out his compositions, and one hopes the music will stay with us for a while yet.

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