The style and mastery over the Tabla seen in his brilliant performances have established him as a genius in the world of percussion both in India and abroad
Ustad Zakir Hussain is well-known as a table maestro but very few are aware that he was once being considered to play the role of the young Salim in yesteryears movie “Mughal-e-Azam”.
“I was actually being looked upon, under the microscope, to play the role of young Salim in ‘Mughal-e-Azam’, Hussain revealed at a session at the Zee Jaipur Literature Festival, providing a rare peak into his past.
“My father (the legendary tabla player Alla Rakha) was working at the Mohan Studio during those days and they were shooting for the song ‘Pyar Kia Toh Darna Kya’ and I was there. At that time the possibility of me playing the role of young Salim in the movie was explored.
“I was presented to Dilip Kumar and he looked at me, then said ‘thik hai kal baat karte hain’ (Ok, we’ll discuss it tomorrow). But before that, my father found out and became very angry. He said I was meant to play tabla and thus, I never played the role of Salim,” the 66-year-old Hussain told a packed audience on the first day of JLF 2018.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” maintained Hussain. And why not, if you look at the long way that he has come ever since. Cinema’s loss was music’s gain. Starting out at an early age, Hussain rose to global acclaim and is today regarded among the top musicians across the world. Every story has a beginning and the stories of an artist’s realisation of his craft are often captivating. So it is with Zakir Hussain.
He recalled during the session “A Life in Music” (titled after the similarly titled book by Nasreen Munni Kabir) that it is customary for Indian fathers to say a little prayer in the ear of their just-born children. When Hussain was presented to his father, “he stuck his lips to my ear” and instead of the prayer, he played a rhythm.
A frequent accompanist of sitar player Ravi Shankar, Alla Rakha had blessed his just-born son with an instant rhythm. When his mother complained, saying that it would be a sign of ill-luck and demanded that he say a prayer instead, Alla Rakha humbly responded: “Yahi toh meri prarthna hai, yahi toh meri dua hai” (This is my prayer, this is my blessing).
He also recalled that his upbringing was a journey through many faiths and it is perhaps because of that, that he said: “Yes, I am a Muslim, but through my music I am offering my prayers to Saraswati and to Ganesha.”
By the time, Hussain turned three, his father set him free and, in his own words, “just let me go”. The idea was “to let me find my calling”, he said. Quite naturally, he chose the tabla. In the self-leaning mode, by the time he was nine-years-old, he was playing in school concerts. “It was then my father asked me if I wanted to (formally) learn the tabla. I said yes and then the practise began, the next day at three in the morning,” he recalled. “And there he was, Mr God himself, my father. When the rest of the world was sleeping, I and my father would be practising early in the morning from three to six. Who wouldn’t want that kind of a conversation with his father,” he asked the audience.
As per his usual routine, he would practise and then go to play cricket with his friends, return and listen to the radio and then practise again. “It was like reading a book, totally out of passion and according to my convenience,” he maintained.
He would go to a madrasa to learn the Quran and then cross the road to a nearby church to sing hymns. “But never at any point, neither the mulla or the priest impressed upon me that what they were preaching was the sole truth. Those were very different times,” he quipped.
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