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Remembering guru ma, Annapurna Devi

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Annapurna Devi’s solely objective in life was to go on her father Ustad Allauddin Khan’s taalim

Annapurna Devi shunned the limelight in her lifetime. Now, for her second dying anniversary (October 13), her nephew Ustad Aashish Khan and his School of World Music have organised a programme to pay tribute to the reclusive genius.

To be held on October 11, the programme additionally celebrates the reminiscence of Aashish’s late youthful brother, Ustad Dhyanesh Khan, whose sarodist-son Shiraz Ali, helps to place it collectively.

California-based Aashish Khan educated periodically beneath his aunt. “When my grandfather was away, pishima (Annapurna) was in charge of our teaching and practice. She was systematic and used to herself play on the tabla bayan to help us maintain the laya. She used to teach us vocal dhrupad compositions, horis, taranas as well as instrumental gats. Teaching was according to the season — raags like Basant, Paraj in spring and Malhars in monsoon. I was first taught aalap by her; also the ‘da ra da ra’ bols which are not authentic sarod baaj. We miss her a lot.”

Experience by listening to

One of Annapurna Devi’s most interesting disciples is Jodhpur-based sarodist, Pt. Basant Kabra, who belongs to a household of businessmen and classical music connoisseurs. The laconic musician paints a heart-warming image of his guru.

“Guru ma was around 53 when I first went to learn from her. A surbahar exponent, she never played the instrument when teaching us. Maybe once or twice she picked up the instrument to demonstrate something that I couldn’t understand. Ma taught me a little surbahar baaj (technique) too, and the correct hold of the sitar. Her priority in life was to pass on the taalim she had imbibed from her father.”

Annapurna Devi with father Ustad Allauddin Khan
 
| Photo Credit:
Shiraz Ali

Annapurna Devi was specific about what sort of music needs to be performed on which instrument. Tayyari ke taan, zamzama, bol kaari are meant for sitar whereas aalap and gamak are meant for surbahar.

“Ma used to always say, ‘Concentrate on what I am teaching you about a raag and note its usage, don’t go into technicalities. And don’t try explaining its structure to others; our gharana’s raags are handled differently. One can only experience them by hearing. You can’t verbalise what I teach you to play; it can only be conveyed through your music,” recollects Basant.

One of her favorite raags was Manjh Khamaj, created by her legendary father, Ustad Allaudin Khan. “She would say the raag helps beat tiredness, but one hears it only in its lighter form now, as something to end a concert with. . She taught it fully only to a few disciples. She once told me she herself had not mastered how to play the raag the way her Baba had conceived it,” says Basant.

Annapurna Devi additionally beloved raags which can be ‘madhyam pradhan’. Her father, in actual fact, created raag Kausi Bhairav for her. “She explained to me how this raag is similar to Adana and Darbari. And that raags Kausi Kanhra and Kausi Bhairav are not the same. She also told me that Ustad Allauddin Khan taught raag Darbari only to three of his disciples — Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan and her.

A demanding guru

“My guru was very difficult to learn from; she would remember exactly what she had taught five years ago. She didn’t ever want to be recorded. Or even photographed; there is just one photo of hers in recent years. But I know she was recorded; because she wrote down what she recorded in a notebook that she wrote in Bangla. (This has been translated into English by Swapan Kumar Bondyopadhyay in The Unheard Melody.). These recordings were done in the 1940s. She recorded Ragas Puriya and Gara, which I have never heard.”

Recalling her sharp ear, Basant says she would name out from the kitchen when cooking to verify the ‘pancham tarab’. “Imagine, not even a note on the main wire but on the sympathetic wire. She was an amazing person, not just a fantastic musician. She never criticised other musicians. My last memory of her is on Guru Purnima, before she passed away. She asked me to sit by her bed and play raag Yaman. Despite knowing her so well, I never understood many things about her — why she never created raags and why she was so reclusive,” says Basant, as his voice peters off and he will get misplaced in recollections.

The Delhi-based creator

writes on Hindustani music and musicians.



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