First Meeting with Abbaji (Ustad Allarakha Khan)
It was 1975 or 1976. I came to know that Ustad Allarakha was to be in Ahmedabad to accompany Pandit Ravi Shankar. It was a program arranged by Sur Singar, an organization that I was a young youth volunteer for.
I received news of Ustadji’s arrival and that he had checked into a hotel across from Town Hall (I can’t recall the name). I reached to the hotel at 8:30am with a small bouquet of flowers. I knocked on his door. I distinctly remember how he looked when he opened the door. He looked royal and you see his immensive personality. I gave him the bouquet, took his blessings and introduced myself.
He asked me who I was learning from. I gave my Guru’s name – Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena.
“Yes, I know him. He looks like me,” replied Abbaji.
This all happened at the door of his room. I began to doubt whether or not he would invite me into the room. But with a broad smile, he asked me to come in. He asked me to join him for breakfast. I was very hungry, but was too excited and shy to accept the food he offered. When I said no, he placed the piece of sandwich in my hand and encouraged me to eat. That was the moment when I fell in love with this great maestro.
After breakfast, he asked me to recite some compositions. He listened very seriously as I recited a composition of Ajrada Gharana. After I spoke the composition, he said, “See, in Punjab, we do it like this,” and he started speaking some amazing compositions, which sounded like magic to me, but were beyond my comprehension as I was a junior at that stage.
“I would love to learn this, if you feel that I am competent someday,” I told Abbaji.
“Yes, I will teach you, but the thing is that I don’t spend much time in Mumbai. I spend more of my time abroad.” Then again he started to speak some more compositions.
After an hour and half, I don’t know how, but I asked him, “Can you come to my home for lunch today?”
He started laughing. I was only a young youth. He asked where I lived. I lived only 20 minutes away.
“I would be highly obliged if you come.”
“OK. I don’t disappoint anybody. Let me call Raviji. If he does not have a commitment for me, I’ll come to your house.”
He called up Raviji and said to him,”There is a kid in front of me. He is very sweet and asking me to come to his house. Do you have something for me?”
Raviji wanted to rest, so Abbaji was free to come to my home.
I called my parents, who were very excited to hear the news and insisted that Abbaji have lunch at our home. When I told Abbaji about lunch, he told me that he would see.
Now as I was only a young teenager, I did not drive a scooter, let alone a car. I asked Abbaji if he would be willing to travel by rickshaw, which he kindly agreed to.
A portion of the drive was along a lonely road next to railway tracks. Our luck was such that the rickshaw stopped working right along this lonely road! There was no one around and the rickshaw driver’s many attempts were futile. I was very embarrassed at this point, but to my surprise, Abbaji turned to me and suggested we find another rickshaw.
We walked about 1 km in the hot sun of Ahmedabad before we found another rickshaw and arrived at my home.
After meeting my parents and formalities, Abbaji asked me to get tablas and play for him. After hearing some of my playing, he taught me a Punjab composition, it was my first Punjab composition. I greatly enjoyed our time and it continued as we had our lunch.
After lunch, I had called a neighbour who has a car, so that we could drop Abbaji at the hotel in an appropriate mode of transportation.
The time we spent together that day is something I will always remember. After that day, whenever Abbaji came to Ahmedabad (once or twice annually), I would always be present as his sevak and he regularly visited my home.
About 15 years later, after the demise of my second guru, Ustad Latif Ahmed Khan, I followed through on my desire to learn Punjab and became a gandaband student of Abbaji. I’ll save stories about my ganda-band ceremony and other experiences with him for another time.