Posted on RMIM by Rajan Parrikar as part of Great Masters Series
While film stars continued to fascinate the people with their singing
and acting, a new class of gifted classical singers and
instrumentalists was being born.
Film music has a tremendous attraction for the masses and it has great
commercial value. But, like the films, its appeal is short-lived. A
popular film and its songs may hold the public interest for some
time, but as other films come along the old film and its songs are
It is not so with classical music, which has a lasting hold on the
interest of listeners. Even though records of classical music do not
sell as fast as film records, their value to music lovers does not
In 1944 the Vikramaditya Sangit Parishad was held in the Bombay
University Convocation Hall. An artist from Punjab presented Raga
Marwa and a thumri, as they had never been presented before, and
will never be presented again. This was how Ustad Bade Gulam Ali Khan
introduced himself to lovers of classical music in Bombay. Raga
Marwa, which he selected as his opening item, has a combination of
notes -komal rishab and shudha dhaivat- which sounds very
pensive and persuasive. The Ustad's melodious voice and his most
arresting style gripped the listeners from the start. He unfolded
before the amazed audience a most attractive and elaborate picture of
The almost effortless phirat of his voice, which ranged through three
octaves -Mandra, Madhya and Taar-elevated the artist and the
listeners to immeasurable heights of musical experience. This was
Bade Gulam Ali's maiden appearance in this city. He came, he sang,
and he conquered the entire musical world of Bombay.
The audience that day was star-studded. Eminent artists like
'Aftab-e-mausiki' Ustad Faiyaz Hussain Khan, Ustad Allaudin Khan
(father of Ali Akbar Khan and guru of Pandit Ravi Shankar), the
famous sarod player from Gwalior-Ustad Hafiz Ali Khan (father of
the young sarod player Amjad Ali Khan), Marhoom Ustad Alla Diya Khan
and many others were seen nodding in appreciation of Bade Gulam Ali's
Ustad Alla Diya Khan with his snow-white mustache and fair complexion,
was a very impressive person. He had settled in Bombay a few years
before, but having stayed many years in Kolhapur, he always dressed
in the Maharashtrian style. He looked very dignified, clad in a pure
white dhoti in Brahminic style, an open collared coat, shining pump
shoes and a turban tied in the impressive Kolhapuri fashion. Amidst
the galaxy of artists he looked like an emperor holding his darbar.
M. R. Jayakar honoured him that night with the title: 'The Mount
Everest of classical music'.
This was a significant night, not only because I heard Bade Gulam Ali,
but also because it was the last appearance of Ustad Alla Diya Khan
in such an august assembly. That night the Ustad was flanked by his
disciple Surashri Kesarbai Kerkar on the right and his son on the
left as tanpura accompanists. This was indeed an unforgettable
Bade Gulam Ali Khan was the biggest attraction of the evening. In
this, his very first visit, I managed to bring him to our studio to
record a few of his choicest khayals and thumris. He sang lilting
thumris like Yad piya ki aaye, Katena birahaki raat, Tirachhi
Nazariya ke baan and Premke fandeme aakar sajani, and these records,
cut almost forty years ago, are still popular with listeners, not
only in India, but all over the world.
Bade Gulam Ali Khan had an impressive physique and the lofty gait of a
monarch. It was hard to believe that this broad-faced, bewhiskered
giant was capable of producing such sweet, soul-stirring notes.
A year after our first meeting, on the occasion of my elder daughter's
birthday, I invited Bade Gulam Ali to my place for dinner. It was a
pleasant surprise to see the great Ustad at the dinner table,
consuming, with great relish, a whole chicken. nearly two dozen
chappatis and more than a kilo of mithai (sweetmeats). and still more
amazing was his 4 hour musical recital immediately afterwards. I
thanked him profusely and jocularly remarked that people would always
remember him as rangila gavaiyya and rasila khawaiyya (a versatile
singer and an appreciative gourmet). Bade Gulam Ali was also an
excellent cook. On many occasions for several years thereafter, he
pressed on me delicious dishes such as mutton paya and karela mutton
which he had prepared himself.
Bade Gulam Ali hailed from Lahore in Punjab. It was his heartfelt
desire that I, who was by now one of his dear friends and great
admirers, should visit him in Lahore. A chance to respond to this
invitation came very soon. Mr. Z. A. Bokhari the then station
director of All India Radio, Bombay, offered me a chain booking to
broadcast from the Lucknow, Delhi and Lahore radio stations. I spent
most of my stay in Lahore with the great Ustad. Walking with him
through the Hiramandi park of Lahore city I felt as if I was walking
by the side of a majestic elephant who was parading through thc
streets, accepting the reverent salutations of numerous admirers. He
lavishly showered hospitality on me. This was the end of the year
During his short visit to Bombay in 1948 I fixed up a recording
session with him. In the afternoon, when I had everything arranged
for recording in our studio, he telephoned to say that he was not
feeling well enough to record. I insisted that he should come over
and that we would not do any recording but we would have a nice long
chat and dinner. Very reluctantly he accepted my pressing invitation.
Before he came I had to plan a strategy whereby I would be able to
persuade him to strain his vocal chords. I gave a hundred rupee note
to my peon Sakharam and instructed him to procure a bottle of Scotch,
which was the Ustad's favourite drink. Sakharam was to bring the
bottle and the glasses into the studio only when I gave him the
signal to do so.
I had arranged things in the studio in such a manner that I could
start recording at a moment's notice. I instructed that the
accompanying musicians be kept waiting in an ante-room. I escorted
the great Ustad into the studio, assuring him that we would not do
any recording but would have just an interesting and enjoyable
evening. On the spacious wooden platform were two tanpuras already
tuned to suit his pitch. The Ustad, a man of generous proportions,
always preferred to sit cross-legged on the platform instead of on a
chair. I seated myself near him with one tanpura close at hand. While
we conversed I casually started playing on the strings of the
tanpura. 'Khan Saheb,' I said, ' I want to know why followers of the
Gwalior gharana prefer to use tivra dhaivat, in Raga Lalat, instead
of komal dhaivat which sounds so much sweeter.' With the sound of the
tanpura playing in the background Khan Saheb could not resist
demonstrating why komal dhaivat is preferable to tivra dhaivat. 1
noticed with satisfaction that my strategy was succeeding.
Unseen by him, I gave the signal to Sakharam who walked in with the
bottle and the glasses. Noticing this, the Ustad looked happier,
though he protested mildly. I said to him, 'Since we are not going to
do any recording we might as well have a gay time.' I came up with
another question while the maestro was enjoying the drink. 'Why is it
that some singers use both tivra and komal nishads in Raga Adana? Is
it correct to do so?' I refilled Khan Saheb's glass, and he who had
been sitting in a relaxed position so far sat upright in his usual
singing posture, fully inspired and in the mood to sing. He picked up
the other tanpura which was close to him and began to demonstrate how
Raga Adana should be rendered.
I allowed him to sing for a while and then said, 'Khan Saheb, your
voice is in absolutely top form!'
He guessed the implication of my remark, and smiling a little
mischievously he said, 'So, you do want to do a recording'. Taking
this as a form of consent, I immediately summoned the accompanists
and in a few minutes all was ready for the recording.
Khan Saheb was indeed in great form that night. The next two hours
literally flew by. He sang one enchanting song after another, and we
were able to record such immortal pieces as Aaye na baalam, kya karun
sajani, Naina more taras rahe hatn and Prem ki maar katar, to name a
few. Like a person possessed Khan Saheb poured his heart and soul
into the magic notes. He did not even know how many songs he
recorded; this after having been determined not to record at all.
During a short respite I handed him a fresh glass. After taking a sip
from it he said, 'Joshi Saheb, you must have cast a spell on me. I
was determined not to sing. How many have you recorded?'
I smiled and replied, 'We need only 2 more.'
'What do you mean?' he asked.
'I mean 2 more songs would make a round dozen; we have got only 10.'
We had a hearty laugh and thus the memorable recording session came to
a close. Outside it had rained very hard and inside the studio we
had had torrents of music.
Bade Gulam Ali's study of music was extensive. While discussing any
aspect of music, he would make intelligent observations that would
surprise and impress the most learned and knowledgeable persons.
A seminar was once arranged under the auspices of the Sur Singar
Samsad. In Hindustani classical music, ragas are ascribed particular
hours of the day or night for their exposition. The point under
discussion at the seminar was whether there was any scientific reason
for this convention or whether it was just a result of custom and
tradition. Bade Gulam Ali gave his opinion with practical
According to him ragas are divided into two types. A raga of the
first type may be played between 12 noon and 12 midnight. Ragas of
the second type may be played at any time from midnight to 12 noon.
The ragas in the first section are known as 'Purva ragas' and those
of the second section as 'Uttar ragas . A saptak is also divided
into two parts or 'tetrachords'. The first contains Sa, Re, Ga, Ma,
and the second the other four notes, Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa. In the purva
ragas the vadi swara (the prime or 'life' note of the raga) is taken
from the first tetrachord and therefore these ragas are known as
purvangavadi ragas. In the same way, the vadi swara in the uttar ragas
is usually taken from the second tetrachord, i.e., Pa, Dha, Ni, Sa,
and these ragas are called uttarangavadi ragas. When the vadi swara
is either 'Sa' or 'Pa', there is no time restriction for the
performance of that raga.
He also propounded another theory explaining why a particular raga
should be sung at a particular time and why, if it is rendered
accordingly, it is more effective and appreciated by the listeners.
The 24 hours of the day are divided as follows:
- 4 in the morning to 7 in the morning.
- 7 in the morning to 10 in the morning.
- 10 in the morning to 4 in the afternoon.
- 4 in the afternoon to 7 in the evening.
- 7 in the evening to 10 at night.
- 10 at night to 4 in the morning.
It will be observed that in the ragas of the first and fourth
divisions the 2nd note rishabh and 6th note dhaivat are komal swaras.
These ragas are also known as Sandhiprakash ragas. Bhairava of the
morning variety and Purvi of the evening, having these notes, are
Sandhiprakash ragas. Khan Saheb explained how just a slight change of
half a note in the structure of the octave changes the raga from a
morning to an evening one. In Raga Bhairava the 4th note, madhyam, is
shudha, while in Purvi the 4th note is half a note higher, that is
tivra madhyama. He also demonstrated and explained the difference
between the morning raga Todi and the afternoon raga Multani.
Although both have identically the same notes in the octave, they
differ from one another owing to different vadi samvadi notes and
In the same way ragas in the 2nd and 5th parts have the 2nd note
rishabh and the 6th note dhaivat as shudha notes. The ragas of the
3rd and 6th parts have the 3rd note gandhara and the 7th note nishad
Khan Saheb however added that this theory was based on his
observations of general practices. He was of the firm opinion that
the theory of division of ragas according to time has some scientific
basis and that physicists should be able to arrive at some final
explanation after experiments.
Ragas are also seasonal melodies. For example, Raga Malhar is
associated with the rainy season and Raga Vasant with spring. One
evening during the monsoon I had the good fortune to find Bade Gulam
Ali in a very exuberant mood. From the balcony of his flat on Malabar
Hill one could see the turbulent sea with its rising mountains of
waves. This exhibition of nature's strength always inspired Khan
Saheb and that day he gave vocal expression to his feelings, in a
number of variations of Raga Malhar. He reeled out gamak taans when
there was a clap of thunder. He would be inspired by a flash of
lightning to indulge in a brilliant 'Phirat', and when it poured
cats and dogs, the result would be a torrent of powerful taans
ranging over two to three octaves. It sounded as if a jugalbandi
programme was in progress between Nature and this great man.
Bade Gulam Ali was very generous in sharing his knowledge and rare
compositions with deserving persons. And what is more. he did not feel
it below his dignity to accept compositions not known to him. There
was a frequent exchange of .such knowledge and compositions between
my guru Gunidas and Khan Saheb. I have often enjoyed such musical
***Insert: Gunidas referred here is Pandit Jagannathbua
discussions and exchanges at Khan Saheb's residence in the company of
my Guruji and Professor B. R. Deodhar.
Bade Gulam Ali had a lively wit and sense of humour. His elder son
Karamat Ali, who lived in Pakistan, was on a visit to his father when
Bade Gulam Ali introduced him to me as 'my Bade Shahzede - Karamat
Ali'. When I inquired about the nature of his profession, Bade Gu]am
Ali gave a loud burst of laughter and, pointing to four or five
little children playing nearby, he said, 'Look, that is his Karamat.'
Karamat Ali joined in our burst of laughter.
His younger son, Munawar Ali, was his constant companion and was being
groomed to succeed him. He always accompanied Khan Saheb on the
tanpura and being so close to his father, he imbibed the vast
treasure of his father's musical knowledge. Naturally with such
training and all the makings of a first grade artist, everyone
expected him to follow in Bade Gulam Ali's footsteps.
Unfortunately, however, Bade Gulam Ali had always kept Munawar under
his wing. Consequently, Munawar did not learn the art of performing
independently and in spite of the vast knowledge he received from his
father, this gifted but unlucky singer is still struggling to make a
name for himself.
Bade Gulam Ali's brother Ustad Barakat Ali Khan also had great talent.
The sweetness and phirat of his voice sometimes surpassed that of
Bade Gulam Ali. Bade Gulam Ali, however, allowed his brother to
accompany him on the harmonium but never to sing with him in public.
Therefore Barakat Ali remained unknown to most music lovers in India.
It is difficult to say for what reason Bade Gulam Ali always kept his
son Munawar and brother Barakat Ali in the background, not giving
them a chance to display their talents independently.
I had the gond fortune to hear Bade Gulam Ali and Barakat Ali sing
together in the same Mehfil when I was a guest of Nawab Zahir Yar
Jung at the Basheerbag palace in Hyderabad.
The Jainophone Record Company of Lahore, which was a sister concern
of H.M.V., was the first to market Barakat Ali's records. Of these
Bagome pade zule, Ek sitam aur lakh adaen and Ufari jawani haye
jamane have made his name immortal.
In 1962 Barakat Ali camc on a visit to Bombay. At my request he made
three records, one of ghazals and the other two very lilting dadras.
At this recording session. Barakat Ali was in the mood and willing to
record many more songs but my boss (the same 'Kudhon ke Badshah'
mentioned before) came in the way. He was of the opinion that we
could record more when Barakat Ali next came to the city. I
helplessly obeyed and, after making three records, Barakat Ali
returned to Pakistan never to come back. Only a few months later he
passed away in Karachi. I felt extremely upset with my boss for
coming in the way of my recording more of this gifted musician's
work. Years later I was able to lay my hands on some of Barakat Ali's
tape recordings from which I got enough material for two LPs.
Although we embarked on the production of LP records in 1960, I could
not get Bade Gulam Ali for LP recording till 1963, There is a story
In 1959 we received from our head office a copy of the first Indian
classical LP record, featuring Ustad Ali Akbar Khan on the Sarod. The
record had an introduction by the world renowned violinist Yehudi
Menuhin. Obviously, it was meant for Western audiences. I was asked
to evaluate the sales potential of LP records in India. Until then
all our records had been made on 78 R.P.M. and were 3 minutes and 20
seconds long. Most classical musicians found it very difficult to do
justice to a raga and give their best within such a short time. The
LP record would be 5 times the length of a 78 R.P.M. record and I
felt that this would be very welcome, not only to the performers but
also to listeners and lovers of classical music. However, an LP disc
would cost more than Rs. 30 in those days, and considering the
pockets of Indian listeners, I had to be very cautious, bearing in
mind the sales aspect of the venture.
I was, however, very anxious to have the facility of putting classical
music on a long playing record and hence advised our head office to
send to us 300 copies of Ustad Ali Akbar Khan's record. These, when
put in the market, sold out very quickly. Hence it was obvious that,
in spite of their high price, the market was ready to absorb LP
records. I took this as the green signal to bring stalwarts in the
classical field before the microphone for such microgroove recordings.
To persuade an artist to record was always a problem. Apart from the
conservative outlook of our musicians, their performing form, health
and condition of voice had to be considered. To add to this, artists
usually put a very high price on their performance, Bade Gulam Ali,
like others, had always complained about the inadequate length of
records. Therefore, when I approached him, telling him that he would
be able to get about 17 to 18 minutes per side, he was very happy and
immediately consented. 'Very good' he said, 'I will do the recording
but I have a request. On the previous occasions, you paid me on a
royalty basis, but this time I want cash.'
I tried to reason with him as to how a royalty agreement would be more
advantageous to him in the long run. But he was very adamant so I
asked how much he would expect in cash. 'I want only a lakh of
rupees,' he said.
This was an impossible demand, and I told him so. I decided,
therefore, to drop Bade Gulam Ali for the time being.
During the next few months I recorded artists like Nazakat Ali,
Salamat Ali, Bhimsen Joshi, Ustad Amir Khan, Bismillah Khan and
several others on LPs. These records found quite a big market and
became popular. Whenever we brought out a new LP I made it a point
to show a copy of it to Bade Gulam Ali. The LP records always had
very attractive ccvers and these tempted Bade Gulam Ali to agree to
my proposal. The demand for a lakh of rupees was the main hurdle. My
bosses also tried to reason with him, but this only made Bade Gulam
Ali more obstinate. 'If you are not ready to pay my fees I will go
and record abroad,' was his final answer to them.
I had however not given up hope. I kept up friendly relations with him
and persisted in my persuasive tactics. In the course of 6 months
Khan Saheb climbed down from a lakh to 45 thousand, and after another
4 months he agreed on 25 thousand, from which he would not budge.
>From the commercial point of view, film records with their huge sales
potential are most profitable to the company. Records of classical
music, even by a top artist, would never have such a large sale in a
short period. The company, being always eager to get quick returns
and a large turnover, was naturally reluctant to enter into a cash
contract. Therefore Bade Gulam Ali's demand for 25 thousand was also
One more year passed, and around 1962 his health started
deteriorating. This affected his voice and performance. Early in 1963
he gave a concert at Shivaji Mandir, the theatre in the Dadar area of
Bombay. Of course, I attended it. With Munawar Ali accompanying him
on the tanpura, Bade Gulam Ali started with Raga Bhoop. After some
alap he started the Bandish. But instead of giving it his usual slow
and thorough treatment, he very soon switched over to Sargams. It was
obvious that he found it difficult to keep his voice steady and
stable on the raga notes. In my opinion the concert was an absolute
failure. More than 60% of the singing was done by the son. Whenever
I attended his concerts it was my practice to meet him after the
concert. But on this occasion I was so painfully disturbed in my
mind that I went home without meeting him. The thought of this rich
treasure slowly but steadily dwindling. caused me much mental anguish.
The next day, however, I could not resist the temptation of meeting
him. He had noticed my absence after the concert the previous night,
and wanted to know the reason for it. I told him the truth.
Previous to this appearance in Shivaji Mandir I had noticed distinct
signs of decline in his health and performance. I said to him, 'What
you presented a month ago at Akola you could not present yesterday
and what you achieved yesterday you may not be able to give tomorrow.
This is really a very serious state of affairs. An artist of your
calibre is born, maybe, once in a century. For God's sake listen to
me and make an LP record.'
For a few moments he looked worried and pensive, then he said, 'Very
well, I will make only one record. I will sing one morning and one
evening raga. The morning raga must be recorded in the morning and
the evening raga at the appropriate time.'
I was delighted beyond words, and asked when we could do the recording.
'Fix it for tomorrow evening,' he said.
A very important film recording was scheduled for the next day, but as
I was getting Bade Gulam Ali after years of patient waiting, I
arranged to cancel the film recording the following evening I drove
him to the studio in my car. On the way he said, 'Joshi saheb, I am
doing this for your sake, but I want you to give me at least some
I was moved almost to tears at these words and I felt that had I the
authority and power, I would have thrown open the cash boxes of the
company and asked him to help himself. I said to him, 'I am
indeed grateful to you and overwhelmed at his sign of your affection
for me. I will give you some cash but please do not ask me how much
it will be. Whatever I give you after the recording would be out of
love and respect for you and you will have to accept it in the same
This touched his artistic soul and soon the commercial side of the
recording was forgotten. That night he rendered raga Darbari Kanada
with Munawar giving him only instrumental support on the tanpura.
Before we started I told him that he would get about 19 minutes for
the performance. 'All right, but it would have been nice if you had
given me half an hour,' he said. However, since Munawar was not
allowed to sing with him, Khan Saheb soon found the strain too much.
After just 1O minutes of singing he showed signs of being tired and
wanted to find out how much longer he would have to sing. Instead of
the alloted 19 minutes he finished in around 17 minutes. Sweating
profusely he remarked, 'Are Bhai, 15 minutes of singing for you here
is equivalent to 3 hours singing in a mehfil'.
We played back the raga recorded by him. This gave him the rest he
badly needed and it also gladdened him to listen to his delightful
performance. He then said, 'Now I would like to sing Malkauns.'
I did not remind him of his earlier stipulation. It was to my
advantage to keep him in good humour. In the following hour Malkauns
was satisfactorily recorded. At last I had got an LP record out of
him. Then I reminded him, 'Khan Saheb, you promised to sing one
'Aare Teri, I clean forgot about that,' he exclaimed. 'Never mind, we
shall do it tomorrow morning.'
The following morning he sang first Raga Gunakali and then something
that sounded to me like Khambavati or Rageshri He told me that it was
neither, but was known as Kaushi Dhani.
Thus, instead of one, I succeeded in bagging 2 LP records. Finding him
a very amiable mood and quite happy about his perfornance, I felt it
would be a good idea to get something more out of him. So I said,
'Janab, the bhajan Hari om tatsat has always been a hot favourite
with your listeners and a must in your mehfil. So you must record it.'
'How can I make it last for 19 minutes?' he asked. I thought that it
would be a good idea to put it on a semi long playing (extended play)
45 R.P.M. disc. So I said ,to him, 'You sing it only for about 7
minutes'. Thus I got him to record the beautiful bhajan. Then I
reminded him of the other side of the disc. He smiled and said, 'You
are very smart; last time, I remember. you got 10 songs out of me
when I did not want to record even a single one.'
I said, 'But Khan Saheb, every record has to have 2 sides; you must
give me one more piece.' I suggested the thumri Kanakar mar
jagaye-Bamna ka chora and he readily accepted my suggestion since
this was also his pet song.
In this manner he eventually gave us 2 LPs and one extended play
record. I prevailed upon him to sign a royalty contract. but, as
promised, I paid him Rs. 5000/- in cash, as advance against royalty.
Once again the fact was proved, that a genuine artist values
affection more than money.
This recording had been delayed for more than two and a half years
because of his unreasonable demand for a lakh of rupees. His failing
voice is evident in these records. If he had only agreed to my
requests earlier, we would have had a number of recordings of this
great artist which would have been appreciated by millions of his
fans. Just a few months after this his health deteriorated further.
My friend Nawab Zahir Yar Jung, a true patron and lover of music,
took Khan Saheb to Hyderabad and looked after him till he breathed
his last in the Basheerbag palace. It was here that I had heard his
memorable mehfil with Barakat Ali on the harmonium, and it was here
that the mehfil of his life came to an end. He left behind a
priceless and glorious heritage of music. For me, besides this, there
remain very fond and enduring memories of his warm-heartedness and