Thursday, 24 June 2010

New ties in the New World

Dr Amanullah De Sondy
The Friday Times
(The Friday Times is a Pakistani English-language independent newsweekly, based in Lahore, Pakistan.)
June 25-July 1, 2010 - Vol. XXII, No. 19

On Saturday, the 29th of May, at their plush residence in Allen, Texas, Sharoot and Ally Adnan, celebrated the Ganda Bandhan of their son Sheheryar with the great Pakistani Tabla maestro Ustad Tari Khan. At the invitation-only event, guests arrived from around the world in the early evening adorned in their finest South Asian attire from traditional Sari s to flowing Gharara s and Sharara s worn by the beautiful ladies and finely embroidered kurta s by dashing men – the scene was set for a night to remember, amongst some of the most beautiful pieces of art collected by Sharoot and Ally Adnan.

It was hard not to feel mesmerized by the ambience created by the hosts. Was it the sweet smell of cedar wood incense, the peaceful gaze of the Buddha statues that greeted guests, or the colors of the event? It would be difficult to pin point what was in the air except the excitement in the eyes of all who gathered. As the temple bells were chimed to alert the beginning of proceedings, Ally Adnan’s words went straight to the point as he reflected on the sadness that he and Ustad Tari Khan shared this year. The death of Tari Khan’s mother followed by that of Ally Adnan’s father resonated with a closeness shared by the two men in sorrow. But here now was a moment of renewal. It was a new beginning, the start of a journey of discovery and joy, amidst bereavement. The charm of many melancholic poems by Urdu poets celebrating just such renewals amidst sorrow, springs to mind.

The Ganda Bandhan is understood to be the most important and auspicious ritual in the Pakistani and North Indian classical music tradition. Ganda is the thread that is used in the ceremony and Bandhan can be understood as an expression of ‘connection’, ‘tie’, ‘relationship’. But this is no ordinary relationship, it is a special bond that has been a part of South Asian culture for centuries, that of the master and his pupil, Ustad and Shagird. As the thread is tied around the wrist of the pupil, a bond of commitment, honesty, love, devotion and education between the two is formed, to be strengthened over time.

Ustad Tari Khan spoke movingly about the special relationship between an Ustad and Shagird but placed emphasis on the primary relationship between parent and child. To prosper, all bonds must have the basic ingredient of love and understanding, said the Ustad. The audience, sitting on the floor in desi style to attend a mehfil, were attentive and thoughtful upon hearing Ally Adnan’s words and those of Ustad Tari Khan. The ceremony began by presenting the Ustad and his students - some of whom had travelled from as far as Europe - with gifts. The Ganda was then presented on a Pooja Thali to the Ustad who blessed the thread which was then circulated amongst the many musicians attending the event for their blessings. After the thread was blessed by the pupil’s mother Sharoot, the Ustad tied the thread around Sheheryar’s wrist. And then the traditional laddoo was placed in the mouth of the new student, at which point the room roared in applause and felicitations. Emotions ran high when Ally Adnan, who was supposed to lead a short prayer at the end of the ceremony, was so overcome with emotion that he passed the baton to his elegant wife, Sharoot. In view of an audience of diverse religious affiliations - and maybe even none - it was apt for her to state that the prayer was an appeal for love and understanding amongst people. The love of music was something every person at the gathering shared, regardless of what any of them believed.

The meal was personally prepared by Sharoot; the quality and variety of food was elaborate enough to put the most well known desi restaurants to shame. After the sumptuous meal and a selection of no less than ten desserts, the audience was treated to tea and saunf as they got ready for what would be an unforgettable night of music.

The musical performance was divided into two parts - a vocal presentation and a tabla solo. In the first half of the presentation, Ustad Tari Khan was accompanied by his student, Jaswinder Ahluwalia, on the tabla and Dallas musicians, Amit Kelkar and Rajiv Chakravarti, on the harmonium. Tari Khan, who is a Ganda Bandh shagird of Mehdi Hassan, regaled the audience with a choice selection of geets and ghazals, making sure that the requests of the audience were catered to. From Ranjish Hi Sahi in Aiman, to Zindagi Mein To Sabhi in Bheemplasi, to Kubaku Pahil Gai Baat in Darbari, Ustad Tari Khan delighted the audience with his mastery over raag and taal. The performance was proof that the Ustad’s greatness encompasses far more than his mastery of the tabla. In the second part of the evening Ustad Tari Khan performed his magic on the tabla. He was accompanied on the harmonium by Javad Butah, himself a tabla player of considerable merit and a student of Pandit Anindo Chatterjee. Ustad Tari played the twelve beat cycle ektala beginning with a grand uthaan, followed by a leisurely peshkara, and some remarkably intricate Punjab qaidas and laris. He delighted the audience with is repertoire of gat s, paran s and tippallis. The highlight of the performance was his playing of teental, deepchandi, roopak and sulphakhta to the ektala lehra in duggan and chaugun as well as in aad and kuaad laya s. His performance left the audience both delighted and exhilarated.

As the night slipped into the small hours, everyone seemed nourished by the splendor of Ustad Tari Khan and the great music they had heard. Guests took their leave of Ally Adnan and his wife Sharoot Malik with much appreciation of their superb hospitality. It was an evening to remember and a moment to cherish, where in the midst of a new world, the ancient culture of the old world had struck new roots.

Dr Amanullah De Sondy teaches World Religions at Ithaca College, New York

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