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‘A Life In Music’ – With Zakir Hussain, Nasreen Munni Kabir & Bickram Ghosh

Supriya Newar

There are various ways to greet the audience when you are the star of an august panel at a literary festival.  You could keep it informal and say ‘hello’ or do a ‘good afternoon’/ ‘good evening’ and begin on a slightly more cordial note. But rarely do you find the panellist making his entry by tapping on the table as well as the book about to be released, clicking his fingers and quite effortlessly, without so much as having spoken a word, gotten the audience to break into a huge applause! That kind of a connect and percussion prowess comes only when you are facing the one and only, Ustad Zakir Hussain.

As someone who has been watching and hearing him play live for over two decades, I’m baffled at how easily he continues to wear his huge fame, success and fan following till today. He playfully admonishes Bickram Ghosh, the tabla maestro who is in conversation with him, each time he utters “Ustad,” and lavishes a loving peck on his cheek when he tries to touch Zakir Hussain’s feet.

Seated with Bickram Ghosh, are Nasreen Munni Kabir, author of the book ‘A life in music – in conversation with Zakir Hussain’ and its publisher. For someone who was making his debut at a lit fest, Zakir had the audience thoroughly engaged over an hour, answering questions thrown at him and regaling the audience with anecdotes from the world of Indian classical music.

“My job is to accompany the leading artist’ was how plainly he put his role as a tabla player and went on to narrate a lovely story  about how he was obsessed with his own playing while accompanying Pt. Ravi Shankar on a tour. It was after that particular tour that he learned to value ‘sangat.’ Zakir also shared how his father, Late Alla Rakha had always encouraged him to enjoy his ‘riyaz’ and not treat it as a chore; how he had encouraged Zakir to make friends with the tabla and not be in awe of it. Zakir also recalled days when his family had a home in South Calcutta and how after concerts they would all eat at the Dhaba at night.

Just like his concerts, the conversation too, ended too soon with  Bickram confessing that Zakir Hussain was the one who had bought him his first comic book and had even baby sat him!

Luckily enough, I’ve got a copy of my book signed by Zakir Hussain and Nasreen Munni Kabir and I can’t wait to give it a read! After all, his has been a life in music!