A sweet lament on life

A sweet lament on life

Wisdom, warmth, sitar and ghazal come together in this live performance.

Ustad Shujaat Khan

I have often heard and read that the legendary sitarist Vilayat Khan was a purist among purists and his disdain for ‘fusion’, to use the word in its most reductive sense, was well known.

Precisely why I went on a hunt to find if there are any recordings of Vilayat Khan actually collaborating with other artistes and, as it usually happens, I fell headlong instead into a celebration of the ‘broken and the scattered’. (That’s my utterly prosaic translation of the intensely poetic Jashn-e-Rekhta, a three-day Urdu literary festival that’s held in Delhi every year.) And who did I find celebrating? Shujaat Khan, Ustad Vilayat Khan’s son, who determinedly chartered a course of his own and walked away from his home when he was all of 18.

The shadow of his purist father loomed so dark over him that he found his light in fusion between disparate genres, collaborations with musicians of every hue and experimentations of all sorts.

Like this live recording that’s playing in loops in my head at present.

The moon-faced Shujaat does an utterly calming, but uplifting sitar-sur cover of Krishna Bihari Noor’s ghazal, originally sung by Jagjit Singh. Rare is the musician who can alternate between singing and strumming the sitar; rarer is one who disarms his listeners with his warmth while doing so.

So, when Shujaat’s soft tones liltingly tell you that ‘zindagi se badi saza hi nahin’ (there’s no greater punishment than life itself), you don’t feel desolate; and when he laughs deprecatingly and informs you that ‘itne hisson mey bat gaya hu mey, mere hisse mey kuch bacha hi nahin’ (I have been divided into so many pieces that there’s nothing left of me for me), you see the stark truth in his words, but you don’t feel reduced by them.

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