In Chai With Manju, Sitar Maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan Talks About Success and the Biggest Joy of His Life: Music

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When Sitar Maestro Ustad Shahid Parvez Khan and tabla Maestro Pandit Anindo Chatterjee performed together at the historic Paine Hall at Harvard University in September, their recital was mesmerizing, leaving the audience raptured in a total wow. What made the show inimitable was the on-stage chemistry of the two artists.

The following day, Ustad Parvez Khan sat down with Chai With Manju for an exclusive interview during which he talked about his life, music and memories. Today, Ustad Parvez Khan is ranked as one of the best sitar players in the world. He says his life is not about fame and fortune but it is all about music, and music being the biggest joy of his life. He defines success simply as being satisfied in life.

Born in Mumbai, a young Ustad Parvez Khan was initiated into the rich musical heritage by his renowned father and guru, Ustad Aziz Khan, a famous musician and noted composer. His father taught him vocal music and tabla before training him on sitar.

When asked about how strict his father was a teacher who did not believe in any praise, and how he dealt with his own students, he paused and then said: “I thought that since I learnt from my father so I will be able to eliminate whatever problems I faced. He was very strict. So instead of being strict, I focused on discipline.”

“My father was not sure about my interest in music but he knew that he had to ‘make me do it ‘but I
on the other hand know that the students who come to me want to learn sitar very seriously. So I do not have to be strict–just disciplined,” added Ustad Parvez Khan, who was recognized as a child prodigy and gave his first public performance at the age of eight.

Sitar watchers and music critics say that his passion for the instrument and exceptional talent have imbued his art with extraordinary technical prowess.

He said that his childhood was all about music and studies and that his dad believed that sitar was his toy. Did he miss on other aspects of his childhood? “I did feel like that in childhood, but not now, not anymore.”

Ustad Parvez Khan is premier performer for All India Radio and recipient of numerous awards including the prestigious Sur Shringaar, the Kumar Gandharva Samman and the M.L. Koser Award. He was also awarded the Sangeet Natak Academy Award of 2006 — one of India’s highest musical honors, and the prestigious Government of India Padma Shri award in 2012 — one of India’s highest civilian awards.

He has performed at major musical festivals in India and internationally. He is acknowledged as one of the most brilliant exponents of the centuries old Etawah Gharana (school of music) and represents the seventh generation of an illustrious musical lineage.

He also runs the Shahid Parvez Khan (SPK) Academy of Music, which is dedicated to providing the finest quality of training in Indian classical music in North America.

Here is a brief edited summary of conversations with Parvez which is intermixed with Hindi and Urdu:

QUESTION: You teach so many foreign students and Indians living abroad. How are foreign students different from Indian students?
SP: I feel that foreign students are dedicated and work harder in some ways because they think that I am not as much available to them and want to make full use of my time.

Q: Have you considered performing with Western classical musicians and do you think that it can be done well?
SP: Yes, I can do anything for good music. I have no restrictions or ‘bandish’. Only thing I will not do is if I feel it will affect my music negatively.

Q: Are you a fan of modern technology and do you teach via Skype?
SP: Absolutely. Any technology that can be useful and helps should be used.

Q: Your son Shakir Khan is making quite a name for himself. You have believed in not giving him everything on a platter which is very creditable. How is his style different from you?
SP: Every human being is different and therefore their style,’soch’ presentation of music is different. I am watching him. He has just started . He has a lot of patience since he is teaching, which is good. My father said not to be happy too soon because it will hinders progress.

Q: Every guru looks for a student to carry on his tradition. Do you have students that you think will carry on your name?
SP: I have many students but I do not want to take one name. I have to say that I have high hopes from many of them.

Q: Have you played music in Bollywood movies?
SP: Not yet, but I am open because music has now changed.

Q: You got a very special five Rupees bakshish from Ustad Bade Gulam Ali khan at the age of 13. What did you do with that?
SP: I kept it safe for many years. I did not frame it and I kept in my purse so I could see it often.

Q: Tell us what your day is like at home, an average day? Is it full of riyaz, time with friends?
SP: I do not need many friends because I think of the world as a friend. I start performing on stage always by saying ‘Hello friends.’ I have a very simple, regular life -with chai, nashta, love sports TV, movies and of course music.

Q: Do you plan ahead for a show?
SP: (Laughs) No. I worked hard so many years so don’t have to prepare specially for any show.

Q: What are you thinking just before you go on stage?
SP: First I check the stage, then it all varies. It depends upon audience and inspiration. It also varies with time and surroundings and response from audience .They can change your mood and change the course of what you want to play that night.

Q: How do you balance family, music and travel?
SP: (Laughs) “Kisi shayar ne kaha hei na -Khuda jaab husn deta hei nazaakat aa hee jaate hei”

Q: Has fame/ shohrat inspired you to greater heights or you enjoy it for what it is?
SP: I have something bigger than fame. It is my music ..which is my life …”yeh bilkul saach baat keh raha huin” It gives me more happiness than any fame, awards. Music should be good, that it is all that matters.

Q: Is there anything that you still want to achieve?
SP: There are two types of desires/ khwaish’ hote hei for that I did not get and second what I have now …I want to take it further. I want to take my music further.

Q: Any raag that you do not like to play?
SP: Mera aisa manna hei ki aesa koi raag nahein hei jo pasaand nahein hei. I think “ki meri abhi pehchaan nahein ho paii, jaise mulakat hote hei pehchaan ho jaate hei. I feel that sur aur raag mujhse baatcheet karte hei ..I dont play that raag till I get to that level.

Q: How do you define success?
SP: If you are satisfied in life then then it is success.

Q: How do you stay fit with all the traveling?
SP: Tiredness comes from doing things that we do not like. I enjoy all this so I do not get tired. I believe that If you accept something from heart then you do not get tired. I love music so travel does not tire me. There is always slight physical tiredness which goes away with rest.

Q: How is your diet?
SP: It is simple. I eat everything but small portions ..’jyada parhez nahein karta hun.’

Ustad Parvez Khan’s response to our rapid questions:

Most favorite place to perform: “Bolna muskhkil hei” because every place is different and it makes my music different. Change is good. I like it all. For example we eat desi food is good but change is good sometimes too.

Hobby:-Games-football, tennis and cricket.

Food: (Laughs) Meat… specially goat meat.

Raag: Traditional raags are my most favorite like marwa, puria, darbari and malkaus.

Book: Many years ago when I had to travel by train then I read lot of books. An old favorite is ‘.Music’ by Sufi Inayat. You should read it .You will feel that someone is telling you something.

Singer: Rafi, Lata and Asha .
Best song of Rafi that you sing: Rag yaman-based “maan re tu kahe na dheer dhare “and “Hui shaam hui unka khayal aa gaya.”

Movie: Mugal-e-Azam.

Best advice given to you : When I was struggling, even though I did not get depressed but I was not getting chance to play then a student of Ravi Shankar told me that what you are doing is called ..”lohe ke chane chabana ” and you will go further in life from this.

Best advice that you have given someone: -Seedha raste mein koi shortcut nahein hei..mehnat is the only way.

Anything else that excites you apart from music: Music is my life … Swaar iswar and laay gyan hei.

Last word on Chai with Manju: I have done many interviews but I will always remember this interview because you asked me so many good questions. I wish you and your show all the best.


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