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Amjad Ali Khan is an Indian classical musician who plays the Sarod. Wikimedia

-by Himani Kumar

Ustad Amjad Ali Khan was recently denied the visa for the United Kingdom to play the Sarod London, but his passion for the instrument never dies and he has the strength, humility, and enthusiasm to spread his message of music.


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“I am grateful to British High Commission for finally granting me a visa. However, I understand that a country is not obligated to give a work visa to any individual. Seeing the response at Royal Festival Hall in September, it was obvious that they sincerely wanted me to perform in London. It was one of my most memorable concerts in London. I was equally honored to perform at La Villette Grand Hall, Paris,” Khan said.

Since he did not meet visa requirements as it did not meet the requirements of Britain’s immigration rules, Khan said that he wanted to call PM Narendra Modi at the time of crisis, but did not have his phone number.

The 70-year-old Khan said on Friday he was “shocked and appalled” that his application for the visa to perform at a festival in London had been rejected.

Khan was to perform on Sept 17 in London.

According to media reports, Indian-origin lawyer Keith Vaz argued Khan’s case saying that it could damage Indo-UK relations. Vaz is the longest-serving Indian-origin MP and Chairman of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee. Vaz said that he had written to the Home Office and asked for an explanation and reversal of the decision and was astonished that Amjad Ali Khan, one of India’s greatest living artist’s visa had been refused.

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“Relations between the UK and India can be severely damaged by this kind of action., Vaz said. According to media reports, securing a visa has become more complex. Asking for ease in visa seeking and cheaper visa facilities for Indians, the Royal Commonwealth Society recently called for Britain extending a visa pilot project underway in China to India.

Ustad’s major influences in life have been none other than his father.

Khan’s inspiration for the music was triggered early on. “I cannot remember a particular day that I was initiated into the world of music. It was a part of me from as early as I can remember,” Khan said. “ Indeed, I cannot think of a moment when music has been separated from my life. For my father Haafiz Ali Khan, though, there was no question of a life outside of music. Life itself was music and Music was Life. And so I came to inherit from him the legacy of five generations of musicians as naturally as a bird taking to the air,” he added.

“Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers. One that I am constantly sharing with my disciples. I believe in blessings and hard work. We can only do our best and leave the rest to the power up there. Music for me is a way of life. It’s not a profession but a passion. The love and the pull were inbuilt. I really didn’t have to work on that bit. In a traditional musical family, most of the kids become responsible very early in life and they have the highest order of family pride. I was very fortunate that I was the youngest child of my father and guru Ustad Haafiz Ali Khan Saheb. I got the opportunity to be my guru and along with music, realize the importance he gave to humanity values of life and complete surrender to God. It is said, I could not enjoy the freedom of my childhood,” the maestro added.

On the Sept. 15, the trio performed Sarod in India Festival of France and on Sept. 18, at Royal Festival Hall London and at Festival of Chants of India at Washington organized by Hare Krishna Hare Rama. “By the grace of God, Almighty Amaan and Ayaan have been accepted by the people and the organizers of the music world. They are dedicated and committed to Indian Classical Music and also to the collaboration of World Music,” Amjad Ali Khan said.

Ustad Khan along with his sons did residency at the Jacob School of Music in Indiana till Oct. 15. Khan also hopes to play in Chicago and get a concert in Chicago Symphony Hall.

“Jacob’s School of Music invited me this semester as an artist-in-residence. This was a partnership between the Jacobs School of Music and Indiana University’s School of Global and International Studies,” he said. “The course was called “Fundamentals of Indian Classical Music,” which was open to graduate students and upper-level undergraduate students in the Jacobs School. It was highly interactive, and students learned the fundamental concepts of Indian classical music through time-honored traditional methods,” he added.

Audiences react well to Sarod in India and abroad.

“I am very glad that Sarod today has become a universally known Indian instrument, Khan said. “Even in the west, Sarod is a very loved instrument. My family is on a collective mission to make this beautiful instrument as popular as the Guitar! Since my childhood, I always wanted my instrument, the Sarod to be able to express the entire range of human emotions…to sing, shout, whisper and cry. All the emotions! It has been a long journey so far and by the benevolence of the heavens, the Sarod has become far more expressive than it was 40 years ago,” he added.

On youngsters taking up Sarod, Khan said youngsters was optimistic.

“Our mind is like any living organism. It must be nurtured and needs stimulation to develop and grow.” Ustad Khan said. “Music is one of the most important ‘food’ for the intellect. Each musical note is connected to this most important part of our minds. Music has many faces. Conversation, recitation, chanting and singing are all part of music. Music can be either vocal or instrumental. Vocal music appeals to most of us because of its poetical or lyrical content. Instrumental music on the other hand, such as what I play on the Sarod, is pure sound. It needs to experience and felt. Since there are no lyrics, there is no language barrier between the performer and the listener, and that is why instrumental music transcends all barriers,” he added.

“ Music is one of the most important ‘food’ for the intellect,” Ustad explained. “Each musical note is connected to this most important part of our minds. Music is the greatest wealth that I inherited from my forefathers; one that I am constantly sharing. Musicians and listeners of music have been communicating with each other across all barriers through this ‘language’ from time immemorial. As we use flowers in worship, welcoming, honoring, departure, and celebration no matter what our race, origin, religion or language, we similarly arrange musical notes into ‘bouquets’ or compositions which display all our human feelings and emotions. There isn’t an instant coffee culture that I can follow! Only practice can work; not any kind of digital correction can!,” he added.

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Aman and Ayaan have been well received by the audiences and carry on the legacy of their father well.

“For a lot of young people of India, Amaan and Ayaan have become role models,” Ustad Amjad Ali Khan said. “In fact, I have learned a lot while teaching them. Today Amaan is also the Khalifah (The older son of a guru who holds the same place next to the Guru or father) of our Gharana. Fortunately from the very beginning their way and approach to music were very different. Ayaan has had his own way of expression whereas Amaan has all the ingredients and qualities of being the elder brother. I never wanted to create another two Amjad Ali Khans! That was never my intention. I feel blessed that as soloists or as a duo, they have both carved out a niche for themselves in a rather deep-rooted fashion,” he added.

Ustad Khan also said that technology should be used in the proper way.

‘My guru often told me that he did what he felt was right and I should do what I felt was right. Generally, a classical musician’s guru imposes all the do’s and don’ts on the shishyas. That’s one reason why there are so many copy masters who sing and play identical like their gurus,” he said. “I still remember the love and warmth I received from revered Jaddu Krishnamoorthy, the great philosopher, and guide. I was very happy to see the guru-shishya parampara being upheld in these schools as well as others that I have visited across our country. It is this legacy that will facilitate the growth of knowledge and wisdom in harmony with well-deserved Indian traditions, in current times. I am really proud of the achievements of mankind but technology must be cultivated in harmony with peace and tradition. What worries me is that the future children of this world should not behave or look like robots. To ensure thus, it is vital that modernization must be accompanied by a reverence for India academic traditions which have been valued through times,” the maestro added.


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