Sunday, June 22, 2008

A Mehfil with Amanat Ali - Fateh Ali

It was the summer of 1970. I had taken off on the Great European Tour, after having messed around in Karachi for two years after high school, at Lintas. The kindly tyrant, C. A. Rauf, head honcho at Lintas, had granted me a month of leave so that I could assuage my wanderlust. I visited my sister in Paris—but that summer's escapades are another story.

The immediate point was that my mother was in the throes of loneliness with none of her brood at home. Amanat and Fateh were visiting Karachi from Lahore to perform at PTV. She saw the televised performance [1] and, in order to distract herself, asked my father to have them over at a music session at the house the next day. He managed to contact them through intermediaries, to ascertain that they were free that evening. However they asked for a fee of five hundred rupees—a princely sum those days for a government servant. Abba conveyed his thanks and declined the concert saying that the price was a bit steep. The concert would not have taken place had they not called, an hour or two later, saying they would sing for whatever remuneration Abba could afford. The probable reason for this concession is that they knew our family, since they hailed from the Patiala Gharaana. Our family hails from Patiala and was, for generations, aficionados and patrons of some of the (minor) musicians of that tradition. My maternal grandfather and Abba had maintained contact with Amanat and Fateh, post-partition. Ammi and Abba cobbled together an audience of friends and family who could come at short notice.

They sang from about nine in the evening until dawn. It was due to the heightening of the emotions that caused Amanat to break down while singing the closing notes of Bhairavi.

Amanat and Fateh were the sons of Ustaad Akhtar Husain Khan and grandsons of Ustaad Ali Bux Khan, a founder of the Patiala Gharana. In a display of their unique militaristic style, the Maharajas of Patiala awarded Ali Bux the rank of Jarnail (General) and he was referred to by that appellation. Ali Bux hailed from Kasur, I believe. The soil of that district must have something in it, as Kasuri musicians (Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan being another great scion of Kasur, and the other major figure of the Patiala Gharana, and Nur Jehan its best known musical daughter) are legendary throughout the subcontinent. Kasur found its rival in Shaam Chaurasi (a curious name that translates in English to 'evening eighty-four') in Jullundar and in Kirana, near Delhi, both districts are also renowned for their musicians, and for the musical traditions they endowed. Today, in Pakistan, the Kasuris are prominent in sending politicians to Islamabad. It would have been altogether more benign had they stayed with the music.

Amanat and Fateh, by training and talent, were perfect complements. Amanat, with his slightly nasal yet sweet melodic voice, held the high notes while Fateh had the heavier voice and a mastery over galakari.

That evening Amanat and Fateh were accompanied by Ustaad Hamid Husain on the sarangi and by Ustaad Allah Ditta on the tabla. Hamid Husain, also a master of the sarangi, was diametrically opposed to Nathoo Khan. Both his appearance and music were of a controlled serenity, in contrast to the manic effort of the other. Despite his rustic rural name, Allah Ditta was the personification of dignity. Dressed in an immaculate sherwani and with an aristocratic visage, he would furnish a subtle rhythmic backdrop for the lead artist. In those days, the tabla had not gone through the Zakir Husain Revolution and had not evolved from a rhythmic accompaniment into a melodic instrument in its own right.

The recordings of Saakh and Bageshwari are all that remain of the memory of that evening. In typical Patiala Gharana style, the alap is brief, the jor contains the substance of the expose, and the jhala presents an electrifying crescendo with its taranas. What never ceases to amuse is the earthy Punjabi used in their asides to the audience. It stands in stark contrast to the pristine Urdu/Purbi used for the bandishes of the song being sung. Four reel-to-reel tapes were produced off an Akai deck that evening, but three of these were stolen when the family moved residence in 1974. This tape survived only because Abba had lent it to a friend. Amanat died in the early seventies. Fateh, in shock after Amanat's death, did not sing for many years. After Amanat's death Fateh contacted Abba for a copy of the tapes. He was overwhelmed when informed that most of the music was lost.[2]

[1] An early 1970's PTV performance by the duo of Raag Saakh is available on YouTube.  This gorgeous performance could well have been the one that my mother watched on TV leading to the private session that is the subject of this post.  Watch the PTV recording in three parts: one, two, three.  Such a pity about the damage to the video and loss of quality!

[2] Text taken from "Notes on the Music" by Asif Mamu.


Adonia said...

Nice article, adding two important details, though they are not directly related to the article:
1) Amir Khusrau's meternal grandfather hailed from Patiala too. Khusro's mother was of Indian descent while his father was a Turk, Amir Saifuddin.
2) Speaking of Kasur, Baba Bulleh Shah was from Kasur. And that is why, some say, the land of Kasur produces singers with soz-o-gudaz in their voice.

bohotkhoob said...


I read somewhere that Hazrat Amir returned to his hometown in Patiala to care for his mother. A journalist who recently visited the town was surprised to find that not even a single momument had be erected there in the great man's honor. And the locals he spoke to were more or less clueless about the achievements of their town's greatest son. How tragic.

I wouldn't be surprise if what they say about Baba Bulleh Shah and Kausri singers is correct, as it's known that blessings of great men (and women) of piety can do wonders.

Thanks for sharing your interesting comments.


bohotkhoob said...


Here's the article I mentioned above:

His hometown's name was Patiali, UP. Other sources say it's Patiala (Punjab).

Adonia said...

It is indeed sad that Indian authorities have neglected Khusro's ties with Patiala.

If you ask me Amir Khusro has had the biggest impact on the subcontinent culture in the last 1000 years. The 12 surs of music, various musical instruments, some of the best poetry in purbi, qawwali in it's current form all come from Hazrat Amir Khusro.

There is a book "Nizami Bansari", it is a translation of a book by one of Hazrat Nizamuddin Aulia's disciples. There is a chapter in the book on how Urdu language started in the dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia. The saint asked Khusro to write prose mixing the local language with persian to bridge the gap between persian speaking Muslims and native speakers.

While Urdu started in the dargah of Nizamuddin Aulia, it is written in Sikh literature that the first literary work in Punjabi language, that was written down, was the kalam of Baba Fariduddin Ganjshakar.

This gives one an idea of the impact of sufis on the culture of subcontinent.

bohotkhoob said...

Thanks for the reference to the book.

The history of the evolution of Urdu language is a fascinating subject. A widely-held view states that Urdu evolved in Delhi in the 1200s and the 1300s when Persian and Turkic speaking soldiers mingled with the local khari-boli speaking population. The new language evolved in the bazaars and army camps in Delhi, giving the language its name Urdu which means "Army", from the Turkish word Ordu (from it also came the English word "Horde").

At the same time, Hazrat Amir Khusrau, as you mentioned, was busy composing Urdu poetry (he called it Hindavi). Later Kabir Das and other Sufi poets too found it an effective medium for communicating their message to the masses.

I find it fascinating how this confluence of an ancient local culture and a new foreign influence gave birth to not just a new language, but also to a new style of devotional and secular music and a new form of architecture and art. It's a unique legacy of that golden era.

Pranav said...

Nice post! An interesting peek into history.

Thanks for sharing the recordings. Let us hope that, someday the invaluable stolen music will be found...

Anonymous said...

I wish God would put sugar on your tongue, as they say, Pranav, but I am afraid that there is no chance of the stolen tapes being found. Of all people, Fareed Ayyaz saw them at a Kabarhis shop. Our tapes were well labeled and one day in Vienna when I was describing this tragedy, he recalled this. The tapes are probably in some dump, polluting the earth, rather than feeding the soul of some music lover!

j s pande said...

the raag listed as bageshwari is , in fact, raageshwari.

j s pande said...

amir khuro s ancestors -mother s side?- were from a place called patiyali, in present day khurja district of u.p.
not from patiala in punjab.

Anonymous said...

jsp, you gotta click on bageshwari, and it is indeed raga bageshwari..

Asifmamu said...

It is, indeed bageshri. Rageshri has an entirely different mizaag, Welcome back folks we are in business once agan, thanks to bohotkhoob!

Chaddi Jagan said...

Sir - I love the music you post, that transcends religion and community and flirts with the divine. You also do justice to its provenance by providing a background to the situation of their performance and their inheritance. You truly provide a wonderful combination of history and spirituality. Could you please release these as CD's or recordings I can carry on my iPod? You are most kind to share this divine blessing with all of us, Hindus, Muslims, or Agnosts like me.

bohotkhoob said...

@Chaddi Jagan,

Thanks for the feedback. There are no plans to release the music in CD form. We are, however, investigating options that would allow blog visitors to download the music. I will post the instructions once we have a solution.


Kiran said...

Absolutely wonderful home concert. What a beautiful set of recordings. It is indeed so tragic that some of the treasures were lost! Keep up the great work you are doing.....