All of these are very simple things because your goal should be very high, your mission should be very high and nothing should stop you on the way and my father often said that to achieve your goal of life you must be very patient and tolerant. Whenever there is a fight the first thing I get to hear is, you don’t know who I am, how dare you to talk to me like this? We should control our anger. We are nothing.
Even today I don’t know who I am. I feel I am just a traveler, a hard working student. I am searching for something and God is very kind that he has been granting me, blessing me with music. Whatever kind of music I am trying I get it and recently I have new musical flirtation in my life that I have just written a symphony for the Scottish Chamber of Orchestra. This was something I didn’t know I could do, but I tried and I worked hard. I had done it earlier for Hong Kong Symphony orchestra but this time I had to go to Edinburgh many times and I met the musicians there in Scottish chamber of orchestra and again I would like to say they are very disciplined and once they write music they perform so beautifully.
It is always said in classical music we improvise. Improvisation is not a great thing even a child can improvise within a set rule of ascending and descending. But more importantly, the best part of our music is the grace. Slides, glides of our music that you might have experienced, that is the greatest blessings of God we have in our Indian music.
Western classical is played in a different manner. Technically they call it Staccato. But in our system we can slide – this slide is so peaceful, so beautiful. They can’t reproduce that because that is not in their system. They can play everything. They are fantastic, they are versatile but personally I felt that our way of life, our culture, our way of doing namaskar – this is our strength.
Our country has faced so many mishaps; in every state right from partition in 1947. I was told that at the partition time all the Muslims used to shelter, they used to go to Bhopal or Hyderabad. My father sent everybody to Bhopal but he himself didn’t leave Gwalior. I was 6 months old at that time. We came back to Gwalior house – the house that I was born in. My education was completed in that house before we came to Delhi because the meaning of education varies from person to person. By achieving degrees and diplomas you don’t become educated person or you don’t become a very kind human being. I often feel that education could not create compassion and kindness in human being. Education could not make us better human being. It is good. Education is good for your own enhancement. You get a job, you become a big businessman or great scientist but our life is different. So this achievement what our country has of the surrenderness, all over the world wherever I perform I always do Namaskar. In my own country I don’t feel comfortable to say ‘Good evening ladies and gentlemen’. I feel much happier to say ‘Namaskar’. I always do Namaskar because that is me, that is India, and I am made by India. This achievement of surrendering that has affected our music also this graceful gesture in our day to day life.
I feel there are two kinds of worlds. One is the world of sound as I said “Swar hi Ishwar hai”; and other world is based on language, text, story, lyrics. Through language you can abuse, you can manipulate. In election through language you can win or lose the election but through sound I cannot lie, I cannot manipulate.
When I am playing the Sarod, if I am out of tune it is very obvious, I am very transparent. I can’t manipulate that. I live in the world of sound and the sound connects you to God. Sound connects you with the whole world and music doesn’t belong to any religion. Like flowers, water, air, fragrance, colours they don’t belong to any religion but every religion needs that. These are my thoughts because I don’t read, I don’t write. I think, I play music and music has given me courage, music has helped me to realise God.
I feel very strongly that all of you who are still studying, still struggling, you must try to receive blessings from your elders. They really count and they really have strong power. Your hard work definitely is most important but and trying to see that this hatred is removed from people. This is what we must try and otherwise what we are seeing day by day all over the world after 9/11 and 26/11, there are so many places, so many states we keep hearing so many inhuman acts, so we have to work together, we have to work hard so that we don’t have our younger children or younger generation see this kind of unhappiness.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan is famous sarod maestro. This is an excerpt from his speech during AIMA’s Shaping Young Minds Programme held in 2009 at Ahmedabad.