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Jamming with Dad


Togetherness is. . .  Ritesh and Rajnish with their father and uncle, the famous classical vocalists Rajan and Sajan Mishra

When fathers and sons are in the same creative profession, the jugalbandi is that much sweeter.

Amaan Ali Khan Bangash, gharana successor and son of India's leading sarod maestro Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, wears his connect with his father with both pride and humility. At 33, he not only partners the maestro at his concerts, but is also a dutiful son keeping an eye on the comforts of the house staff, attending to tour arrangements, and sundry other details that sons carry out in scores of homes routinely. And he's in awe of his father. "Abba has a unique approach to people - one of love and care," he says. "He does not seem to have to prove a point to them ever. They simply fall in step with him."

Such an understanding of the maestro is frankly a latter-day acquisition. When they were very young, sons Amaan and Ayaan agreed that Abba seemed to lack the qualities that their friends' parents had. "He was a very serious person and did not joke with me like my friends' fathers did with their kids," says Amaan. "Maybe he wanted to instill a sense of discipline in me at that time. Now, of course, the equation has changed. We share a lot of things other than music - the way we interact with people, for instance, is also influenced by Abba's discipline. He doesn't care much how we speak to equals, but he's extremely particular that we address people of a humbler status with the greatest respect."

But the music room aura has a different feel to it. "Despite his public reputation of being a very composed musician, he can sometimes lose his cool," says Amaan. "The words come heavy when he is upset. If he is angry about a point of music, he summons us to the music room and without any introduction begins a new raga. He's a subtle person, and we get the message immediately."

So is this kind of reticence correlated with creativity? Anil Sutar, son of sculptor Ramji Sutar, known for his monumental bronze sculptures of Mahatama Gandhi and busts of national leaders in the main hall of Parliament, couldn't agree more. "Do your duty, don't get attached to the results, is what father has always followed in life," says the son who's worked with his father on many projects. "This is the first thing that comes to mind when I try to recall what he has passed on to me. Also, his love for cultural heritage, whether Indian or global, has been vital in my learning. I learnt to understand Rodin and Michelangelo, the rhythm of the body in the Ajanta sculptures and other concepts through his interpretations.

Professionally, it's been a give-and-take relationship between father and son. "I learnt the trade, its techniques from him and he, in turn, has learnt to appreciate the technical inputs I can provide. For instance, when a giant sculpture has to be installed or transported, it is my training as an architect that comes into play, and my father is very appreciative of it. Even when we work on the same piece together, we are not working at cross-purposes. So others working with us on the sculpture have a harmonious atmosphere within which to carry on their tasks."

Of course conflict areas in such relationships are not unknown. The younger generation's social mores are often cause for raised eyebrows in the Sutar household. Ditto for singer Ritesh Mishra, son of Rajan Mishra and nephew of Sajan Mishra, torch bearers of the Benaras gharana. "Sometimes there are arguments about short-term adaptations and fusion concerts," he says. "My uncle and father insist that we concentrate only on being the sole representatives of our illustrious gharana. But we (my brother Rajnish and I) try to experiment with our music, despite this. Recently, we did an album with Anoushka Shankar titled Rise, where we sang a track which got nominated for a Grammy."

The elder Mishras are, of course, venerated. "We look up to them as our strength and inspiration," says Ritesh. "As our gurus, they have not only given us the gift of music, but also made us follow one diktat - to be a student always, not just in the field of music but in everything. That is why we have always been encouraged to listen to the performances of others and learn what we can from them. Our father and uncle also claim that they too are learners, and if they stop that process, life will cease to exist for them."

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