Celebrating the life and music of Ustad Rais

Published August 7, 2017
Legendary sitar player Ustad Rais’s son Hasnain performs at a tribute organised for his father at the Arts Council on Sunday.—Faysal Mujeeb/White Star
Legendary sitar player Ustad Rais’s son Hasnain performs at a tribute organised for his father at the Arts Council on Sunday.—Faysal Mujeeb/White Star

KARACHI: A few months after the passing of Ustad Rais Khan, a bethak was arranged at the Arts Council where a large gathering of classical music lovers came together to pay homage to a legend whose equal may never come again.

However, what was thought to a be a musical tribute ended up becoming a platform where numerous individuals, no doubt deserving in stature, came forth and shared their love and experiences of Ustad Rais. As a result many in the crowd became discontent with the proceedings of the evening, especially considering they had looked forward to seeing Ustad Rais’s sons, Hasnain and Farhan, perform their father’s magical notes.

Born in 1930 in India, Ustad Rais was a child prodigy whose mastery of the sitar set him apart from most performers his age; from a very early all those around him knew he was destined for greatness. His first public performance was at the mere age of 12 in front of the governor of Bengal, after which there was no stopping his rise.

‘Learn all your life till the time you reach your grave’

Ustad Rais’s musical contribution encompassed collaborations with musical giants in the world of classical music as well as Indian cinema. One such name was of Shankar Jaikishan with whom he experimented on an experimental Hindustani music and jazz album.

His collaborations with Hindi film composer Madan Mohan are known the world over as exceptional musical collaborations.

The love and loss felt for Ustad Rais was most potent when his wife, famed singer Bilqees Khanum, for whom he moved to Pakistan, came to pay him tribute. She recalled how the two met and fell in love.

Ahmed Shah of the Arts Council recalled the first time he saw a performance by Ustad Rais and called it “magic”.

He addressed the gathering and said that the far and few classical musical connoisseurs and lovers had the task of keeping this rich traditional music genre alive in an era of commercial musical tastes and production.

Organisers also showed footage of many of the performances of Ustad Rais and in one, the maestro is seen speaking to the audience about his art form. “Never stop learning. Learn all your life till the time you reach your grave. If you have a mind and good sense, then you must try to adopt the goodness of every person you meet. And once you do, perform the same deed in your own style, with your own distinct twist,” said Ustad Rais. And then he went on to demonstrate, with the help of his sitar, the way he picked up different styles of playing and transformed them to make them distinctly his.

In 2016 Ustad Rais was awarded the Sitar-i-Imtiaz and a year later he passed away. But sadly patronage for his musical remained lacking till his death.

Published in Dawn, August 7th, 2017

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