“I would live my life exactly the same, if I had another life,” said Ustad Fateh Ali Khan with a smile. I looked at his small rented home in Margalla Town, and thought this man has given his whole life and talent to his country, and what has this country done for him? He has gained fame for his land in US, India, Canada, Switzerland, Germany, Italy, France, Norway, Afghanistan, Nepal and devoted his life to singing and teaching of classical music.
Born in 1935 in Patiala, he (at the age of 12) and his elder brother Amanat Ali Khan (at the age of 14) became the Maharaja's chosen singers, at his 'darbar' or court. Being paid the handsome amount of Rs100 per month in the year 1946, he grew up in an environment where music was valued. Spending up to eight hours a day in 'riaz' or practice, he was the sixth generation in his family devoted to classical singing. Even today, his ancestral home in Patiala is being turned into a music school. He has received the President's Pride of Performance and many awards. However, none of the awards carry any means of livelihood with them. His students are in the US, London, Germany, Norway, Switzerland as well as India and Pakistan. When you meet him, he is a humble, smiling personality. His students adore him. He has great hope for his students, and believes this art can never die. “There are only seven Sur' no matter where you go. And these will remain forever. So, no one can make this art die. There will always be singers in this field, because this is the only true field.
When you sing or play music of your own region only then it is of value to people abroad. As far as music of this region is concerned, there is folk, 'ghazal' and classical. The rest does not belong to us.
Ustad Fateh Ali Khan remembers Ustad Shaukat Hussain Khan, 'tabla' player and is no longer alive, with great fondness. He feels there are many musicians who need to be supported. Those artists who make a name for their country deserve to be given a stipend of some sort so that they can make ends meet. This art was sustained by the King's, and later on by Maharajas now Government needs to do it. In spite of finding life hard here and having many invitations to settle abroad he refused to go. Ustad Fateh Ali Khan believes that his brother died here, and so will he. He wants his own country to benefit from his talents.
With tears in his eyes he remembers how his brother Amanat Ali Khan died at such a young age of 42. He was well known for his ' Insha Jee utho, ab koochkaro… ', and ' yeh aarzo thi tujhay gul kay roobaroo kar day' 'Chaand meri zameen , all were composed by Amanat Ali and 'aye meray pyaray watan… ' was composed by Akhtar Husain Akhian.
He asks: “In India there is a road named after Mohammed Rafi, why can't we have a road named after Amanat Ali Khan?”
Ustad Fateh Ali's favourite poets are Allama Iqbal, Muneer Niazi, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Ahmad Faraz. Like Amanat Ali Khan, he, too, composes most of his songs.
His sons Rustam and Sultan are in this field also. They are doing a great job of teaching classical music to pupils in Lahore and Islamabad. Pakistan is lucky to have such a great maestro and living legend living in Islamabad.
At the age of 75, when he needs help to move from one place to other, he is still working to pass his art to others. At present he takes classes in PNCA and in Heritage, an NGO. He also works in ATV.
He takes classes in PNCA between 4.30 to 8pm every Monday and Wednesday. He has about 25 students, and among them three are girls. He said without teacher one could not learn this art on his/her own. Asked about the happiest moments in his life he, with tears in his eyes, said “when I used to sing with my brother Amanat Ali Khan!”
Pakistanis have got a chance now to make amends by valuing our true treasures like Ustad Fateh Ali Khan in his lifetime. Why not make his last years in this land so good that his future generations can see that we know how to value our treasures. It's not too late even now a lot can be done.