The death of Ustad Vilayat Khan saheb is a personal loss; our families have known each other for over two generations. His father Ustad Inayat Khan saheb and my father Ustad Hafeez Ali Khan saheb and Ustad Fayaz Khan saheb, a great singer of his time, used to perform together. There was hardly any function where they were not seen together.
The relationship between our families continued with Ustad Vilayat Khan saheb. Khan saheb was a legendary sitar player. For us music lovers, he was a Bharat Ratna because of his immense contribution to the world of Indian classical music (Ustad Vilayat Khan turned down national awards in 1964 and 1968, saying that members of the award committees were not competent to judge his music). He was an icon as far as Indian classical music was concerned and became a gharana in himself. Yet, out of sheer modesty, he used to call himself a disciple of the Imdaad gharana.
The sitar and Vilayat Khan had become synonymous. He was a musician by birth because he was born in a family that had worshipped Indian classical music for seven generations. His only rival was Pandit Ravi Shankar. Contemporary students of the sitar either belong to the Ravi Shankar or the Vilayat Khan school.
Panditji became a worldwide figure because he practised his music in the West. As a result of his association with the Beatles at one stage, he became a household name in Europe and America.
Khan saheb had two wives. Shujaat, his son though his first wife, Monisha, is a wonderful exponent of the sitar. Khan saheb also had two daughters with Monisha. Yaman is married into a royal family and Zila is a classical singer in her own right.
He spent the last four decades of his life with his second wife, Zubeda. They have a son, Hidayat, who also plays the sitar.
Vilayat Khan saheb was a vibrant person with a great sense of humour. I recall the moments when he would visit my house in Delhi and we would sit together for hours discussing music and other things. He was like my elder brother. In his death, I have incurred a great personal loss; I have lost a brother and a friend. His achievements will continue to inspire people like me.
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan spoke to Onkar Singh
Image: Lynette Menezes