Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sarod parity

Yesterday my friend Viplav came over to, as usual, exchange recordings of Hindustani music and chat about music. At some point he pulled out my copy of Raghu Rai's awesome photo collection "India's Great Masters" (you can -- and certainly should -- buy this book at your nearest bookshop or order it here). Flipping through it we came across a picture of the sarod maestro Allauddin Khan, father of the more widely known sarod player Ali Akbar Khan and teacher of (among others) the even more widely known sitarist Ravi Shankar. Viplav pointed out that Allauddin Khan was left-handed and therefore held his sarod with the gourd on his left side, which looks rather unusual once you notice it. I found this mildly amusing.

Now today I took a longish local train journey to the suburb of Vasai and carried with me a fascinating book called "The Lost World of Hindustani Music" by Kumar Prasad Mukherji, which deserves a blog article all on its own. While reading it on the train I came across a photo of Allauddin Khan and he was holding his sarod in the standard right-handed orientation! Quite a surprise. A closer look revealed that the disciples he was teaching (Ali Akbar and Ravi Shankar) appeared, instead, to be left-handed. Then the light dawned: the printer of the book had obviously inverted the negative! One imagines the late Kumar Prasad Mukherji, a fussy Bengali if ever there was one, would have been furious.

Now while all this was going on, a passenger boarded this train and sat down facing me. I was engrossed in my book but noticed that this person's fingers were playing "air tabla" on his knees, and quite professionally. I guessed he was a tabalchi (tabla player) though he looked more like a businessman. Evidently he in turn noticed my book because he soon leaned forward, pointed to the photo and asked "do you know what's special about this person?" I looked at him with cool confidence and said "he's left-handed". A rare pleasure when life actually hands you the answer just before it asks you the question!

My fellow passenger survived this tragic deflation and entertained me with conversation about tabla-playing all the way to my destination. By the way he turned out to be both a tabalchi and a businessman.

1 comment:

viplavg said...

Really enjoyed reading your post. Ustad Allauddin Khan played the sarod left-handed but had a high level of ambidexterity as mentioned by Ravi Shankar in his autobiography:

"The Maihar band was marvellous. ... Baba conducted them as well as playing the violin, which he did wonderfully - and left-handed. He used his right hand for writing and for playing most instruments, but not the violin and the sarod. His degree of ambidexterity astounded me."

[pg. 63 - 64, Raga Mala, Ravi Shankar, An Autobiography]

There is a photograph of him playing the violin in the book "The Classical Music of North India" edited by Ali Akbar Khan that has this caption:

"A virtuoso violinist, Baba Allauddin Khan played left-handed and yet strung and tuned the violin in the Western fashion, GDAE, such that the higher notes were furthest from his bowing hand."

[pg. 308, The Classical Music of North India: Music of the Baba Allauddin Gharana as taught by Ali Akbar Khan at the Ali Akbar College of Music, Volume One]