Singing out memories
Ustad Lachman Singh Seen was an inspirational presence at the HRCP Auditorium in Lahore last week
Ustad Lachman Singh Seen, probably the oldest living shagird of Ustad Mian Qadir Baksh, performed at the Human Rights Commission Auditorium in Lahore last week with his two shagirds Krishan Kumar and Hassan Mohyeddin. Despite being in his nineties it was clear that his playing still had the agility and the precision, while his voice the resonance to be fully in command when reciting the bols.
On his first visit to Pakistan, particularly Lahore which he left in 1947 and never visited the place again till now, he was cajoled to give a performance in memory of his turbulent formative years. For it was here that in the early part of the 20th century he fell in love with the tabla, and wanting to excel chose to become the shagird of the most famous ustad of Punjab baaj Ustad Qadir Baksh. He lived in a number of places in the city but recollected his stay at Gawalmandi, the most fruitful and creative. He had to leave the city but did not abandon his passion for the tabla which made him adopt the twin role of a practitioner and a teacher. His career has been associated with teaching tabla in some of the prestigious institutions of formal instruction in India.
During his performance he quoted from the shastras on the centrality of rhythm for all arts like vocal/instrumental music and dance for it provides the underpinning on which the grid of the performance is based. If it is proper and well laid out then the structure of the performance too is integrated. He played the teen taal with his shagirds and displayed his virtuosity in pushkar, real, qaeda and tukras, giving a masterly demonstration of the salient points of the Punjab baaj.
Tabla as the basic instrument of rhythm has been an organic part of our music but not many tabla players have either been written about or eulogised. Their contributions likewise have not really been recorded. In any case, since music had more to do with listening, not enough attention was paid to its documentation, the living tradition was considered sufficient and a reason unto itself. While the living tradition has travelled down to us, the documented forms and the analyses have lagged far behind.
The vast vocabulary of the tabla bols, the complicated gats, parans and relas testify to the fact that tabla had crafted a place for itself other than being an accompanying instrument and has some kind of an independent stature. It is a considered assumption that the evolution of Punjab baaj owes a lot to the method in which pakhawaj was played. To some, the basic peculiarity of the Punjab baaj is the direct consequence of its organic relationship with the pakhawaj.
Most of the famous tabla players of Punjab take pride in establishing some kind of link with Mian Qadir Baksh Pakhawaji; Bhai Naseera from a Rababi family too was a shagird of the family of Qadir Baksh. Bhai Santo Pakhawaji too from the Rababi clan was the shagird of the Bhai Bagh, who was related to Qadir Baksh. Ustad Allah Rakha, Ustad Shaukat Hussain was also shagirds of the famous Ustad.
Tafo’s father Faqir Baksh Doomagaliwale was the shagird of Mian Qadir Baksh while Tafo initially learnt the art of playing the tabla from his father and in 1961 formally became the formal shagird of Mian Qadir Baksh.
Fateh Din was a legendary percussionist and to many the founder of the Punjab baaj. It is said that he modified the bols of the pakhawaj, developed gats and laid the foundations of a new school totally different from the Delhi baaj. But Qadir Baksh Pakhawaji perhaps made it more widely acceptable for he is considered to be the jagat ustad of all the Punjab tabla players. Born in the early part of the twentieth century and trained by his father Mian Faqir Baksh in the pakhawaj and the tabla, he became an outstanding player by incorporating the style of the pakhawaj into the method of tabla playing.
Ustad Lacchman Singh’s visit and the evening made possible by the untiring effort of Nahid Siddiqui started with a dance number more in the manner of welcoming the guests. It was a neat little gesture by some of the shagirds of Nahid Siddiqui. Rehana, Mehreen and Maria are showing promise, and in due course, other things remaining the same, will take dance up seriously going beyond the stage of a hobby.
The performing arts have been discriminated against in our society and among the various arts, dance the most. Consistent training, hard work and creativity have been thwarted by lack of any institutional set up. Nahid Siddqui’s persistence have made her continue with her art and also to pass it on to her shagirds and despite all the odds she has persevered to do so. Though it is often wondered with more support things would have been much better.
The evening also included other performances as well. Akbar Ali sang bageshri as did Ustad Mubarak Ali Khan a kind of a mishermela raag, which sounded like rageshri and jog which he probably called jogeshwari. It also included a sitar recital by Kinnar Kumar Seen who originally from India lives in New York and performs there. He had flown in particular for the performance to Pakistan. The performance on the tabla by Hassan Mohyeddin was something of a surprise; a pleasant one for his hand was steadier and his strokes exact. He was also more at ease in building on the various improvised rhythmic structures that is required in a solo performance. The evidence of the last hundred years demonstrates that most of the instrument like the sitar, shahnai, sarod, santoor, clarinet, and violin can trace their ascendance from being either accompaniments or as minor instruments to dominate the world of classical music. Probably it was the inspirational presence of Ustad Lachman Singh Seen that made him rise to the occasion.