As the second day of the 8th edition of the Bangalore Literature Festival dawned, exactly at 10.45, the visitors sitting by the Tughlaq stage were treated to the melodious sitar tones as the renowned author and journalist Namita Devidayal took over the stage to talk about her book – The Sixth String of Vilayat Khan. She was accompanied by Nandita Bose, well-known for her works like- If Walls Could Weep, Dewed, etc.
Namita opened the session with a brief reading of an account from her book where she paints a picture of the life of Ustad Vilayat Khan- the iconic sitarist better known as the trendsetting sitarist. She read out the opening account of her book which revolves around a music concert in Delhi in 1952 where Ustad Vilayat Khan happened to rub shoulders with Pandit Ravi Shankar. She quoted that Ustad Hafiz Ali, who was also present in the audience had exclaimed “Maar Daala” (means “he killed”) , rightly explaining what a fine instrumentalist Ustad Vilayat Khan was.
Namita further discussed how the project came to her. It basically started with Vilayat Khan’s younger son, Hidayat who approached her to take up this work. It was also pointed out how elaborately people knew about Pandit Ravi Shankar but the least about this iconic sitarist, Vilayat Khan.
Namita told the audience that she considered Khan as a complete rock star! Ustad Vilayat Khan was of the view that subtlety in music was of prime importance. Thus, she was completely smitten and took up writing about this man. Nandita added that throughout the book Vilayat Khan “is being looked at with so much love”.
Namita’s decision to write this book was also triggered by the painful life of Vilayat Khan. “Every tear of pain in my life, I have turned into a note.”, Vilayat Khan had said. Khan who liked sticking to learning with singers rather than sitar players tried to bring in the nuances of human voice to his sitar tunes, provided Namita. The most notable fact was that Khan transformed the conventional sitar to the modern day 6 strings sitar.
On being asked by Nandita to draw a comparison between Pandit Ravi Shankar and Ustad Vilayat Khan who were contemporaries as well as frenemies, Namita said, “It is gruesome to compare artists”. However, she did point out that while Pandit Ravi Shankar liked to experiment internationally with his music, Ustad Vilayat Khan experimented and created contemporary sound without fusion.
The session concluded with another round of reading of an account by Namita from her book, with sitar tunes at the backdrop which lyrically summarised the book and expressed how Ustad Vilayat Khan was true to his certainties and always wanted to stick to what he believed in.
About the Author: Upasana Mahanta is an MA in English with Communication Studies student from CHRIST (Deemed To Be University) – Bengaluru, who firmly believes that there is nothing more exhilarating and liberating as poetry. She finds solace in writing poems and travel blogs and has amongst her laurels a 1st Prize in the English category of the All India Poetess Conference, Meghalaya Chapter’s Seventh Poetry Competition cum North East Poetry Festival. She currently writes for TheSeer.