Thursday, August 11, 2005

Ahmad Jan Thirakwa, Tabla wizard

Dr. K.Rohiniprasad

Thirakwa as a young man


The tabla wizard

Even in the prime of one’s youth, Tabla-playing requires stamina and endurance. Ustad Ahmad Jan Thirakwa (1878-1976) defied age and continued to perform solo recitals till the end of his long life. No wonder Palghat Mani Iyer, the great mridangam artist described Thirakwa the reincarnation of Saraswati.

Hailing from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh, Ahmed Jan learnt vocal music from Mithoo Khan and sarangi from his father Hussain Bux at a young age. Attracted by the tabla playing of Ustad Munir Khan, the boy initially learnt tabla from his uncles before he became a disciple of Munir Khan at the age of 12. Practising nearly 16 hours daily with half-hour breaks and barely six hours of sleep, Ahmed Jan managed the gruelling regimen with the help of nutritious food. As a result his stamina as a performing artiste remained unimpaired till the last year of his life.

Ahmed Jan soon became the favourite disciple of Munir Khan. His fingers on the tabla resembled the feet of a kathak dancer and soon he was called “Thirakwa”. His playing represents the Laliyana style of the Farukhabad gharana to which tabla players like Amir Hussain (nephew of Munir Khan), Nizamuddin Khan, Ghulam Hussain, Shamsuddin and others belong.

After his debut to thunderous ovation at Khetwadi, in Bombay at the age of 16, Thirakwa’s fame spread far and wide and he accompanied the greatest musicians of his time. He was appointed the court-musician of Rampur in 1936. After 30 years of service he became the head of the tabla Faculty and later Professor Emeritus at the Bhatkhande College of Music, Lucknow. Later he became Visiting Professor at the National Centre for Performing Arts and provided inspiration for Nikhil Ghosh's School of Music. He witnessed the pomp and leisurely life in royal courts, where art enjoyed sensitive appreciation and high esteem. With the end of royal patronage, he adapted himself to the hectic tempo of the modern age thus becoming a vital link between two eras in Indian music.

A popular and frequent performer on the radio, Thirakwa was constantly in demand at various music conferences all over the country. Though a solo tabla artist, he accompanied maestros like Allahbande Khan, Rajab Ali Khan, Alladiya Khan, Wahid Khan, Allauddin Khan, Bhaskarbuwa Bakhle, Faiyaz Khan, Mushtaq Hussain, Hafiz Ali, Ali Akbar, Bismillah Khan, Begum Akhtar and others. His favourite was Faiyaz Khan. The admiration was mutual as Ustad Faiyaz Khan used to say of other accompanists "Na huva Thirakwa" (Thirakwa is irreplaceable).

Proficient in all the styles of tabla including his favourites Delhi, Farukkabadi as also Poorab and Ajrada, Thirakwa epitomised success due to correct and sincere training, long and continuous years of practice, regular physical exercises, and nourishing food. His fame resulted from his authority on music as well as his dignified and accommodating nature. Thirakwa’s popularity never waned since he practised rigorously, maintaining his unmatched mastery even after he crossed ninety. Although his voice in normal conversation grew shaky with age, he could recite complicated and jaw-breaking tabla-bols and parans with steadiness and strength. His disciples include Lalji Gokhkale, Prem Vallabh, Ghulam Ahmad, Chhote Gokhale, Nikhil Ghosh, Ahmad Ali, Ram Kumar Sharma and others. Honours like the Padma Bhushan came to him naturally. With a wealth of reminiscences and a good sense of humour, Thirakwa could imitate many vocalists as he recounted interesting episodes and anecdotes about the colourful events of the past. He wore black achkan and cap and would appear with blackened moustache, surma-lined eyes and a silver-capped walking stick. His death in Lucknow on the eve of his departure to Bombay saddened all music lovers.



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