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I'd write more, like you said I should. If only, there was more to me.

Monday, January 09, 2006


It's a rainy Sunday morning. Just the kind of day when you want to take your cuppa chai, grab your paper and snuggle right back into your comforter. Thoughts that would have been on my mind, if I didn't have an appointment to keep.

This one happened to be with none other India's tabla maestro Ustaad Zakir Hussain. Coming from a generation that's grown up watching the hair swing to the tabla beats and "Wah Taj!", this one is worth taking that walk in the rain.

The setting is most non-press conference like, it's at an Indian restaurant aptly called 'Kinara'. It rests almost on a Kinara. On a sunny day the backdrop would have been picture perfect, but the rain seems to have unsettled the tide and all you see is a muddy Singapore river.

I meet a couple of friends old and new, do a quick run of the place to find the perfect spot for all the lights, camera and action. And then we wait for the maestro to arrive.

He isn't too late. For someone who just got off the flight from Mumbai and has another one to board at 5pm, he is amazingly relaxed. No signs of jet lag here. But if one is accustomed to doing 120 concerts a year, teaching at Princeton, recording jingles, composing music, acting in movies (yes, he's done and with none other than Shabana Azmi) and a whole lot more, maybe this look of inner peace just comes naturally. Or could it really be Taj ka kamal?

Soon as the introductions are done, he's ready to roll. It's a quick fire round. The questions are flowing just like the rain : Hollywood vs Bollywood music, fusion music, retaining the form, experimenting with styles - he takes it all in his stride and impresses us all. And then comes the real quotable, Indian music he points out, is a "sound source" for just so many forms of music. From there it is a journey into all things proudly Indian.

An hour of this and he goes "So have I spoken enough?" It's a reluctant no from me, I could have heard more.... but there's a concert coming up next month. He's promised us it will be one rocking show (I don't doubt that for a minute) and that we should all be there - wouldn't miss it in the world!

And even after all that talking, he's ready to give me a one-on-one. Soon as we are done with that, he's about to tuck into his lunch, the restaurant owner tells him about his daughter's birthday and how delighted all the kids would be if the maestro joined them for just a bit. Next, I see the maestro hurriedly finishing his lunch.

10 minutes later, he's joined all the lil boys and gals. When I step down, he's busy posing for pictures. The young ones are in awe and he's not a guy who believes in disappointing anyone.

There's a flight to catch - but looks like that can wait. For the moment, its all flashes, lights, smiles and a whole lot of pictures. I hear a little boy go : "I just shook hands with him, can you believe it?"

Yes, I certainly can. Of course, I want to add those little fingers are going to be drumming away soon. There's no doubting the Ustaad is doing what he does best - inspiring a whole new generation to take up an art form that's here to stay - now that's something to raise your Taj Toast to.