Song of Surrender

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Ustad Shaik Dawood

His disciples remember 

It is often said, Vidya vinayena sobhate, implying that knowledge is made more beautiful by the quality of humility. How apt this is in the context of the life and work of the ‘Tabla Nawaz Ustad Shaik Dawood Saheb’ (known as the Tirakhwa of the Deccan) one of the greatest tabla legends of the twentieth century. 

Shaik Dawood was born in Sholapur on 16 December 1916. His prodigious talent in rhythm at the age of three compelled his father, Hashim Saheb, to buy him a tasha (kettledrum) to play with. At eight, he started learning the rudiments of tabla from Anna Maharaj. Ameer Qawwal, who owned a qawwali group, took him as a tabla player and simultaneously initiated him into vocal music. Destiny brought Dawood to a concert where he was completely mesmerised by the tabla of Mohammad Khasim, a highly reputed tabla maestro from Sholapur, a zamindar and a patron of classical and Sufi music. Khasim Saheb’s acceptance of Dawood as a student was a life-changing event for the lad. Over the next decade, Dawood learnt from him traditional classical tabla with its full range of kaidas, relas, chakradhars, gats and the art of accompaniment. He was also taught the rare technique of playing laggi using the thumb to render gamakas on the dagga.

Khasim’s house was always a resting place for any great musicians journeying between Mumbai and Hyderabad. They performed at his house while he accompanied them on the tabla. Observing young Dawood’s dedication, hard work and commitment, Mohammad Khasim gradually started asking him to accompany the visiting musicians. Dawood did full justice to his guru’s faith, sharing the stage with these icons, impressing everyone with his art of unobtrusive accompaniment and humble demeanour despite the acclaim and appreciation he received. This was to become his hallmark in professional circles later in life. By the early 1930s, Dawood, although in his teens, was already the preferred accompanist for some of the biggest names in Hindustani music like Abdul Karim Khan, Faiyaz Khan, Bhaskarbua Bakhle, Sawai Gandharva and Wajid Khan. With concerts becoming frequent in Hyderabad, Roshan Ali Mooljee, the producer of Deccan Radio, persuaded Dawood to shift his base to Hyderabad and join him as a staff artist. This opened a new chapter in Dawood’s life.

The knowledge, experience and reputation he gained under his guru Mohammad Khasim was substantial enough to make him a top grade artist in the country. Not one to let concerts drain his energy or his desire to learn more, he began learning tabla from Ustad Alladiya Khan. The sheer quality of that decade-long taleem propelled him to the upper echelons of the tabla world. After the demise of Alladiya Khan, he learnt from his gifted sons, Mohammed Khan and Chhote Khan. At the age of 41, Dawood became the disciple of Mahboob Khan Merajkar, an erudite scholar well versed in tabla. The fact that Shaik Dawood enrolled as a disciple at the zenith of his career speaks volumes for his humility and respect for knowledge.

Dawood started teaching early in life and continued to do so almost throughout his life. He always taught one-to-one, and produced over 150 students, many of whom are professionals today. Arthur Koestler once said, “Creative activity could be described as a type of learning process when the teacher and the pupil are located in the same individual”. Dawood Saheb’s creativity and poetic bent of mind were reflected in his prolific compositions of jodas for traditional gats and todas, and for kaidas and gat relas besides his own gats.

The tabla maestro always supported up-and-coming, young musicians. He never insisted on fees from his students. From his students he took a one-time guru dakshina of just 251 rupees during ganda bandhan (a ceremony where the Guru ties a sacred thread around the wrist of the student signifying the acceptance into discipleship). He never gave anxious moments to his co-artists or organisers by arriving late to concerts. His philosophy was “Janata Janardhan” implying that the audience was always supreme. He was always present at the venue an hour in advance irrespective of whether the event was big or small. In an age where arriving late was considered fashionable, when organisers sometimes protested by cancelling the events altogether, Dawood Saheb remained strictly punctual. 

Even so many years after his demise, artists still remember his simple and genuine nature. Eminent tabla maestro Sheshgiri Hangal narrates an incident when many iconic classical vocalists and instrumentalists including Shaik Dawood visited Madras for a prestigious music festival. Sheshgiri Hangal was to accompany Gangubai Hangal but he suddenly fell ill with high fever and was in no position to provide tabla accompaniment. At Gangubai’s request, Shaik Dawood readily agreed and accompanied her on the tabla. After the concert, when the organisers approached Dawood with a remuneration higher than the contracted amount, he politely refused to accept it insisting that it must go to Sheshgiri Hangal and that he was only offering his services as his duty towards his colleague.

Dawood Saheb was a man of his word. Once he gave his acceptance, he would not backtrack under any circumstances. It is said he once did not accompany Basavaraj Rajguru despite repeated offers of higher remuneration simply because he had already promised his availability to an artist and event of lesser repute and scale. In yet another instance, Dawood sent his senior student to accompany Nazakat Ali and Salamat Ali at a large event because he had already committed himself to a concert in Hyderabad at the same time. It is difficult to imagine what the star brothers thought of Dawood, but a few days later, another concert of theirs was organised for which Dawood Saheb was indeed available to play with them. Today, that concert is heralded as one of the greatest musical events in the history of Hyderabad and is remembered for the lightning fast drut Ektaal tarana and Shaik Dawood’s accompaniment.

The tabla maestro was awarded the Hindu-Muslim Unity award for his tremendous social impact through music. He also received the prestigious Sangeet Natak Akademi award but the national Padma awards eluded him. he reached his heavenly abode on 21 March 1992. It is indeed a matter of great consolation that the vast repository of tabla knowledge has been passed on to his worthy son, Shabbir Nisar, who has started The Tabla Nawaz Ustad Shaik Dawood Academy of Music in his father’s memory. Plans are afoot to launch his birth centenary celebrations this year in a big way.

(PRABHAKAR BETRABET was a senior disciple of Shaik Dawood. Now a disciple of Shabbir Nisar, he has been performing and training students in Bangalore and the U.S.A. for over 25 years.

SANDEEP HATTANGADY, based in Durham, U.K., has pursued tabla for nearly two decades, learning from eminent tabla gurus including Prabhakar Betrabet. He has performed widely in India and the United States.

Betrabet and Hattangady have co-authored the book, Tihaai, for students of tabla and music. 

GOURANG KODICAL is a veteran tabla vidwan, who learnt his art from Shaik Dawood in Hyderabad, after initial coaching by Shashi Bellare of Mumbai and Dattappa Garud of Bangalore. Kodical has performed in India and abroad for decades, accompanying some great stalwarts.)

Throughout the article, the authors respectfully prefixed the honorific `Ustad’ to their guru’s name

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