I am still a student, there is much to learn: Ustad Zakir Hussain

Internationally acclaimed table virtuoso Ustad Zakir Hussain Let your fingers spell magic during your visit to Bangalore on Wednesday night. The Grammy Award-winning artist was in the city to perform in Classical and beyond, a concert that perfectly woven the Indian classic music with global music — along with Rakesh Chaurasia on bansuri , U Rajesh in the mandolin, Patri Satish Kumar in mridangam and V Selvaganesh in the Kanjira . In a conversation with Bangalore Times , the maestro talks about his bond with the table , his love for Bengaluru and his mantra of playing the music al instrument flawlessly. Excerpts:

You have often spoken about your bond with the table . What is the bond you share with the table and how important is it for a music ian to connect with his/her music al instrument?

Being born in a family of table players is almost like being connected to the instrument with an umbilical cord. That's the kind of connection I share with the table and I always felt very comfortable in its presence. Even when I am travelling, the instrument lives with me in my room. This lets the instrument, and me, be in a space which is very comfortable for both of us. So, the relationship prospers in more ways than one can possibly imagine. Every music ian has to establish a connection with their instrument. They must embark on a music al journey together. The instrument has a spirit. If it doesn't want to respond to me, no matter what I do, it will not be a pleasant experience.

What is the greatest skill that one needs to master a music al instrument — patience, dedication or practice? How many years does it take to master and hone skills when it comes to playing Indian music al instruments?

The greatest skill that one should have is to be able to establish a relationship with your music al instrument. It's not the technique, it's not about how fast you can play. It's being able to understand what your music al instrument has to offer and extract it to the best of its capacity. One skill that you need is to be able to harness the power of your mind and transmit that information on to your hands. It's not just a physical skill, the mind is involved too. It's by synchronizing everything that you'll be able to let the emotions flow to the instrument.

Making the table needs a lot of expertise. Do you think table makers in India get the appreciation they deserve?

In my opinion, they don't get the kind of accolades they deserve. Neither do they get the remuneration they need. If a person spends hours in hand-making an instrument in the US, he will probably charge thousands of dollars. In India, however, table makers barely make any money and mostly live in huts. I have two to three table makers, whom I have put on stipend, so that they can at least have a regular income. Many times, an order is placed to a table maker. They spend their money on buying everything that is needed to make it. The table maker then brings it to the player, who even rejects it at times. The table is not even used in that case. So, the table maker would go back and spend more money on making another one. They only get the fee that is promised for that one table . That's one of the reasons why there are not as many table makers as there used to be and there should be. If any instrument has progressed in terms of piquing the interest of students, it is the table . Therefore, more table makers are needed, but there are less of them now. It is only because the work is not financially feasible.

Classical music in India is about purists. Were there any apprehensions when you decided to take a different path and collaborate with Western music ians? Did you ever face criticism from purists?

I don't think there is criticism. I also don't think classical music is dominated by purists. I think there is place for everyone. Purists are connoisseurs, who are needed because what was has to be preserved, what is, is something we're experiencing now and what will be, is something that the young music ians of today will take forward. So, music ians need to have the freedom to find out a new way to be able to tell the same old story. I think purists have come to terms with the fact that music changes from generation to generation. Having said that, I do not mean that the core of music will change. The change will only be in terms of presentation. Things that work can be taken forward and things that don't work can be discarded. That's what many young music ians like Rakeshji or U Rajesh are trying to do today without severing their relationship with classical music because that is what defines them.

You’ve often said that you believe we’re born being students and we will die being learners. There is no point in trying to be a master. Can you elaborate? Do you still think of yourself as a student when it comes to playing the table ?

Absolutely! I am still a student There is much to learn and miles to go before bedtime. Every day is an opportunity to learn something new and different. If you consider yourself a teacher, you have decided that there is nothing else to learn and that is not the way to live life. Progress is important and we must continue to reinvent ourselves for the public. If they've seen you act for ten years in a row, you'll need to find something new about yourself that appeals to them. So, learning has to be an ongoing process.

How was your experience in Bengaluru? What do you have to say about the audience here? Is there a place or local cuisine that you like?

Bangalore is a great place to act. I've been coming here since the mid 60's and it's amazing to be here. Although it was quite different from what it is now and it is a bit difficult to accept the change. The audience in Bangalore has come from all over the country and has been established here. So, it is a multifaceted and very demanding audience. So, it's great to come and play here. I really want to come to the city every time I have the opportunity to do so. The type of food that is available here is to die for. The dishes of South India are amazing and, of course, you can try the food of all the southern states here in Bengaluru.

During your previous visit to Bengaluru, you had donated your table . Is it difficult to part ways with a music al instrument you've played for a long time?

Yes, it is very difficult to do it because it is like giving away a part of yourself to someone. My relationship with the table has many layers. One of those layers is like a bond with a sister or a daughter and giving it away is like giving away a daughter in a marriage to someone and learning to live with it. However, I gave it away for a special cause. It is good that people get to see the instrument and young students who see it get inspired to learn it. I also hope they understand the relationship that I have with my table and see if they can establish it too.