In the 22nd episode of our series on public spaces named after Hindustani musicians, we visit the Bandra Reclamation in Mumbai. On June 19, an important crossroads in this locality was named Padma Bhushan Ustad Halim Jaffer Khan Chowk. It is named after sitar maestro Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan, who lived in the area and taught many students over the years.
Creator of the Jaffarkhani baaj or style of sitar playing, his inimitable approach to sitar playing had an unpredictable quality marked by tremendous dexterity and rhythmic interaction. The sonority of his sitar, the characteristic use of certain instrumental embellishments like krintan (literally means to cut, in the instrumental technique for plucked instruments it designates the production of notes by plucking the string with the middle finger of the left hand) and meend (long glides between notes), taans (fast melodic passages) spanning three octaves, and quick musical reflexes that reflected his quick-witted nature, stood out in his performances, and set him apart from his contemporaries and elders.
In an interview for me, Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan mentioned that he came to Mumbai with his father when he was one year old. His father Jaffer Khan played the rudra veena, the sitar and was also adept in vocal music. Although he trained with his father in vocal music, jaltarang and sitar, Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan was influenced by Babu Khan’s sitar playing style and began to focus his attention on the sitar after the have listened.
Sometime before 1935, the family moved to Dadar in central Mumbai after staying for short intervals at Grant Road, Bombay Central, Dongri and Bhendi Bazaar in South Mumbai. He moved to Mahim after the death of his father, and finally to Bandra.
He pursued a career as a session musician for film music, as he saw it as a viable livelihood in the absence of regular Hindustani music concerts. He has worked with several renowned musical directors and has sung and played jaltarang as a session musician on a few occasions.
The recipient of the coveted national Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan awards, he is the author of the book and accompanying CD-ROM titled Jaffer Khanibaaj: innovation in sitar music.
Today we are listening to two recordings that feature his sitar recitals. The first, recorded for Doordarshan, includes a presentation of the raag Jaijaivanti, in which he plays an introductory aalaap followed by two gats or instrumental compositions on the 16-matras Teentaal. He is accompanied by the famous tabla player Faiyaz Khan.
The final track has a detailed presentation of the raag Pahadi. He plays two compositions, the first on the Jat taal of 16 matras and the second on a fast-paced Teentaal.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognized Hindustani performer, teacher, composer and music scholar. Visit his website here.