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 junction 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 scores of 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 with tremendous dexterity and rhythmic interplay. The tone of his sitar, the characteristic use of certain instrumental embellishments like krintan (literally means cutting, in instrumental technique for plucked instruments it refers to the production of notes by plucking the string with the second finger of the left hand) and meend (long glides between notes), taans (fast melodic passages) spanning three octaves, and quick musical reflexes that mirrored his quick-witted nature, stood out in his performances, and set him apart from his contemporaries and seniors.
In an interview to me, Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan mentioned that he came to Mumbai with his father at the age of one. His father Jaffer Khan played the rudra veena, sitar and was also adept at vocal music. Although he trained under his father in vocal music, jaltarang and sitar, Abdul Halim Jaffar Khan was influenced by Babu Khan’s style of playing the sitar and started focusing his attention on sitar after listening to him.
A little before 1935, the family moved to Dadar in Central Mumbai after having stayed for short intervals at Grant Road, Bombay Central, Dongri and Bhendi Bazaar, in South Mumbai. He moved to Mahim after his father passed away, and finally to Bandra.
He pursued a career as a sessions’ musician for film music, as he saw this as a viable means of livelihood in the absence of regular Hindustani music concerts. He worked with several noted music directors and sang and played jaltarang as a sessions’ musician on a couple of occasions.
A recipient of the coveted national awards Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, he authored the book accompanied by a CD ROM entitled Jaffer Khanibaaj: Innovation in Sitar Music.
Today we listen 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 set to the 16-matra Teentaal. He is accompanied by well-known tabla player Faiyaz Khan.
The final track has a detailed presentation of the raag Pahadi. He plays two compositions, the first set to the 16-matra Jat taal and the second to a fast-paced Teentaal.
One of India’s leading tabla players, Aneesh Pradhan is a widely recognised performer, teacher, composer and scholar of Hindustani music. Visit his website here.