There are no shortcuts to gaining expertise in any area of Hindustani music, and riyaaz or regular and dedicated practice is of paramount importance. But riyaaz can be wearisome even to the most musical persons, as is evident from the experience narrated by the inimitable ghazal and thumri-dadra exponent Begum Akhtar (1914-1974) in this interview conducted by musicologist KC Brihaspati, popularly known as Acharya Brihaspati.


Begum Akhtar describes her taaleem or training at the age of 10 or 11 with Ata Mohammad Khan of the Patiala gharana. As is usually the case with early guru-shishya or master-disciple training in Hindustani music, Khan taught her the same repertoire every day for a period of one or one-and-a-half years. Raag Bhairav was taught in the morning, and raag Yaman at night. The morning session would begin at 3 am, which seemed particularly gruelling during the winter for the young Begum Akhtar. She remembers that her ustad or teacher would tune the tanpura and place it before her, and she would start singing even when half-asleep.

Clearly, Ata Mohammad Khan was a hard taskmaster as many gurus are wont to be. Begum Akhtar recalls an occasion when she did not like a particular raag and chose not to learn it. In response, her ustad refused to teach her anything else until she learnt the specific composition he had decided chosen for her. He resumed the training after she apologised, and after several entreaties.

She also trained with Abdul Wahid Khan of the Kirana gharana for a period of one-and-a-half years.

The rigorous training and practice that Begum Akhtar underwent as a child stood her in good stead, for that was perhaps an important factor responsible for developing the taaseer (effectiveness or impressiveness) in her music. She chooses to use the phrase "sur ki sacchaayi" to describe the essential component that produces taaseer. Literally translated, the phrase would mean "truth in pitching". In musical parlance, however, it would mean precise intonation.

In the same interview, Begum Akhtar mentions the maestros whose music she liked or who influenced her and elaborates on the stylistic features of thumri-dadra and ghazal renditions.


In another interview conducted by well-known broadcaster Qaisar Qalandar in Kashmir, Begum Akhtar describes her debut performance at a function organised in 1936 or 1938 to collect donations for the Bihar Relief Fund that was raised to help earthquake victims of the 1934 Nepal-Bihar earthquake. After a hesitant start, she went on to captivate her audience for over two-and-a-half hours. Contrary to many classical musicians, Begum Akhtar, in response to a question regarding the adverse impact of film music, said that music which touches the heart was of a high order, be it film music or otherwise.