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An Autobiography Of A Sarangi



 “There's music in the sighing of a reed;
There's music in the gushing of a rill;
There's music in all things, if men had ears:
Their earth is but an echo of the spheres.”

~Lord Byron


Good morning everybody! Today we are going to have a great grand time altogether…..Children, please take ur own seats…Hurry up……………fine, now hopefully I can start telling you all the story of myself which you want to hear for so long…..Well, children, I am now 78 years old……….But my past is so glittering and prestigious It never seems that it was too far of the past. It seems that it is the story of yesterday only……..I don’t think the readers can identify me unless and until I reveal my identity…. Well, I am a sarangi, one of the most prestigious musical instruments, played so far… I am an important bowed string instrument of India's Hindustani classical music tradition. Of all Indian instruments, I am said to bear the most resemble sound of the human voice.


I was born in Bharat Musical Mart, Vellore, Tamil Nadu in 1931. Carved from a single block of wood, I have a box-like shaped body, usually around two feet long and around half a foot wide. The lower resonance chamber is made from a hollowed-out block of red cedar wood and covered with parchment and a decorated strip of leather at the waist which supports the elephant-shaped bridge. The bridge in turn supports the huge pressure of approximately 40 strings. Well, do you know the meaning of my name? The word sarangi is derived from two Hindi words: “sau” meaning "hundred" and “rang” meaning "colour". This is because the sound of the sarangi is said to be as expressive and evocative as a hundred colours.


When I was very tender at age, I was sent to one of the eminent music shops…..RPH Music Store in Main Hazratganj Road, Lucknow along with many other friends of mine. I was placed in a beautiful show case with my name written with many other detailed descriptions on my foot board. It was Pre-Independence era of our country; so many British along with our country men came to visit the shop often. They all appreciated me… I could hear their applause and curiosity about me whenever they saw me. On a misty autumn evening in 1938, a middle aged man with broad shoulder, mehendi on hair and beard came to choose a sarangi for him. I was peeping from my shelf at his beautiful, deep eyes adorned with surma.He came near to our row, took me and all my friends in his hand and started playing them one by one. Finally he chose me and bought me and took me in his house.


So, I had a new address and identity… Gradually I came to know that he was the famous sarangi player, Ustaad Arafat Ali Khan Saab….. He placed me in a middle shelf of a multipurpose of his music room….. Previously too I was amidst many musical instruments in the shop but now I am with many a friend of my same group… Ustaadji regularly did riyaaz with me. He took a great care of mine. I was kept inside a cherry coloured leather box on the top of which, Ustaadji’s name was carved in ivory tusk.. It was so soft inside, so cool!  I had a soft velvet bed on which I used to take rest and slept peacefully after Ustaadji’s practices.… I started possessing a very prestigious look and attitude. Ustaadji used to attend many concerts, functions and solo performances. It was me who had that great opportunity to assist him. When played, I was positioned in such a way that the uppermost part (head) is placed on his lap and the other end rested against the left shoulder. I was played with a horse hair bow which was held in the right hand. The finger of the left hand was used for stopping the strings. The most notable aspect is that strings were stopped with the sides of finger nails and not by the balls of fingers. A was tuned so properly that I hummed and buzzed like a bee-hive, with tones played on any of the main strings eliciting echo-like resonances. Critics state that “The magic of the sarangi is its bane as well! Since it easily imitates the human voice, it can prove a distraction for the singer.”  Besides, the large numbers of sympathetic strings that I possess, created the special sounds demand a lengthy time-period for tuning. I roamed in so many foreign countries. I had never thought I could be the witness of so many award ceremonies full of glitz and glamour. My heart was filled with pride and awe for Ustaadji after every performance he had. Applause! Applause! Applause!!! He was filled up with praise, extolment and kudos by press and audience.


Years passed on and so the decades too….Ustaadji left us all in a severe cardiac attack in 1978….. As he was without any offspring, his wife took care of all his belongings with a great care and respect. In the ground floor of his huge building in Lucknow, hi music practice room has become a significant spot to visit for music lovers. Along with all his awards, photos, certificates, laudatory documents, I too possess a significant place in the same place of his multipurpose where he used to keep me. Ustaadji took many snaps of us together. Some of them are beautifully laminated and hung on the wall of her bed room, music room and drawing room. Oh! I felt so proud….. I had never thought that my snap can also get displayed this way. Now days….I too have become old …I am enjoying my leisure time recollecting the colourful memories. My ancestors had a root depend in long past. The antiquity my class (Sarangi) cannot be questioned either, for the instrument finds mention in both the “Ain-i-Akbari” and the “Sangeet Ratnakara” .I strongly beleive what the great pot had stated:-


“Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory –“
~Percy Bysshe Shelley.