Ustad Akeel Ahmad Khan-veteran classical singer struggles for existence

Ustad Akeel Ahmad Khan, one of the last exponents of the Agra Gharana of Hindustani classical music, struggles t survive. For years, he kept the tradition of his gharana alive in the Taj city. But nothing in his glorious past can dispel the mood of gloom at the shoddy treatment meted out to him by government agencies. Even the meagre pension of Rs.2,000 he used to get from the culture ministry has been held up after 2008 due to bureaucratic wrangles, he says.

Agra, March 8 (Calcutta Tube) Ustad Akeel Ahmad Khan, one of the last exponents of the Agra Gharana of Hindustani classical music, struggles t survive. For years, he kept the tradition of his gharana alive in the Taj city. But nothing in his glorious past can dispel the mood of gloom at the shoddy treatment meted out to him by government agencies. Even the meagre pension of Rs.2,000 he used to get from the culture ministry has been held up after 2008 due to bureaucratic wrangles, he says.

The singer is not only unwell but is also a disenchanted man.

He said his daughter had to go frequently to New Delhi to persuade officials to release the pension for senior artists. He had several times requested the government to increase the pension but there had been no response.

The 86 year old singer who has no government support and says this city ‘honours only the dead’.

Tracing his lineage to the legendary Tansen and grandson of khayal maestro Ustad Faiyaz Khan, Akeel Khan began his career in the 1940s with Ashok Kumar and Naseem Bano, sang with Mohammed Rafi, worked with Ghulam Hussain and other leading lights of the Hindi film industry.

‘With no other financial support I am just managing to barely survive,’ Khan laments. He has already been compelled to sell off five gold medals to survive in his humble Ashoor Beg Gali home. Hardly able to see, he broke his hip bone a few months ago.

Having toured Iran, Afghanistan and other countries with his illustrious grandfather, the ustaad is currently grooming his grandson in the intricacies of the Agra Gharana, which ironically is more popular outside the Taj city than in the place of its origin.

‘This is a city that honours only the dead,’ he says of Agra, which was home to Urdu poets Mirza Ghalib, Nazeer Akbarabadi, Mir Taqi Mir and so many others, but all of whom left and found fame elsewhere.

Akeel Khan’s plight has evoked sympathy.

Braj Mandal Heritage Conservation Society president Surendra Sharma told IANS: ‘The Agra Gharana tradition of classical music began in the courts of the Mughals and there are marked Rajput traits discernible in the compositions. The gharana and its exponents have to be recognised and promoted.’

Culture critic Mahesh Dhakar asked the people of the city to ‘wake up and mobilise support for this great talent whose contribution to enriching Agra’s classical music traditions remains unparalleled’.

‘Ustad Akeel Ahmad sahab’s contribution to the Agra Gharana has been unique and significant. It is sad that official patronage is not being provided for such artists who have dedicated their whole life to enriching musical traditions,’ Indian People’s Theatre Association (IPTA) general secretary Jitendra Raghvanshi told IANS.

(Brij Khandelwal can be contacted at brij.k@ians.in)

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