KARACHI: The gentle, unassuming, quiet, always smiling, and one of the most able and sincere teachers of sitar music, Ustad Imdad Husain, passed away on Monday after a brief illness.
Imdad Husain was born in Delhi in 1936. His family belonged to the famous Dehli Tabla Gharana. He received his early training from his father, Ustad Ahmadi Khan, who played sarangi. When his father died in 1946, he learnt from his cousin Sardar Husain Hashimi and, later, from his uncle, the legendary sarangi player, Ustad Zahoori Khan.
After his first performance at the age of 11 at the Lahore radio station, he came to live in Karachi where the then director general of Radio Pakistan, Zulfiqar Ali Bukhari, spotted him, saw great promise in the young boy and took him as a staff artist. Thus, Imdad started his music career at the Radio Pakistan, Karachi station, and flourished in the august company of such stalwarts as Ustad Ramzan Khan, Umrao Bundoo Khan, Wilayat Ali Khan, Nathoo Khan, and many others.
Those were good times when we had sitar players of the calibre of Sharif Khan Poonchwalay and Kabir Khan; sarangi players Zahoori Khan, Nathoo Khan and Hamid Husain; sarod player Nazar Husain; tabla player Allah Ditta; ghazal singers Mehdi Hasan, Farida Khanum, Iqbal Bano regularly performing at the Karachi station.
Following the passing away of Z.A. Bukhari, Imdad left Radio Pakistan and joined the National Performing Arts Group. In 1973, he went to the UK and opened a music school in London and ran it for two years.
Then he returned to Pakistan and rejoined the National Performing Arts Group, run by the Pakistan National Council of the Arts. Here, besides regularly been called to the President House to perform in front of world dignitaries, he also represented Pakistan in many countries around the world. He once mentioned to me that he had visited Moscow as many as six times to play sitar in front of a keen Russian audience.
I remember, after returning from Dhaka where in 1986 he had gone as a member of the cultural troupe, which had Mehdi Hasan, Farida Khanum, Salamat Husain and Ghulam Farid Sabri as well, he was all praise for the reception they had received from the Bangladesh music lovers at the Saarc conference.
Imdad’s greatest achievement to my mind was his excellent training skill. He trained his son, Ikhlaq Husain, and maternal grandson, Turab Ali, who became accomplished and well-known professional artists in their own right. Ikhlaq is settled in New York and enjoys playing to discerning audiences in several cities of the US.
Originally published in Dawn, March 31th, 2016