AMONG THE INDIAN CLASSICAL MUSIC world’s many memorable stories is the one about a Muslim Khansahib and his Hindu student, both great musicians of the early 20th century. The young Brahmin was desperate to learn from the maestro, but could only catch him for brief moments as and when his teacher passed through his village. On one such visit, the Khansahib popped into his house and told his student to order him mutton and wine. The young student was petrified; he stayed with a conservative uncle who spent most of his time praying and warding off Muslims and untouchables, sprinkling holy water on his path if even their shadow crossed him. But his uncle was out, and he was desperate to learn, so he did his teacher’s bidding. They ate and drank and then sat down to practice.
The next morning, the young student shook his Khansahib awake and said, “My uncle will be here any minute. What do we do now?” The Khansahib told him not to worry, picked up the tanpura, and slowly started an ode to Shiva in Raga Bhairavi. The older Brahmin walked in, stopped in his tracks and listened. When the Khansahib finished and put the tanpura down, the old man went and touched his feet and said, “I have been praying all my life. But today I actually saw Bholenath stand before me. Thank you.”
Now imagine: What if there had been Skype, or even tape recorders, in those days? The master and his disciple need not have even met, nor risked the wrath of family—the enthusiastic student could have mastered many more ragas by catching his teacher online. Maybe he would have become a very different musician.