On 17 January 2021, Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan, one of the celebrated classical musicians in the history of India, left for his heavenly abode. His music, much of which is available in the public domain, will continue to be heard by and inspire generations to come. His legacy will also continue to live on courtesy his sons and all the students he imparted his learnings in. Mannan Shaah, who has composed for films like ‘Commando’, ‘Commando 2’, ‘Namaste England’ and ‘Commando 3’ was a disciple of the legendary musician. In this interview, he fondly remembers all that he learnt and the memorable moments that happened in his life while being in the company of his beloved Guru.
When did you start learning from Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan?
I started training under Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan sahab in the year 2008. Since the last one year and a half, he was suffering from some health issues. He suffered from a paralytic stroke in October 2019. Because of this stroke, he lost his voice and was not able to speak. The man who lived to sing, was not able to speak. You could imagine the frustration he must have gone through.
You started assisting composer Pritam Chakraborty in 2010. In 2013, you made your debut as a music composer with ‘Commando’. Did you get enough time to learn from him considering the fact that you started working shortly after learning from him as his disciple?
Yes, I trained under him extensively. Even when I started working professionally, I would always make time to visit him and learn from him. Khan sahab would call me at any time during a day. I would immediately go to his place and start doing my riyaaz. He helped me improve my vocal stamina and helped me become a better vocalist. In fact, you need good vocal stamina to churn out some intricate compositions as a music director. Those riyaaz sessions are unforgettable. His teaching laid the foundation for me becoming a composer. Khan sahab wanted me to become a singer which I also did. Singing a song like ‘Ziddi Hai Dil’ is quite difficult and I could do so because of the training I received from an Ustad like him.
Your first guru in music was Pandit Vinayak Vora.
Yes, I trained under him for eleven years. He passed away in the year 2006. In fact, Vinayak ji’s son Neeraj Vora ji introduced me to Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan. I almost felt like one guru led me to another guru.
There are so many people who would have liked to learn from a legend like Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan? How did he choose his disciples? Is there a particular quality that he looked for in a disciple?
He used to look for his own self in every disciple. He used to tell me that you are like a mirror to me. He once said that that he does not want me to commit the mistakes he did. He was a true master in every sense.
What was his reaction when you took the first step in the movies as a composer?
He was one of the first people I shared the CD of ‘Commando’ with. He was extremely excited and happy. He felt happy about the fact that one of his shagirds had started composing professionally. He wanted me to become a singer which also happened.
Is there any personal quality in him that you admired?
His innocence was magical. He was almost child-like. He was the most pure-hearted person I knew. He was also a very spiritual person and that is the reason why he was always calm and at peace.
Which is the biggest lesson you learnt from him?
My biggest driving force behind turning a composer was Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan sahab. To compose in a particular scale, you need a lot of vocal stamina. He opened all the four octaves in my voice. He used to tell me a very simple thing. We are an instrument of God. Creativity is a conspiracy which happened through us. I remember a particular incident very vividly. He was once invited to perform at the Malhar festival in St. Xaviers College, Mumbai. I was accompanying Khan sahab on the tanpura. After the recital, somebody from the audience came up to Khan sahab and told him very emotionally that his rendition took him to some other place in his mind. Khan sahab just smiled and said, “maine kahaan gaaya. Allah ne gawaa diya mujhse”. Another great thing about him was that he was a family man. He used to tell me “main rahoon ya na rahoon, apni ammi ka khayal rakhna”. I used to tell him that both of you are my parents. And, parents are like Gods to me. Both Khan sahab and his wife, whom I referred to as ammi, always treated me like a son.
He even did something special for you on your twenty-second birthday.
Yes, the date was 20 September, 2009. I had invited him for my twenty-second birthday. He gifted his recital on my birthday. He came and sang for four hours at a stretch. All of us were in a state of trance while listening to his rendition. It remains the biggest moment of my life. Imagine his greatness. He came to my place and did a mini baithak. It just shows how much love he had for me as a guru and a father.