Nearly two decades ago, tabla player Zakir Hussain became an alternative pin-up after he modelled for a television commercial for the Taj Mahal tea brand. There was a little boy who also made an appearance in that “Wah Taj!” advertisement. That boy was Aditya Kalyanpur, and he is now recognized as a rightful heir to the Punjab gharana tradition represented by Hussain and his father, the late Allarakha Khan.
Kalyanpur had the opportunity to perform with Hussain again at the Aadi Anant festival in Mumbai in December. “I played with him after almost 15 years,” says the 34-year-old musician. “You can imagine how exciting it must have been for me.” Kalyanpur has emerged as an attraction in his own right, both locally and internationally. Apart from being a regular feature on the classical concert scene—he has accompanied such stalwarts as Shivkumar Sharma, Amjad Ali Khan, T.N. Krishnan and N. Rajam—Kalyanpur has performed and conducted workshops at Stanford University, US, and the University of Sydney, Australia. “I also feel honoured that I was invited to Dubai by the great poet and film-maker Gulzar to play at a programme in memory of the ghazal icon Jagjit Singh,” adds Kalyanpur. “When I look back on the year, I feel a sense of satisfaction.”
Kalyanpur’s parents discovered his flair for rhythm when he was only two years old. When he turned 5, they took him to Allarakha Khan, who ran a tabla school in Mumbai’s Shivaji Park neighbourhood. Khan looked at the diminutive boy and refused, Kalyanpur recalls. It was Taufiq Qureshi, the maestro’s youngest son, who intervened on Kalyanpur’s behalf and urged Khan to reconsider his decision. Kalyanpur trained for 17 years under Khan until his death in 2000. “He was completely immersed in the tabla during all his waking moments and he instilled the sense of rhythm and melody in students like me,” Kalyanpur says.
Kalyanpur has also been involved with running a school for music and dance, New England School of Music (it has about 50 students) in Boston, US, and steering a charitable trust, Shyamal Music Foundation, set up in memory of his mother, who died of cancer four years ago. “During 2012, the activities of the foundation took firmer shape,” Kalyanpur says. “Our initiative Disha, which focuses on young and talented performers, has been receiving a good response.” In the new year, Disha, a concert series, will direct its attention to municipal corporation-run schools in Mumbai.