Tabla maestro Ustad Zakir Hussain has forever mesmerised us with his rhythmic renderings. However, not many know of the origins of his name. The prolific artist recently shared that his family name is Qureshi and it was on the advice of a saint that his mother named him Zakir Hussain.
“I was the first son born after three daughters. When I was born my father was very ill, and his health deteriorated. So my mother wondered if her son was bringing bad luck. But a few days into my birth, a saint called my mother and told her that she should not shun me and instead take care of me. He told my mother to call me Zakir Hussain and that would bring her luck. He also told her to make me the fakir of Imam Hussain. We are Sunni Muslims and Imam Hussain a Shia. Since the advice came from the saint, his mother followed it and named me Zakir Hussain instead of giving the family name Qureshi,” he says.
Zakir's father introduced him to tabla beats when he was barely an year old. “My father, Ustad Alla Rakha, used to play tabla rhythms instead of singing religious songs whenever he slid me into his arms,” he said at an event at the DLF Club5, Gurugram.
He said his mother used to get upset about his father's behaviour, since she wanted him to keep up with the tradition of narrating the holy Quran to her son, but his father used to consider the beats of tabla as his prayer.
“He used to tell my mother that tabla beats are my knowledge and my prayer and that is how the beats were introduced to me. They have been there since I was a baby,” he said.
This practice of learning the beats continued as he grew older. At the age of seven, unlike other children, Hussain's routine started from three in the morning and continued for three hours. The tight schedule was fun, recalled Hussain.
“From 3-6 am, I used to practice slokas with my father, and from there I used to go to the madrassa to read Quran. After that, I used to listen to hymns and marched to my classes humming. Never has a priest or a mullah ever tried to tell me that what they are saying is the only truth,” he said.
Hussain who does not believe in shortcuts, said only hard work can take people forward.
“A child in his early age comes to know what he or she wants to be. Everybody has a DNA but only hard work pays. Not every son or daughter to an Ustad has been a musician. My father belonged to a family of farmers and soldiers but he became a musician because he worked hard towards it,” he said.
Interestingly, the iconic maestro's life is out in the open after he narrated the tales of his exhilarating life, musical journey and other interesting anecdotes to the acclaimed writer-producer Nasreen Munni Kabir in the book A Life For Music, which is now out on sale.