Years after mesmerizing Kashmir with his Santoor mastery and voice, Ustad Mohmmad Abdullah TibetBaqal has finally found his heir-apparent in the form of his great grandson. At five, Abdullah Tibetbaqal Jr has already become the Santoor sensation in town.
The ‘momentous moment’ came when the music legend was long dead. With him, the streets — once reverberating with his Santoor tunes — in Old Srinagar’s Bodhgair had long hushed.
The maestro’s only son would refuse to become his musical heir-apparent. It left the room for his grandson, Aadil Tibetbaqal who would pick up the Santoor, play it for professional reasons, sans matching the mastery of his grandfather, Ustad Mohmmad Abdullah Tibetbaqal alias Abl-e-Saab.
All this changed one day, when Santoor came alive and began dishing out the same old tunes. The family confused the mesmerizing music with some old score of their late headman being played on radio.
They were wrong.
Those were different tunes, Aadil could tell, which were last heard in early eighties, when the Ustad’s demise silenced his spellbound Santoor.
It took the family a while to believe that the tunes were being played by Aadil’s four-year-old nephew named after his great grandfather, Abdullah Tibetbaqal-II.
The kid was running his tender hands on the 100-stringed dulcimer called Santoor, like the departed veteran.
For Aadil, an Assistant Professor at the Faculty of Music & Fine Arts, University of Kashmir, it was an incredible moment. How could someone—so naïve and novice—play the hard-to-handle musical instrument called Santoor so effortlessly, he wondered.
The music made by his minor nephew had the same transfixing effect, which used to be the hallmark of the previous Ustad.
Without disturbing him, Aadil could silently watch the Tibetbaqal Jr’s devotion with awe and sheer disbelief.
That day, the new Santoor artist was born in the family, whose ancestors had come to Kashmir through the Silk Route with the Islamic preachers.
But after the legendary Abl-e-Saab, the family hadn’t produced his musical match, despite Aadil learning and making the Santoor a part of his academics. Even he failed to recreate his grandfather’s aura, of turning masses into his captive audience. But in Tibetbaqal Jr, the family found their heir-apparent.
The fact that his nephew had never received any formal training in music amazed Aadil the most — when he saw him playing Santoor, for the first time, like a pro.
Such brilliance was last seen in his great grandfather Abdullah Tibetbaqal Sr—a master of melodic voice, who improvised Sufiyana music by introducing new techniques in it, both vocally and instrumentally.
But after his demise in early eighties, the family couldn’t maintain the tradition. The Ustad’s only son—and Aadil’s father—Muhammad Ashraf Tibetbaqal didn’t venture into the field of music. It was Ashraf’s elder son Aadil, who tried to play his part in the family tradition.
After learning Santoor, he began imparting its skill to music aspirants. He’s now grooming the fourth generation Tibetbaqal, after spotting his grandfather’s shades in him.
“Abdullah-II has inherited all the music traits of his great grandfather,” Aadil says.
The kid was only four when he learned all the basics. The curious child would secretly sneak into his maternal uncle Aadil’s rehearsals and observe him play. He learned everything through his gifted observation.
“Otherwise,” Aadil says, “playing Santoor is not everyone’s cup of tea. It takes years of professional training to learn the basics, but Abdullah learned it by just watching me. He’s indeed an exceptional child!”
At five, the kid has already become the youngest Santoor player of Jammu and Kashmir. In his arrival, many see the reincarnation of the legend.
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