I first met Bade Ghulam Ali Khan in 1939 in Calcutta at the All Bengal Music Conference, where I had gone with my father and brother. I had my first performance there. I was just eight years old then. I heard Bade for the first time, and ever since then I have been in awe of the man and his music. I had the opportunity to meet him at the Bombay Conference and in many more places later. In 1939 again, in Bhopal, he heard me play and told me to give a performance the very next day! I think it was around 1960 that Bade had come to Madras for a stay of about ten days. When my father came to know this, he arranged a concert at R.R. Sabha. M. Natesan was the Secretary of the Sabha. He felt that there will be no crowd or gate collection for a Hindustani recital. My father offered the maestro's charges of 1,000 rupees from his own pocket. But the concert turned out to be a huge crowd-puller and the gate collection alone came to Rs. 3,000! It was a brilliant performance before a full house. Bade sang with hisbrother Barkat Ali Khan and his son Munawwar Ali Khan played the tambura. Later he used to sing with his son too. Neither is alive today. His disciple Ajoy Chakraborty is carrying on the tradition. Then some private concerts were arranged, in our house too. One was arranged in M.L. Vasanthakumari's house. I was giving accompaniment to MLV in those days. Another concert was in the Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. The episode where GNB fell at his feet is well-known. Once my father and I travelled to Bombay in the same First Class compartment as Bade. As the train sped on the Central to Arakkonam lap, the lamp-posts flew past us. Keeping time from one lamp-post to the next, Bade sang the raga scale in three octaves. Such was the speed and precision of his singing. He continued this kind of sadhana for fifteen hours! Bade's music was perfection itself. Each and every note would fall in place with unerring purity (aani aditthaarpol irukkum).
There would be no faltering or fading off (teysal irukkaadu). If he took a raga, say Sindhubhairavi, he would take the notes from sa to sa, then ri to ri and so on. In each he would sing that particular raga's (Sindhubhairavi) phrases, and then the sruti bheda raga thus created. He was the first to use the sur-mandal while singing. Now many Hindustani musicians use it. He was an excellent human being, very friendly to move with. I have accompanied him on the violin when he sang informally in our house.
During one of his visits to Madras, musicians like MLV and Radha-Jayalakshmi came to learn bhajan-s from him. His music was truly 'Bade' (great). One simply cannot grasp that kind of music(smarikka mudiyaadu). [When asked if he has been influenced by Bade Ghulam's music, MSG replies:] I am a student of Krishnanand of the Kirana gharana. But my father always said that as the butterfly (pattu poochi gathers the best honey from a variety of flowers, so also should we take the best from the great masters, wherever we can find them. With diligent practise we should assimilate this into our own style. We should not claim that one style is superior to another. Music is limitless. As a musician gains age and experience he is considered a senior musician. But even then, every time he performs, he has to pass the test, however senior he may be. Aanaikkum adi sarukkum—no one can be absolutely faultless every time!
I have heard Bade perform man times. The archives of AIRKolkata have many of his recordings.