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  • Radhika Mohan Maitra:His Life and Times
  • Kalyan Mukherjea (bio) and Peter Manuel (bio)

Radhika Mohan Maitra (pronounced and often spelled Moitra, 1917-1981), popularly known as Radhubabu, was one of the finest sarod players of his generation. Perhaps more interestingly, he lived through a period of unprecedented change both in Indian society and Hindustani music. Hindustani music, its social status, and its manner of propagation altered enormously during Radhubabu's lifetime. These changes affected not only his career, but also how the general public and the community of musicians perceived one another. This biographical essay attempts to convey an impression of the spirit of the times in which Radhubabu developed as a musician; many small anecdotes, though not essential to an account of Radhubabu's life, have been recounted since they throw light upon an era of which hardly any trace remains.

The Early Years

The appellation "Radhubabu" comes from "Radhu," a diminutive form for "Radhika," and the honorific suffix "babu," which is something like the Japanese "san" or Hindustani "ji." Since the use of "babu" while referring to a young boy or teenager is somewhat ridiculous, in describing Radhubabu's early years I have preferred to use his name. Radhika Mohan was the eldest son of Rai Bahadur Brajendra Mohan Maitra, the zamîndâr (feudal administrator) of a large estate whose main center was the town of Rajshahi (presently located in Bangladesh, across the Indian border from Maldah in Bengal, India). The zamîndârs lived on the income accruing from the taxes they collected from their estates, this right having been granted them in the late 18th century by the East India Company, the first British colonial administrators of India. The zamîndârs were often addressed as "raja" or "maharaja," depending on the size and prosperity of their estate. They lived with as many of the trappings of royalty as they fancied and could afford. Thus, zamîndârs who enjoyed music often employed masters of Hindustani classical music as court musicians. Indeed, they were largely responsible, through their patronage, for the preservation of Hindustani classical music after royal patronage at the Mughal court declined during and after the reign of Aurangzeb (d. 1707). One of the court musicians in Rajshahi during the 1920s and 1930s was the sarod player Ustad Mohammed Amir Khan of Shahjahanpur, [End Page 180] who was Radhika Mohan's first teacher. (This Amir Khan was himself the son of Abdullah Khan, disciple and adopted son of Murad Ali Khan, who was the uncle of Hafiz Ali Khan, father of famed present-day sarod player Amjad Ali Khan.) Another musician who had a profound influence on Radhika Mohan during his early years was the great sitar player Ustad Inayat Hussain Khan (d. 1938), whose son Vilayat Khan (d. 2004) was a dominant figure in the Hindustani music scene in the latter half of the 20th century.

Inayat Khan was the court musician at the estate of Gauripur, the seat of the Raychaudhuri family, whose current head was a great patron of music and friend of the senior Maitra. In fact, not only were the two patrons friends, but Amir Khan and Inayat Khan had a warm personal relationship. According to Radhubabu, Inayat Khan would in private refer to Amir Khan as châchâmiyân or uncle. In addition, Radhika Mohan's mother, Binapani, had learned the sitar from Inayat Khan.

It was fairly common for one or more members of the patron's family to become students of the musician-in-residence; generally these "noble disciples" did not exert themselves strenuously to master the music, although some exceptions did occur. For instance, Birendra Kishore Raychaudhuri of Gauripur was a sursringâr player who was greatly respected, even by professional musicians, for his musical knowledge and virtuosity. A younger cousin of the senior Maitra used to take lessons from Amir Khan, but hardly ever exerted himself and was making little progress when the young Radhika Mohan got fascinated with the instrument and, whenever the opportunity arose, tried to imitate the lessons his elder cousin neglected to practice. One day Amir Khan saw the small boy trying to play the sarod and...


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