Thirakwa was born to a musical family in Moradabad, Uttar Pradesh State. He started vocal music lessons at an early age under Ustad Mithoo Khan. He also had some sarangi lessons from his father Hussain Bux. Ahmad Jan was really drawn to the art of tabla playing when he heard Ustad Munir Khan. He took his early lessons from his uncles Sher Khan, Faiyaz Khan and Bashwa Khan. Thirakwa became a student of Ustad Munir Khan at the age of 12. Since then, he put His heart to his riyaz (practice). His guru, Ustad Munir Khan, made him practice nearly 16 hours a day with half-hour breaks every know and then. Thirakwa had barely six hours to sleep. Thirakwa had a rich diet of nutritious food and milk so that he could keep up this grueling regimen.
He acquired his nickname in an interesting manner. It is said that Thirakwa's devoted practice and natural talent pleased Ustad Munir Khan so much that Thirakwa became his favourite disciple. Munir Khan's father, Kale Khan used to watch Thirakwa play. One day Kale Khan remarked how nicely his son's pupil's fingers "danced on the drum". "Thirakwa" came from the word "thirakh", or "shimmering thunder" - like the quality of a Kathak dancer's feet in action. Soon he was to be "Thirakwa, tabla master with dancing fingers".
Thirakwa's debut performance was in Khetwadi, Bombay at the age of 16. From then on he became one of the busiest artists in North India. In 1936 he was appointed a court-musician of Rampur. In his 30 years of service he accompanied the greatest musicians of his time. After his service, he went to Lucknow, Bhatkhande College of Music. He became professor and Head of the faculty of tabla. Even after he retired, he was closely associated with this institution as Professor Emeritus.
Thirakwa was able to play material from all the different gharanas. He belongs to the Laliyana parampara of the Farukhabad gharana. (Some suggest that this parampara deserves to be considered a separate gharana. read biography of Ustad Nizamuddin Khan for more details on Laliyana tradition). Other Laliyana musicians are Ustad Amir Hussain (nephew of Munir Khan), Ustad Nizamuddin Khan, Ghulam Hussain, Shamsuddin and Nikhil Ghosh.
The romantic and serene moods Thirakwa was able to express with his playing was something unbelievable. Audiences would sit engrossed in his solos for as long as he wished to play. He kept on doing his riyaz and the standard of his playing was unbelievable right up until the end.
There is only one Thirakwa!
© 1998 - 2018 David and Chandrakantha Courtney
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