"Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time like dew on the tip of a leaf." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Faces of India
Zakir Hussain

Romola Butalia met tabla maestro Zakir Hussain after he was voted the sexiest man in India by women readers of Gentleman. Meeting him at a recording studio, he spoke with the same natural ease he displays when he woos audiences who come to hear him perform.

"I was shocked. I have never considered myself sexy," said Zakir Hussain, "like most men I have a restricted view of what is sexy, and associate the label with a hunk of a man." When the shock wore off, he was left with mixed feelings. "I realise now how a woman feels when she's called sexy. It is flattering and pleasurable in a way, but offensive at the same time.

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"It made me feel like a sex object. I had never defined sexy before and never considered anyone sexy. Beautiful, attractive, sensuous, yes, but not sexy. Of course it didn't change my image of myself because labels like this come and go and next year someone else will be branded thus."

Why did he think women perceived him as sexy ? "The love and pleasure I experience when I create music naturally emanates from me and is probably infectious. I suppose that can be sensuous, seductive, exciting. When I am playing, I am in a special space and I experience incredible levels of pleasure."

The way Hussain reaches out and makes connections through his music with both novice and aficionado alike is a delight indeed. There is nothing self-conscious or pretentious about him. I have always found him such a charming integration of Eastern values and traditions blended with Western liberalism.

I have seen him perform on stage on several occasions, and been moved by his renditions as much as I had been impressed by that of his father, the acknowledged guru of tabla, Ustad Alla Rakha, whose concert I had first watched as a child, and realised even then that appreciation of music is from deep within. It stirs the chords of emotions impossible surely to define without music.


Zakir Hussain's life clearly revolves around music, "Every experience I have ever had is related to music. Any contact, relationship, pleasure or adulation I have felt can be expressed in terms of music. If I feel sad, and seek an expression for it, I would deal with it through music. Any personal growth or interaction has been through it. For me, music defines all that there is, all that I can do and be - it is my mode of learning. I find it a boon, because everyone needs to find a means of learning, like a guru. Music is a state of mind. All art and culture is a way of life."

Hussain believes that to a great extent, an artist creates his own world, and that he can continue to do what he is doing and be who he is because people can relate to him through his art. "At least on the surface, a person involved in the creative process is like an open book, and people can approach him, respond and relate to him, wherever they are. Through the pleasure I experience, I probably convey the hope of being able to understand life, as I do through music."


The creative process is obviously something he takes very seriously. The creative moment, he says is the moment of naked truth, when others can lock in and fly with him, as he does when he listens to other musicians play. "It is like the experience of two people in love. I like that communion...slowly the world dissolves and becomes part of you. It is an incredible high, It is a connection without veils, boundaries, hesitancies...it is an experience of abandonment, whether you are 18 or 80, whether you are a man or a woman."

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.