My father would launch himself into taans in such a manner that they would evolve naturally from the aalap. And the taans too like aalap would follow the structure of the bandish. Depending on the nature and scope of the raga, he would render aalap for an appropriate period of time and then take up taans. It must be remembered that not all ragas are amenable to long aalap. Some ragas like Bihari, Patbihag do not lend themselves to elaborate and forceful Taans. One of the distinctive features of Atrauli-Jaipur Gharana is the generous use of complex taan patterns and vakra taans. Straight, linear taans both ascending descending are generally, but not completely absent in our gharana. Complex taan patterns are varied in number. In his 30s, 40s and 50s, my father would use taans eight to ten times faster than the given laya and vakra at that! It was like a spinning top going on spinning and spinning, knowing no stops for the entire avartana or time-cycle, sometimes for two avartanas. He would go on and on like an automatic machine gun, only this was a musical gun. Early in my music career, I was so fascinated by these non-stop spurts of taans that I would launch into them too soon and my father used to rein me in and caution me saying ‘Do your aalap first. Don’t rush into taans. There’s time for everything, son’. In fact, he would say that the true identity of a raga is in its aalap because all the subtleties and nuances of the raga which make it rich can be amply shown there. To a certain extent, these subtleties and nuances are lost in taans. For instance, kan swaras, sookshma swaras, amshatmak swaras can rarely be shown in taans. Of course, the ‘flat’ (komalatva) and ‘sharp’ (teevratva) varieties of a swara have to be shown in taans too if they are present in the raga. For instance, the two madhyams in Lalat have to be manifested in taans too as my father used to say. But shruti varieties and shades of shrutis (tarateevra, tarakomal) cannot adequately be shown in taans. “Ideally speaking, these two should be shown in taans. But is impossible task for the likes of us”, he would confess.
The taan patterns which my father employed were of different kinds. I have heard it said that in our Gharana, the taans of all ragas sound alike. It is a very serious charge leveled against all the artists of the Gharana. Once when I mentioned this to my father, he said, ‘Son, this charge is made either out of professional jealousy by the adherents of other Gharanas (It’s an anxious thing. This antagonism among the various Gharanas) or it is made by people who have not developed the right kind of musical ear which can hear the subtle variations in taans of different ragas. In fact, since we base our taans on the structure of the bandishes, our taans of different ragas are definitely distinct. Hence they never sound alike to the trained ear. And then, with great annoyance because his Gharana was being belittled, he would launch on highlighting the drawbacks, the limitations and questioning the very credentials of some of the older and not-so-older Gharanas. When it was a matter of ‘Gharandar’, he would spare nobody. So proud he was of his Gharana. He would throw challenges to anybody and everybody who dared criticize the Gharana. It was so human of him to take the battle in the opposite / opponent’s court. His advice to me in this context was: “Don’t attach any importance to what others say. Pay close attention to what you are doing in your taans. Analyse your own taans and see for yourself that if they are following the structure of the bandish, they have got to sound differently. Listen through your ears and not through those of others”.
He would often talk about three vocalists who never employed what he called ‘unnatural force’ in taans – Rehmat Khan Saheb, Manji Khan Saheb and Chachabbu Khan Saheb. “All others whom I have heard, and I have heard lot many, do employ unnatural force in taans. In these three, there was not the slightest trace of unnatural force in their taans. There used to be a rasa in their taans, the most difficult element in taans”. He would then relate how one day to his great fortune he was able to listen to Chchabbu Khan Saheb in Kolhapur. Chchabbu Khan Saheb who belonged to the family of Taanras Khan Saheb was teaching one of my father’s friends. My father went along with a friend to Chchabbu Khan Saheb and requested him to sing for him. Chchabbu Khan Saheb asked my father to sing first. My father sang for fifteen, twenty minutes. And then the great man took his taanpura and a one reed sur peti which was besur. My father said, “But the peti is besur, Khan Saheb”. “Arre, wo sur me nahi hai to kya huwa, hum sur me hai na!” and then he sang for an hour or so. “Son, believe it or not, there was rasa in his taans and great emotion flowed through his taans. It was an experience for me”. Of his Guru, Manji Khan Saheb, my father would always say that his voice was extremely soft (‘mulayim’) even in taans. “And one really wouldn’t know when the alapi had ended and when the taans had commenced. Manji Khan Saheb would often say that in our Gharana, the taans are based on alapi and they would emerge naturally from alapi”.