Imagine a place where the Muse of music, Erato, has her abode. That’s Mausiqi Manzil which reminds one of the Red Indian folktales of the musical Home of the Great Spirit to which a little songbird wanted to fly and bring a new song to gladden the failing hearts of humankind. The distance was too long and the wily bird adopted the stratagem of riding on the back of a swift eagle which, goaded by its sudden guest, flew and flew until it began to tire while still a short way from its destination. Just then the songbird sprang up from the eagle’s back and managed to reach the Home of the Great Spirit and bring back a new song to make the world a happier place again, though it hid in the trees as it was ashamed that the poor eagle did not get its due honour.
Like the songbird, the name of the actual founder of Mausiqi Manzil in Suiwalan remains anonymous, but his descendants have kept up the tradition that began under him 700 years ago to enliven the Slave dynasty kings who were tired of being at war all the time.
Think of the stern Altamash or Illtutmish, who left his kingdom not to his sons but daughter Razia Sultan, listening to the classical Khan singers of the original Mausiqi Manzil and sometimes swaying to the taan and the taap, forgetting the cares of State and the many problems that beset him, including the invasion of Chingez Khan and his Mongol hordes. But luckily they passed like a storm through Punjab and Altamash did not have to face them. It is interesting to note that the graves of Razia and her sister Sazia behind Turkman Gate are not far from Mausiqi Manzil in Suiwalan locality of the Walled City. What a link (by coincidence) with medieval times when the fortunes of the ancestors of Chand Khan were still in their formative stage and their Mousiqi Manzil was still to come up!
Hazi Faiyazuddin (80), who heard the 17th descendant Ustad Chand Khan, sing, says the Ustad was born at about the same time as Jawaharlal Nehru and used to talk of his ancestors who sang at the court of Altamash, successor of Qutubuddin Aibak, the first ruler of the Slave dynasty and earlier regent of Mohammad Ghori. By that contention, the original Mousiqi Manzil of the forefathers of Chand Khan must have been in Mehrauli, from where Altamash and his successors ruled. It moved to Shahjanabad some 500 years later, where Tansukh Manzil also came up, whose main adherent was Tanras Khan. It is said of him that when he sang the walls of the Red Fort reverberated to his majestic voice and made the begums of the Mughal harem swoon.
New Mausiqi Manzil, that predates the Urdu Ghar built by Khwaja Hassan Nizami in Macchliwalan (fish market) of Jama Masjid, came up during the reign of Shah Alam’s successor, Akbar Shah Sani (1806-1837). At Urdu Ghar, which became a hotel later, every marble tile carried the inscription “Ghar Ghar Urdu” to popularize the language. It was there that poets like Josh Malihabadi, Firaq Gorakhpuri, Jigar Moradabadi and Majaz Lucknavi held impromptu mushairas as the new owner of the place, Afzal Peshwari, was himself a romantic “Shair” who had seven wives and 28 children. The audience included such personalities as Dr M. Ansari, Mir Mushtaq Ahmed, Barrister Nuruddin and Imad Sabri, who discovered the demolished grave of Shiekh Ibrahim Zauq, Ghalib’s contemporary, in Paharganj.
The present director of Mousiqi Manzil is Ustad Iqbal Ahmed Khan. An old Delhiwallah, Amiruddin, remembers that Iqbal Sahib’s grandfather, Ustad Chand Khan and his brothers, were regular visitors to his ancestral hotel. They were friends of his father, who often attended the music programmes at Mousiqi Manzil. Chand Khan was a celebrated classical singer of medium height and build, fond of eating paan and good food. His close companions included Ustad Sadiq Ali Khan of Rampur, the been player at the court of the Nawab there, and Hafiz Ali Khan, father of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, who used to come from Gwalior to regale the audience with his sarod recital. Also from that place came Ustad Nissar Ahmed Khan, and from Lahore Bade Ghulam Ali Khan who innovated the lilting raga for Salim and Anarkali on a romantic night at Fatehpur Sikri in the film Mughal-e-Azam while chameli flowers fell from a bush on the acting lovers (Dilip Kumar and Madhubala) huddled up in sleep supposedly induced by Akbar’s court musician, Tansen.
When the Mughal court of Bahadur Shah Zafar was abolished by the British, the musicians attached to it were employed by rajas and nawabs, along with the dancing girls or tawwaifs, many of whom were patronized by Wazid Ali Shah of Awadh. After 1947, when the Rajwadas or States ruled by the princes and nawabs were merged into the Indian Union by Sardar Patel, classical singers attached to those courts lost their patrons and as a result their monthly income. Then, Naina Devi, with the help of Jawaharlal Nehru, set up the Bhartiya Kala Kendra at Pusa Road, which later moved to Mandi House. The Kendra, like Mausiqi Manzil, became a good meeting place for the dislodged singers. It continues to remain such a platform even now. The Manzil, however, has become its poor cousin.
In its heyday, listening to the ragas of Sawan in the mesmerizing voice of Chand Khan was a treat that the surviving oldies have not yet forgotten. Chand Khan’s brothers, Usman Khan and Jahan Khan, sang after him to make the occasion a heady mix of classical and neo-classical nuggets. Such soirees attracted the cream of society. Begum Akhtar often sang there since she was a disciple of Chand Khan. Mausiqi Manzil now is in a dilapidated condition, though students of music continue to be trained there, thanks to Ustad Iqbal Khan and his affectionate begum. The heavenly tanas emanating from the Manzil no doubt make it Delhi’s fabled ‘House of Music’!
(R.V. Smith is a historian of Delhi)