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Pied Piper of CP

Alim Khan sits every day in A Block of Delhi’s iconic Connaught Place playing his heart out on his flute, hiding his sorrows behind those tunes and dreaming of making it big in Bollywood

Connaught Place, the capital’s favourite hangout spot, will greet you with its maze of white buildings, the buzz of the crowd and the honking of horns. But amidst all this commotion, in A Block, you get to hear a man playing the melodious tunes of ‘Saare jahan se achha’ being played on his flute.

Mohammed Alim Khan was born in Paigambar village of Bihar’s Sahran district in 1984. “I was very naughty as a child and I used to give my mother a hard time”, says Khan. “I used to play all day and never return home”. The one thing that always gripped little Alim’s attention was music. Every time his father used to come home from Patna, where he was a musician at Patna University, he would wait at home with eager anticipation. “As soon as my father used to come, I asked him to play songs on his flute. The sound of the flute always used to soothe my soul.”

But Alim’s life was not going to be as melodious as the tunes of the flute. In 1992, when he was only eight years old, his father passed away. “I was too young to remember how he died. But I remember that after his death, I used to sit in my village home, waiting for my father to come and play the flute, disappointed when he didn’t come”, says Khan.

Since then, young Alim would pick up the flute and try to create his tunes, even though, he says, they were completely discordant. “I was always fascinated with the flute as I wondered how a simple piece of bamboo could churn out such fine musical tunes,” he says. Khan says that he always wanted to learn music, but due to his father’s untimely demise, his family went through a very bad economic crisis and thus he didn’t have the resources to go to a music school.

One day, as Khan was returning from school, he suddenly heard a loud commotion near his house. When he rushed there, he saw a number of villagers hurling abuses and threatening to beat up his mother. As he rushed to her aid, the crowd came to him and started beating him up. “They beat me up so hard that I thought I would die. I have never experienced so much fear in my entire life,” he says.

The reason for this tussle was that his mother and the village seniors had an argument as his Muslim mother was filling up water from a tubewell reserved only for Hindus. This argument slowly started gaining heat and quickly turned violent. After that incident, they were forced to leave the village and settle elsewhere. “Since leaving home that day, I have never gone back. I sometimes miss the land where I was born”, he says. Yet he plays that tear-jerking patriotic tune on his flute.

After the incident, they settled in Howrah, West Bengal, where he continued his studies at a local school. This time, he says, was one of the most testing times in his life as his mother worked as a domestic help, and that was the only source of income in the family. But even during those times, his father’s flute was the thing that kept him happy. “Since, I was a little older now, I went through my father’s diaries and started learning the basics of playing the flute myself. Music was always the driving force of my life even during these tough times,” he says.

Seeing his passion for music, Khan’s mother decided to send him to a reputed music school, so that his son could get the best training. So began his musical journey via Prayag Music University, Allahabad. “Living in a different city was always going to be costly, but my mother made sure that I would never face any monetary problem, as she provided the bulk of her income for me and my studies,” he says.

In Prayag University, the student brushed up his natural raw talent, and slowly and steadily became a skilled flutist. “I was a star in my university. All my teachers would come up and praise me for my abilities,” he says. But not only did Khan learn how to play the flute, he also learnt how to make one. “If you don’t know the nitty-gritty of your instrument and how it is made, you can never become a true musician,” says Khan.

But his dream was not just to play the flute, but to enter the glitzy, glamorous Bollywood. “Since childhood, I was obsessed with Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi. After learning the flute, I only used to render versions of their songs on my flute,” he says. He always wanted to go and settle in Mumbai and be a music director in the film industry.

Khan began to earn through his music, as he decided that he would save up his earnings to one day go to the film industry and produce his own music album. But Allahabad was too small a city for earning money through music. It is then that he came to Delhi to earn a living through his flute. “In search of a job, I went to many places, and finally landed one, when the temple authorities at Isckon hired me to perform during their aarti. Aside from that I even performed as fillers in live music concerts and even got a job as a teacher in Dignity International Public school in Saket. I even made flutes and sold them here at Connaught Place,” he says.

During his stay in Delhi, Khan got married in 2009, and in course of time became the father of four children. “Being a father for the first time was the most joyous moment for me in my life”, he says. Khan’s life was going well, as he had a happy family and was earning enough to save up for his Bollywood aspirations. But soon, tragedy struck again.

One day, two of his children fell so ill, they had to be hospitalised. He took them to a government hospital, where the doctors said that they would be fine within a matter of days. But the children showed no signs of recovery. Both succumbed to their illness. During this time, Khan spent all his savings just to get his two little ones back.

Though he felt as if his life was shattered to pieces, Khan says that playing his flute is the only way he could channel his grief. After the incident, he started coming to Connaught Place to play his heart out. He says that his grief-stricken tunes caught the eye of a lot of people in the area, and he made a lot of friends, who requested him to come here every day and play the flute.

The musician wanted to go to Bollywood so that the public could appreciate what he does, but he feels that when people gather at Connaught Place to hear his tunes, he gets ample appreciation for his craft. “Earlier, I used to come here once a week, but now, since last four years, I come here every evening for two hours, not just to sell flutes, but play, so that people can hear and appreciate the instrument,” he says.

Of course, Mohd Alim Khan hasn’t given up on his Bollywood dreams. “I have made many friends here at Connaught Place, and one of them happens to live in Mumbai, and promised me that he would try to recommend me to Bollywood music directors, so that I can pursue my dream”, he concludes with hope. So if he does make it big, remember you first read about him here.