A.R. Rahman: The Mozart of Madras
By Ayub Khan, MMNS
With two Oscars and worldwide acclaim Allah Rakha Rahman has emerged as the most successful of modern day Indian music composers. His varied melodies in the movie Slumdog Millionaire has been described by critics as the best that one has heard in a long time. Integrating classical Indian tunes with modern day pop and other genres A.R. Rahman creates inspiring scores which touch the hearts. His music is also heavily influenced by Sufi thought. Even at the greatest moment in his life A. R. Rahman displays an uncommon humility which has become his trademark.
A.R. Rahman was born Dileep Kumar on January 6, 1966, in Chennai. Rahmanâ€™s father, K.A. Sekhar was a successful musician, arranger and conductor in Malayalam movies and had worked with popular figures like Salil Chowdhary and Devarajan. Under this background, AR Rahman began learning the piano at the age of four. But life was not all that hunky-dory for the young boy who lost his father at the age of nine.
The responsibility of supporting his mother Kasturi (Kareema Begum) and three sisters (Kanchana, Bala – now Talat and Israth), soon fell on his young shoulders. At the age of eleven, Dileep joined Illaiyarajaâ€™s troupe as a keyboard player and a session musician on soundtracks. All this was casting an adverse effect on Rahmanâ€™s education. Lack of attendance and indifference on the part of the management forced him to shift from the prestigious Padma Seshadri Bal Bhavan to the Madras Christian College. However, he finally dropped out of school at the age of 16.
He then roamed the world with various orchestras including the renowned Tabla maestro Zakir Husain. His experience and exposure helped him earn a scholarship and obtain a degree in Western Classical Music from Trinity College of Music, Oxford University.
It was in the year 1989 that Dileep Kumar and his family converted into Islam. It wasnâ€™t a very difficult decision to make as his mother Kareema Begum belonged to a Muslim family. Also, in 1988, one of his sisters fell seriously ill and in spite of the familyâ€™s effort to cure her, her health deteriorated by the day. They happened to meet a Sufi Sheikh Abdul Qadir Jeelani or Pir Qadri. The spiritual comfort provided by the Shaikh was a source for the whole family and his sister also recovered. Shortly, thereafter the whole family converted to Islam. In an interview to the Arab News in 2006 A.R. Rahman described his journey to Islam as follows: â€œThe wh ole process started with a sequence of dream. It was in 1988. I was in Malaysia and had a dream of an old man who was asking me to embrace Islam. For the first time, I did not take it seriously, but then I saw the same dream several times and I discussed it with my mother. She encouraged me to go ahead and to respond to the call of the Almighty. Also, in 1988, one of my sisters fell seriously ill and in spite of the familyâ€™s effort to cure her, her health deteriorated by the day. Then under the guidance of one Muslim religious leader we prayed to Allah, which did wonder for my sister and she made a miraculous comeback to life. Thus, began my journey from Dileep Kumar to A.R. Rahman.â€
A devout Muslim, A.R. Rahman never misses his daily prayers. He composes his music mostly during night time so as not to disturb his prayers.