It took a lot of convincing to get Zubin Mehta to authorise a biography, right after the maestro had penned his own memoir. Bakhtiar K. Dadabhoy, the author of Zubin Mehta: A Musical Journey tells us how he went from a firm ‘no’ to a keen ‘go ahead’ from the man.
When Bakhtiar K. Dadabhoy set out to write a biography on Zubin Mehta, he knew he had a formidable task at hand. It was not just about tracing the legacy of a man who has lived in many cities around the world and impacted countless lives through his music over several decades. The real question was how was he to convince Mehta to authorise the biography, especially when the maestro had just come out with his own memoir? It was curious enough that Bakhtiar even wanted to attempt the biography, considering he had just read the memoir. The author explains, “Soon after the book (Zubin Mehta: The Score Of My Life) was launched, I read it. It was a good book yes, but then I felt that it was understated. The man had led a far more interesting life than he had put out in his own memoir. I thought let me get to work — he may or may not like it.”
Thus began Bakhtiar’s long journey of research, wading through literally thousands of newspaper articles. “I have been tracking material since his name appeared in Time magazine in 1958. I tracked New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and a host of Israeli newspapers.” Bakhtiar finished writing almost the entire book and in 2008 when Mehta was launching his memoir in Mumbai, he bounced off the idea to him but was promptly rejected. However, Bakhtiar persisted for nearly three years after that, writing to him periodically.
The author, who works as a civil servant with the Indian Railways, didn’t let his day job pose any hindrance to his writerly ambitions. “By 2011, the first draft of this biography was ready,” he says. Things only moved forward in 2014, when Bakhtiar got to know that Mehta would be coming to Mumbai in 2016 for his 80th birthday concerts. “Something clicked in my head. A biography on someone’s 80th birthday is not a bad idea, so maybe he will agree now, I thought.” Bakhtiar contacted Zubin with renewed optimism. “And this time he didn’t let me down. But he said, ‘I don’t know who you are and why are you doing this. I need to read what you’ve written etc.’ We took it from there. We had a long detailed interview; he was kind enough to give me an hour, that too after six hours of rehearsal when he last came to Mumbai. We used to have long telephone conversations too. Maestro Mehta cooperated wonderfully once he realised that his uninvited biographer had done his homework well.
Naturally, he wanted to read the manu script before authorising the biography. He read it and made a few factual corrections but never once did he ask me to delete any part of the narrative, which was critical of him. He knew it was not going to be a hagiography and was generous and gracious enough not to pressurise me.”
Bakhtiar, who calls himself “an unmusical bureaucrat”, got into writing quite by accident. “My first book a Dictionary of Dates was a compilation which was the end product of jotting down interesting dates and other trivia. A similar book on cricket followed and then came a short biography of JRD Tata, which continues to sell well after more than ten years. So yes, you could say I strayed into writing,” he says.
His fascination with Zubin Mehta began with a concert in Delhi that he had attended with his family. “It was in 1984 on September 12. I still remember the date. He was conducting the New York Philharmonic at the Siri Fort Auditorium, Delhi.” While he does enjoy Western classical music, Bakhtiar says, “I’d be lying if I said I understand it. I grew up on stuff like Dire Straits, Eagles, Pink Floyd, and Abba.”
Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire is one of his favourite books. “I still read chapters at random not so much for the history but for the fabulous writing style. Robert Kanigel’s Life of Ramanujam is also a firm favourite.” Ask him if he’d like to pen someone else’s biography and Bakhtiar says, “No one on the radar thus far.”
Having penned a biography, knowing the man behind the artist, does it somewhat dilute the star-struck aura? “In a way you are right. Earlier I was an admirer and also in awe of him. Now I’m still an admirer but not as awestruck as before. No one is perfect and the biography of a perfect person would make dull reading I think.”...