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Saturday, December 19, 2009

Then & Now : 100 minutes of history,eternity of indifference

Tushar Bhatt
Time: 11.40 a m on March 18, 1922.
Place: A ground floor room at the Circuit House in Shahibaug in Ahmedabad.
Scene: Barely 20 minutes before the trial, often compared with that of Socrates, of Mahatma Gandhi on charges of sedition.The court room was filled to the capacity.
The charges were that the three articles published in Young In-dia of September 29 and December 15,1921, and February 23, 1922,titled Tampering with Loyalty, A Puzzle and Its Solution and Shaking of the Manes. After the arguments by the Advocate-General, Sir Thomas Strangman,the court asked Gandhi if he would like to make a statement.
The Mahatma,then 53, stood up,erect and unafraid.The court room was all ears,as if the entire the world were intently listening to what this man who described himself as a farmer and weaver had to say. "...I have no desire whatsoever to conceal from this court the fact to preach disaffection towards the existing system of government has become almost a passion with me....Non-violence is the first article of my faith. It is also the last article of my creed.But I had to make a choice. I had either to submit to a system which I considered had done an irreparable harm to my country, or incur the risk of the mad fury of my people bursting forth, when they understood the truth from my lips....I am, therefore, here to submit not to a light penalty but to the highest penalty. I do not ask for mercy. I do not plead any extenuating act."
Gandhiji then read out the statement in a measured tone,tracing the events of Chauri Chora,the Punjab and other places in the country,which made him become an "uncompromising disaffection-ist and non-co-operator" from a " staunch loyalist".
" I discovered that as a man and an Indian, I had no right. More correctly I discovered that I had no rights as a man, because I was an Indian....The administration of law is prostituted consciously or consciously for the benefit of the exploiter."
Gandhiji said: " Affection cannot be manufactured or regulated by law. If one has no affection for a person or system one should be free to give the fullest expression to his disaffection so long as he does not contemplate, promote or incite to violence."
" I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a government which in totality has done more harm to India than any previous system. India is less manly under the British Rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system and it has been a precious privilege for me to be able to write what I have in the various articles tendered in evidence against me."
He told the judge: "The only course open to you is either to resign your post and thus dissociate yourself from evil, if you feel that the law you are called upon to administer is an evil and that in real-ity I am innocent; or to inflict on me the severest penalty...."
The statement that sounded like the testament of India's freedom struggle had taken just 15 minutes to read. There was a hush in the court room.
The air was heavy with apprehension. The sessions judge,Mr C.Broomsfield,began slowly : "....The law is no respecter of per-sons.Nevertheless it will be impossible to ignore the fact that you are in a different category from any person I have ever tried or am likely to try. It would be impossible to ignore the fact that in the eyes of millions of your countrymen are a great patriot and a great leader. Even those who differ from you in politics look upon you as a man of high ideals and of noble and of even saintly life.I have to deal with you in one character only."
The judge handed the Mahatma an imprisonment of six years adding that " if the course of events in India should make it possible for the government to reduce the period and release you, no one will be better pleased than I."
As the judge left the room, followers crowded around Gandhi. Some fell at his feet,others were sobbing.Gandhi was smiling and cool.The Great Trial of Gandhi had taken 100 minutes.

TIME MARCHES ON And, an eternity of casualness follows.Here is a scene frozen in memory.

Time: Around 3.45 in the afternoon on a humid July day in 1997,barely four weeks before the 50th anniversary of India's Independence.
Scene: Circuit House in Shahibaug.
Despite being state guest house frequented by VIPs,the lawn gives an impression of poor maintenance,an impression that would strengthen inside the historic room.The place is quiet, with only a handful of bearers and other minions on government payroll,are bustling around,wearing the patented bureaucratic look of being purposeful without being meaningfully so.In short, not doing much. Nobody has time to answer queries related to the past, pre-occupied with the mundane matters of the present. " The manager saheb has gone out for work" comes the pat reply from a bored clerk,manning the telephone-cum-reception desk. A limousine slides into the portico and he does not have time even for a bored non-reply. A chhota-make-believe VIP, i.e. a political hanger-on of a leader,has arrived.
All along the four wall,stacked are smaller chairs,numbering more than 35. Some one dozen more chairs, of moulded plastics are piled up at one place. The general idea appears to be that no one, but no one should, run short of a chair, at least in this room,if not in the state and the country at large.
Everyone appears blissfully unaware of the real significance of the room,where Gandhiji was tried.It faces the dining hall on the ground floor and is used now as a lounge for visitors and as a place where occasionally politicians of all hues hold press conferences. "You see, the place is really inexpensive as compared to a hotel", says a worker, explaining why politicians choose the lounge to tell the media on-record untruths, right under the mournful glance of the Bapu,whose life-size oil painting adorns the far-side wall.Mercifully, the politicians generally sit with their back turned on the historic Gandhi trial documents.
The floor tiles wear a dirty look,as if it has only been sparingly and grudgingly swept all these days. Three-piece sofa sets,each one complete with side and front tables are in front of all the four walls.There are several doors but only one is open; two neon tube-lights throw pools of eerie fluorescent light.Three fans are turning in true government-fashion,going round and round without cooling the room.
On another wall is a large painting ,depicting the scene of Gan-dhi's trial but hardly anyone seems interested.Next to it is another oil-painting,with Gandhi sitting in his famous posture.The next wall has the honour of having a bust each of the Mahatma and Sardar Patel.So much for the effort to render the place beautiful.It has the signature of PWD all over.
The actual documents-- or,truthfully,photostat copies of these -- are housed in display panels,numbering nine and mounted on steel tubings,pushed into the room corners in clusters of threes and twos.The first panel,mounted on a black paper says boldly, The Judgement,but the first page of the judgement that should be under it is missing. The second page (see the photograph) has been eaten into by moths.The tube lights on each panel are resolutely switched off,lest someone reads the historic documents.
Outside the room are two plaques,one in Hindi and the other in English,telling visitors of the historic importance of the room. An employee is half-dozing on a chair,presumably doing his duty to-wards the government and the state it rules,thanks to the Ma-hatma.
It all looks like an ill-kept,unkempt place honouring the apostle of cleaninless in personal and public life, a stark reminder of how far we have come to his ideal of Swaraj after half-a-century.If it is a determined effort designed to make one forget about Gandhi, it succeeds eminently.

The eternity of indifference persists, with minor modifications visualised by the Babudum.


Jhaverchand Meghani;Everybody's darling,poet of the nation.

Tushar Bhatt

Time: Summer,1930.Place:Dhandhuka.Scene:The court room,with nearly two thousand people mill-ing around outside.
A big-eyed, moustachioed man in his thirties, impressively dressed in a typical Kathiawadi attire, complete with a turban, had just heard Judge Isani hand him down a sentence for two years, for trying to undermine the British Empire.It was for a speech he had never made in the nearby Barwala. But, the police wanted to imprison him badly in those days of the salt satyagrah.
In his rich voice, the man started singing a self-composed nationalist song,so poignantly that it seemed to carry the burden of the sufferings of millions of his enslaved countrymen:
Nathi Janyun Amare Panth Shi Afat Khadi Chhe,
Khabar Chhe Etli Ke Maatni Hakal Padi Chhe.
(What obstacles are on the way,I do not know,
All I know is that the Motherland calls me,and I must go.)
A hush fell over the court premises.When he finished,tears welled up in hundreds of eyes,including the judge's.It was something that depicted the mood of India at that time,when it was impossible to predict when the sun will set on the mighty Empire.Nobody knew if the freedom struggle would lead to independence,or when,and yet none was bothered.They seemed responding to the inner call.
Not for nothing Father of the Nation,Gandhiji, had described him as the Poet of the Nation.The Ma-hatma, whose first name was Mohan,once described Meghani as something like a flute of the freedom struggle,comparing him with the flute of another Mohan,Krishna.
Had he been alive,Jhaverchand Meghani,whose birth anniversary falls in August,the month in which India won its independence, would have been nearing the centenary of his life. More than half a century after his death,Meghani still remains the most popular of Gujarati writers and poets, a darling of every-body.
But, to appreciate him only as a poet of deeply-stirring songs of patriotism would be like appreciating only one side of a multi-faceted gem.For a quarter century,Meghani had done yeoman's service in col-lecting,documenting, researching and bringing on to record Saurashtra's rich folk stories,songs and music. He had also done much to preserve the original style of the folk singing,remembering more than 500 folk songs,bhajans, duhas and what not in every authentic detail possible.
Meghani was more than that too; he was a bridge between the old and the new,was as much at ease with charans,folk musicians,village women and unlettered but highly-cultured people of old Kathia-wad,as with the modern day poets,be they Irish or English or even Rabindranath Tagore.Till today,he remains a colossus striding the Gujarati literary scene,unmatched by any single writer's contribution or sensitivity.Meghani did not just master the techniques of putting words on to the paper;he had mas-tered the magic of capturing the flavour of the soil,the romance of the day-to-day and the music extra-ordinary of the most ordinary.
All these were there since time immemorial,but only rarely did the men like Jhaverchand Meghani hit the literary scene,possessing an acute ear,a dexterous pen and a literary refinement that was so so-phisticated that even the most rustic would feel augmented,rather than over-whelmed by it.
His speciality also lay in his ability to bring into Gujarati something that deeply moved him,whether it happened to be folk song sung by an old kharva woman of Mahuva or a poem about a Santhal woman by Tagore.He could create an entirely new idiom,harness words,impart them newer and deeper shades of meaning and make it all melodiously rhythmical,both in prose and verse.
Gandhiji was a prosaic man,although he too wielded a powerful pen,both in English in Gujarati.Even he could not but bring in an elegant simile when talking of Meghani,a few months after Jhaverchand died on March 9,1947.When after the Independence,the Junagadh merger tangle came up,Manuben Gandhi quoted the Mahatma in her diary,about his home region,Kathiawad:" One should have special acumen to know Kathiawad....It is loaded with history,there is an innate strength of the people,there is arts,there is culture,beauty everything.Meghani was immersed in researching the literature of all these.In today's turmoil, a few masters of folk-literature like could change the entire atmosphere in a moment."
Gandhi went on to say that services of people like Meghani could be compared with the role of the flute played by Krishna.Although Krishna played it,the flute it was that lured the gopis,the people and the cattle alike.Gandhi noted with a sense of regret that the real worth of such people was never as-sessed;they were never properly understood.
Yet,Jhaverchand Meghani himself was always modest about what he did.In a typical self-introspection in Eak Taro,he said:"Do poets,and other creators of literature write everything from their own experience? Do they filter every happening through their own experience? I would reply in the negative. Maybe,there is one group of poets who do bring forth on to the paper,their own emotional ex-periences.There is another group that mostly tries to play on their own emotional veena or eak tara ex-periences of others.I have done this."
Even though he may not have personally experienced ,Meghani,nevertheless was capable of in-tensely empathising with others; it was this trait that gave an elegiac tone to his writing.A friend of his and poet the late Dula Kag,noted an incident where Meghani found a 70-plus old woman working as a labourer at Mahuva port.Her son had drowned in the sinking of a country vessel owned by a local mer-chant.Meghani idly asked her as to why had she not asked the owner of the vessel for compensa-tion.The old woman said plaintively:"How could I ask? Maybe,it was because of my son that his vessel sank.On hearing this, recalled Kag,Meghani sat down and wept,asking him:"Dulabhai, who is more civi-lised, this poor old woman or the rich owner of the ship?"
So sensitive was his heart's seismograph, so powerful was his soul's literary antenna that Meghani did not need personal experience; he could empathise as intensely in other people's experiences of life,filter it and bring forth real gems of folk literature that had appeal beyond the barriers of lan-guage.Dula Kag once compared Meghani with a dhuldhoya, some one who washes the ore to separate gold from the dust.
Jhaverchand Meghani was a prolific writer; over a span of a little over a quarter century,he produced some 75 works of high literary note,including volumes of poetry,novels,novelettes,biography,short sto-ries,folk stories,folk songs,research work on folk literature and other writings.He was one of the most industrious letter writers too.A volume of his 600 letters has been published after his death.Meghani's literature has been translated into several languages,ranging from Assamese to Tamil and English to Sindhi.
Among the more acclaimed of his writings are the five-part Saurashtra Ni Rasdhar,Sorath Tara Va-hetan Pani,Mansai Na Diva,Yug Vandana,Prabhu Padharya,three-part Sorath Baharva-tia,Halaradan,Sorathi Santo,Sorathi Geetkathao..The list goes on and on,and is only illustrative.
Born in August(there is some uncertainty about the exact date as also the year,please see the next article),at Chotila in Surendranagar district,in the house of Kalidas Meghani, who was in the police de-partment of the then Kathiawad Agency,and Dholiibai, a bania couple,Jhaverchand always loved to de-scribe himself as a child of the mountain, a reference to a hill at Chotila.His father had a job that took the family to far-off outposts in different parts of Saurashtra,at Datha,Chamardi,Lakha Padar,Paliyad, Bagasara,Rajkot.He went to a primary school in Rajkot and to a high school in Wadhwan Camp and Am-reli,and after matriculation in 1912 went on to join college,first for a term at Junagadh and then at Bhavnagar.In 1916,he took his with English and Sanksrit and became a teacher in Bhavna-gar while preparing for his post-graduation.But within a year he gave up studies,and went to Calcutta to join Jivanlal's aluminium company,spending three years,starting on a junior post and climbing to that of a manager. During this period he went with his boss on a visit to England too.The boss was so im-pressed that he wanted to post Jhaverchand to London permanently,but the young man had different ideas.
Meghani has noted that his childhood memories had firmly imprinted in his psyche the ambience of Saurashtra's more remote places,their silence,the roar of the wind swishing through trees,rivers and rivulets,cutting through hills and jungles,the echoes of duhas,songs,stories and joys and sorrows of that blissful life -- all had remained forever with him,as if haunting him to return. Without realising their worth,the boy Jhaverchand had relished the culture fervour and flavour of it all,and it left a life-long pin-ing for more of it in him.
His stay in Calcutta ,far from his beloved homeland of Kathiawad,became unbearable,impelling him to write on September 18,1921 a letter home,giving notice of his coming back.Even today,it reads evocatively of his mind-frame,which with the passage of time,became bigger and bigger,encompassing the gamut of literary activities he was to undertaken: I feel like go on writing today.I want to write and re-write the same line in different manners but am afraid, would not be able to explain what I mean to say. For, I seem to speak in the language of another place,and you would not understand.Darkness is falling.It is time for the dusk to depart;cattle are returning from their day of grazing,the bells around their necks ringing.The temple zalar is beginning to sound its celestial music.I am returning in a month or two,forever.As if I am responding the clarion call of my shepherd,at the time of the dusk,the time when light and darkness fight a battle.I would not stray, would forget the way as I am able to recognise and follow his voice.Let me say I am not alone,without friend. What more ?" Jhaverchand signed the let-ter not with his him,but with a cryptic phrase,"I am coming".
His action did not please his employers and colleagues; they wondered if it was possible in Gujarat to earn a livelihood by writing.But the inner voice's call was so irresistible that he headed back for Ba-gasara.
Poet Umashankar Joshi,who was a fan and a friend of Meghani,has noted that by that time the young may had hardly any literary achievements to his credit.There were one or two poems ,penned perhaps in 1916 or 1918,but these did not show any signs of what his voice was dictating.
Jhaverchand had,however,begun to show literary inclinations from his school days.A brilliant boy who used to stand first in the clas,Meghani had a good voice, nature's gift and would be the first choice for leading students in singing the daily prayer.At 12,what he sang for him a prize for his school friends from a rich man.He had poetic bend of mind too and would attempt writing poetry, a trait that was re-inforced by his introduction to the poetry of Kalapi.Meghani would sing the songs of sorrow of this heart-broken king-poet,earning a nick-name of Vilapi,one who cries alot.He took part in a lot of youth activities,as has been noted by Kapil Thakkar,his childhood chum.An acquaintance of those days put Meghani on the path of folk-literature.He was Hadala Darbar,Vajsur Vala, to attend whose theosophy class Jhaverchand and his friend would walk five miles from Bagasara to Hadala.His interest in the work of Gandhiji too was aroused in this period only.He was one of the first to act for abolition of un-touchability by accepting an invitation to break bread the untouchables .He also started propagating the swadeshi commodities, such as the bathing soap.Kapil,his brother Ramu Thakkar and Meghani would also have competition among each other in instant poetry composition.Meghani's years in Cal-cutta exposed him to the rich Bengali culture, to the poetry and prose of Tagore, to the Bengali stage,and the Brahmosamaj discourses; all these helped nourish his cultural moorings.
It brought him back,but he himself has noted that in 1922,"I was directionless.I did not know what should I do;one idea was to take to farming,while relations were commending me to business.Service in one of the princely states was also possible and there always was the job of a teacher." Vajsur Vala helped in the process of clearing the mist for the young man.He persuaded Samatbhai Gadhvi to recite story after story to Meghani in those days, giving a direction to his creative urge.In 1922 ,Meghani got married to Damayantiben.
Around this time,Mr Amrutlal Sheth had started a journal from Ranpur,called Saurahstra to which Meghani sent two or three pieces.Sheth recognised the potential in him and invited him to join his paper in the same year.His book publication began with Kurbanini Kathao,and that of his folk-literature with Saurashtra Ni Rasdhar.He wrote almost continuously and got fed up of journalism in 1926,and went away to stay at Bhavnagar.In 1928,he got the prestigious Ranjitram Gold Medal for his reearch work in folk literature.In 1930,his poetry took on nationalist colour in full swing and his poem,addressed to Gandhi as he prepared to leave for the Round Table,Chhello Katoro Jher No Aa Pi Jajo Bapu, earned him the recognition as poet of the Nation.He was arrested and sent to jail for two years, but was re-leased after serving nine months.
In 1933, a mishap caused him a terrible setback; his wife died in a burning incident and Meghani shifted to Bombay.In 1934, he married a Nepali lady,Chitradevi.Meghani was always a loving family man,adored by his relations and worshipped by his six sons and three daughters.He stayed on for sometime in Bombay, working in Janmboomi,but went back to Ranpur to take up thhe editorship of the journal,Phulchhab.He made a distinctive mark for himself not only in literature but also in journal-ism.Phulchhab press was seized by the government in 1942 for all its pains.Meghani took retirement from the journal in 1945,devoting time to writing only.He wrote Ravindraveena,proviiding Gujarati with Tagore's poetry and gave the world-famous Manasai Na Diva,based on the experiences of Ravishankar Maharaj,Sarvoday leader,in reforming the Patanwadia dacoits.He chaired the section of literature in Gujarati Sahitya Parishad conference in 1946 at Rajkot.He was finishing Sorathi Santwani, a research on Sorathi bhajans,when suddenly on March 9,at the age hardly of 50,he suffered a massive heart at-tack,and breathed his last at Botad.
He had done a lot of research into Saurashtra's folk literature and had set his sights on doing similar work in the rest of Gujarat when the end came,sending a wave of shock across the region and the country.
Jhaverchand Meghani has,after all these years of his departure,continued to be one of the top-draws in Gujarati literature;people read and re-read his books ,which sale as briskly as when they first got published.His songsrmeain the mainstay of public singing in Gujarati,making him one of the the most widely-read Gujarati authors.
Meghani never complained about anything,least of all about Gujarat not having done enough for him.But in his life-time,he was under-recognised by the literary establishment,which seemed to have grudgingly accepted him after his contribution to the nationalist movement in the form of patriotic songs was hailed widely.Although he knew by heart,the content ,tunes and raags of hundreds of folk-songs,All India Radio could not take advantage of his rich singing.There are no recordings avail-able.But all this never came in the way of the public esteem in which Meghani has been held,undeerlining that the people always recognise those who are their cultural representatives.
His stature was so tall that not many remember that his Koi No Ladakvayo was based on an old Eng-lish poem,Somebody's Darling,simply because the Gujarati version is far superior to the original written by Mrs.Mary Lacoste.
In the same vein,what he sang 65 years ago in the Dhandhuka court ,a song titled Viday,farewell,was far more evocative and stirring than the original urdu,Hambhi Ghar Reh Sakate The.It is so hauntingly beautiful ,and true sounding,especially on the eve of the Independence Day that one might think it would be made a compulsory reciting on all such occasions, when we,as a people,tend to under-estimate what all sacrifices were needed in attaining independence.Mournfully,Meghani sang,lest we forget those like him:
Biradar,Naujavan | am rahthi tun dur raheje,
Amone panth bhulela bhale tun mani leje,
Kadi jo hamdili aave,bhale nadan kaheje;
'Bichara' kahish na - lakho bhale dhikkar deje |

O,dosto| dargujar dejo diwana bandhavo ne;
Saburi kyayan didhi chhe kaleje aashako ne?
Dile shun shun jale - dekhadiye dil aah kone ?
Amari bewkufi ye kadi sambharasho ne?

Agar behtar,bhuli jajo amari yaad fani|
Buri yaade dubhavjo na sukhi tam zindgani;
Kadi swadhinata aave -- vinanti,bhai chhani:
Amoney smari lejo jari,pal ek nani|

(Comrade,young man| stay away from taking our path;
Think of us as those who had lost their proper path;
Someday if compassion overwhemls,call us even childish;
But,dont pity as poor things-hate us as people hellish|

O,friends|forgive us, your brothers,as mad ;
Did anyone find what patience such hearts ever had ?
What sorrows assail our hearts,-who would hear our cry?
Will you remember our stupidity,even with a sigh?

Better it would be if you forgot us,
we wouldn't ever make any fuss;
Should such a memory sour your happiness,even for a moment?
If ever Independence comes,oh,brother,may I make a request fervent?
Do think of us,even for the briefest of a moment.)
Independence came on August 15,1947; we have honoured Meghani's word by not souring our hap-piness too much with such remembrance as his.
(Please see the next article too)

Friday, December 18, 2009

A Tale of One Man & Two Countries

Tushar Bhatt

Two Countries, One Life—Encounter of Cultures, By Carlos G. Valles, published by Gujarat Sahitya Prakash,PB 70, ANAND 388 001,Gujarat, printed pages 246, price Rs.150.

It is the cover page of the book, with its title, Two Countries, One Life, in soft yellow that catches the attention first and then the interest is quickened by the sub-title, Encounter of Cultures. A thought comes to the mind: Oh, no! Not one more learned thesis on terrorists, terrorism and clashes of civilizations.

Mercifully, it does not turn out to be so. On the contrary, it is a story told by a soldier of peace, a teacher and preacher who has spent 50 years of life in India, enjoying and spreading joy all around. Till a few years ago, going around on a bicycle, he was so familiar a figure for the people of Ahmedabad that even a child would win a quiz by spotting him as Carlos G.Valles, SJ, better known as Father Valles.
Even at the risk of being dubbed a member of the complementation society, it should be stated that the Gujarati language has been enriched a lot by super Gujaratis like Kaka Kalelkar and Father Valles.
Father Valles, who has been prolific in Gujarati, comes now in his 74th year with his first offering in English. The 246-page book will attract a lot of attention among the Non-Resident-Indians because it tries to resolve the identity crisis of those who have gone away. The author takes a down-to-earth look at the question of Who Am I? It is so simple and direct a discourse that it ignites his readers’ minds too. You need not worry about anything else since Father Valles does not seek to imply anything about religion. He comes across convincingly because of this secular trait.
It is quite reassuring to discover that the identity crisis just does not haunt Gujaratis, or Indians, alone. Even a person like Father Valles faces the same dilemma.
He began exploring his on mindscape after having been away from his homeland, Spain, for half-a-century, lending a maturity to his narrative. At the same time, it debunks the argument that the identity crisis is yet another form of home sickness, something akin to sea sickness or jet leg. Time does not heal the identity crisis; perhaps, with the ticking away of the clock and days turning into months and years, a lifelong feeling of rootless ness bothers some people even more.
What sounds as merely sentimental at home, hits as mighty nostalgia abroad. When ghazal singer Pankaj Udhas sings abroad a nostalgic number, Chitthi Aayee Hai Watanse Chitthi Aayee, a whole lot of the aged in the audience sob and shed tears. A very few of them are abroad against their own wishes. Most of them went there willingly, in search of greener pastures.
Father Valles’s own experience when he was planning a visit to Spain, the land of his birth, gives a valuable insight in this phenomenon. He was chatting with late Umashankar Joshi, poet and an icon of all that is civilised in Gujarat.Father Valles told the poet, “ I am planning to go abroad.”
The poet : “ Do you mean you are going to Spain?”
FatherValles: “Yes.”
The poet: “Do you notice how you have said it?”
Father Valles: “What do you mean?”
The poet: “ Do you notice how matter-of-factly you have pronounced the word abroad?”
Father Valles: “ Well, I suppose so.”
The poet: “ You see you are a Spaniard, you have now been in India for a number of years, have learned the language, have identified with the people and now that you are going to your own country, you say you are going ‘abroad’. And you say it so naturally that even you have not noticed it.”

The poet continued: “ No Englishman posted for duty in India under the British Raj would have said,’ I am going abroad’ when he was going back to England on furlough, whatever the number of years he might have been in India.”

For Father Valles India had now become his home.

For how many of our NRIs, the place away from India where they have lved for years,has become their “home” as it has happened in the Spaish monk’s life—not a consciously made decision but an automatic change of which even he was unaware till Umashankar pinpointed it for him.

Father Valles frankly conceded that he had spent 24 years in Spain, and double that number in India. In India and in Spain he had felt something in common. He felt at home in both the countries.

This is at the root of the entire book, an exploration reportage that takes on a mystic aura every now and then as the good Father, as if engaged in a very private dialogue with the reader. The reader feels convinced that the book was especially written for him/her.

The style of writing is simple,direct,chatty and without any literary pretensions. It has brought Father Valles a huge readership for his Gujarati books. He has meticulously stuck to it in his first English volume.

Perhaps, Father Valles has a natural gift of being able to view a mundane matter with a hidden spiritual eye. That eye does not report to his mind, but his heart, and leads to a spontaneous flow of words. His heart, it would appear,transfers words on to the paper, with the hand acting as a stenographer and the mind going into silence.

The entire book, divided into 39 chapters, is easy on the eye but making profound impact on the mind and heart of a reader. Each chapter is hardly 3 or 4 pages long, which the pundits say is the preference of TV spoilt modern readership.

Skilfully interwoven into the basic fabric of the book is the story, or at least a good helping of Father Valles’s own life. But he is so good a story teller that he succeeds in making the reader believe that Father Valles is not the hero, focal point of the book, but only a sutradhar. A sutradhar’s nearest equivalent in English could be compere or anchor, but somehow neither word seems adequate.
Calling people like himself immigrants, Father Valles takes the reader on a guided tour of the issues involved. He puts several dilemmas before the reader, imagining him as an immigrant. Who am I? This is the first question a new immigrant might pose to himself. Do I belong to the country of my origin or of adoption? What should he do, for instance, where he finds the two pitted against each other on a battle ground or even a play ground? Such a situation is commonplace in the UK when Indian cricket team play against England. What language, mother tongue or the other tongue is now an immigrant’s? The same tests are for culture and traditions.
Father Valles says the first generation had a clear idea who they were because they had newly arrived with green memories of their roots but the second generation immigrants are on the horns of a dilemma. The were unsure of their identity. They were more remote from their past and were yet to establish in their present.
The author notes that their split allegiance might cause confusion, pointing out that terrorist attacks in recent past were at the hands of second generation immigrants.
However,Father Valles is not a standard-bearer of gloom. He swings to the positive side. There are plus points too in the double allegiance—two languages, two backgrounds, two cultures, two countries in one life. The immigrants, in fact, are uniquely placed. They have the rare opportunity to lead two lives in one life time. “If we find out how to weave them together, how to make the old timers and new comers have a better rapport, immigration can be a good thing.”
This is an enticing promise for a socially, culturally, emotionally better integrated life. It will truly be a blessing of immigration.
Presently, immigrants face a personal identity crisis which has begun to find expression in public explosive situations. That will be a threat posed by immigration.
It is in our hands to make a choice between avoiding the threat and embracing the blessing.

Vande Mataram's rendering on first Independence Day and 2 Gujaratis

Tushar Bhatt

Only a few would be aware today that Independent India's radio broadcasting on August 15,1947, was heralded by a rendering of Bankimchandra Chattopadhyaya's Vande Mataram by Pandit Omkarnath Thakur, music maestro, from the Delhi station of All India Radio (AIR).More so, the little known fact is that the rendering had a Bhavnagari connection. A proud son of Bhavnagar was in the small party that rendered the song that morning. Pandit Balwantrai, the oldest living disciple of Omkarnath, had accompanied Omkarnath on tanpura. Balwantrai says that Vande Mataram was sung with a unique devotion of heart by Omkarnath in an unusual raag. Vande Mataram, sung in the classical mode,is still there in the archives of AIR, although in a bit damaged form. Pandit Vishun Digambar Paluskar had originally composed Vande Mataram in raag Bangiya Kaphi. The more popular version of Vande Mataram that we sing today is in such a simple manner that masses too could sing it easily. However, Omkarnath evolved a special rendering of it with such depth and innovation that it became incomparable and could not even be effectively copied by others. It was so difficult that it was destined to remain beyond the pale of common people. Nevertheless,it had always been an enchanting and uplifting rendering that it became a classic by itself. Omkarnath had turned down many requests for its rendering by him on numerous occasions. Subhas Chandra Bose wrote to him to sing it at the 1938 Haripura Congress. Omkarnath, who had very strong views on the song, would never agree unless the organisers pledged to have the full version of Vande Mantaram and not an abridged one. Pandit Balwantrai,now in his eighties, hails from Bhavnagar, and presently lives in Varanasi,having been associated with music faculty at the Banaras Hindu University for years. A blind pupil, Balwantrai joined Omkarnath at the tender age of seven and stayed with him for more than three decades, following him like a shadow, singing with him and providing accompaniment on the tanpura. Recalling how Omkarnath came to sing on AIR in 1947,Balwantrai told me some years ago that in August of that year, the master was travelling in south India and had gone to the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry. "As usual, I was with him. Arrangements were being finalised in those days for the formal transfer of power by the British. As if out of the blue, we got a message from Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who was then the home minister and minister of information and broadcasting too, that Omkarnath should sing Vande Mataram from the Delhi station of AIR." Omkarnath once again expressed his desire to render the full version of Vande Mantaram. The Sardar agreed to this. "We reached Delhi on August 14. I remember there was a Kannad disciple, Laxmanacharya Puranik with us. At 5.30 a m the next morning, we went to the radio station. On the dot of 6.30 a m, the announcer told the listeners that Pandit Omkarnath Thakur would now offer tributes to the motherland on this first morning of Independent India by singing Vande Mataram.' " Says Balwantrai: " I was, with a tanpura, on the left of Omkarnath and Puranik on the right.There was one more person, whose name I have forgotten, with a sarangi. We all stood as a mark of respect to the occasion and Omkarnath sang. As his full throated Vande Mataram issued forth, as if pouring out the Guru’s soul, sonorously, melodiously, the listeners and musicians all were in a trance. The full version created a divine atmosphere. After all, it was a maestro's master tribute to his country." Later, at the time of the silver jubilee of Independence, a copy of the recording made then was buried in a Time Capsule, along with other mementoes, at the advice of the then Prime Minister,Ms Indira Gandhi. Still later,the capsule was taken out for different reasons. In 1987, on the occasion of 40 years of Independence, duirng the prime ministership of late Mr Rajiv Gandhi, a request was made to replay the old recording. But authorities rejected saying the recording with the archives had been damaged. Balwantrai says: "I had pointed out that a disc recording of the national song was available and the undamaged portion was enough." Nothing came of it. About the damage to the original recording, Balwantrai says this raises many questions about how we preserve documents and records of our historic events. A record company, HMV, put out a few years ago a cassette containing cassical vocal recording of Omkarnath that features Vande Mataram. It is not a full form.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A model Godman: Shri Mota

Tushae Bhatt

Shri Mota, social reformer and saint, would easily be even ona short list of people who transformed Gujarat in second half of the 20th century was a unique person, an amalgam of a staunch Gan-dhian, who took a spiritual turn in life and yet believed in science and techonolgy. Hedid not overlook the travails of common people. He did not preach escapism, even through religion.He dedicated his life to working for the poor,backward and disadvantaged peo-ple.

That some 8,766 rooms were added to village schools, often of a single room only then, in as many as 18 districts of Gujarat,due to his efforts, alone would have been a monument tall enough to measure his towering personality.

He was, unlike other monks, also not averse to science and technology.

Coming from a very poor family of weavers and dyers of cloth in central Gujarat, Mota, whose real name was Chunilal,worked all his life with a belief ; "Community is my God. I want to make efforts to invigorate our society." He collected nearly ten million rupees from the people,only to give it back to the community.

Besides money for school rooms, Mota strove for excellence is various other fields of life too. He gave funds to the University Grants Commission and various scientific institutions to give awards to foster talents in science and technology.He instituted awards for encouragement of literature,philosophy and several other branches of learning.He sent books to schools and educa-tional institutions and helped launch a Gujarati encyclopaedia pro-ject.

Thanks to him, there are swimming competitions in the sea in Gujarat and Maharashtra for the youth.There are swimming pools, hiking programmes in various places launched with his generous funding.

Although he led a life of simplicity and austerity,he had a modern mind that could grasp what was wrong with our society. ""It is only the life-and-death struggle that gives a rude, terrific shock to the time-worn ways of thinking-- old ruts of habit,traditional evaluation of things,outward beliefs, manners, customs and ways of life. Only then can a new influence of element of essential to man's growth find a passage for entry into his being."

He said: "Human mind has the inveterate habit of going along the beaten tracks and is never willing to change its course and think afresh. But, struggles create such circumstances as to com-pel it to seek or cut new channels for the flow of life. Every change in a man's circumstance owes its existence to some such compel-ling force."

Mota was a tireless worker,an embodiment of the concept of a karmayogi.To him serving others was like serving God. Had he not taken a spiritual turn,the country would have seen Chunilal grow into a tall Gandhian,devoted to the uplift of the backward classes.He left college in Baroda, paying heed to the Mahatma's call and went over to Gujarat Vidyapeeth, set up by Gandhiji in Ahmedabad,instead. Gandhi had appealed to the students at Vid-yapeeth to dedicate their lives to social service and uplift of the backward classes.Chunilal did it willingly and immedi-ately,umnmmindful of the hardships it might cause to him. Half-starving, he would sell Navjivan.

Poverty was nothing new to Chunilal,who was born in the pov-erty-stricken household of Asharam Bhagat and Surajba on Sep-tember 4,1898, in Savli village in Baroda district.Asharam, addicted to smoking and opium, eked out an uncertain living from dyeing cloth.Perturbed by humiliation and ill-treatment that poverty could evoke, the child decided early in life that he would rise above it, by becoming an officer.It was no empty resolve; Chunilal finished four years' course in two years, even as he did a helper's job,earning a fat salary of Rs.1.5 a month, sweeping class rooms, filling water pitchers,and doing other errands.

On completion of the elementary schooling, he had to join a shop as an assistant to a grain merchant.The basic strength of his character showed up early; although it was a back-breaking work,Chunilal did it cheerfully, and refused to become dishonest to earn a little more. The honesty and toiling paid whn a rich family subsidised his studies at Petlad.But, the spiritual streak was begin-ning to show up by then.Chunilal would serve wandering monks,without expecting a reward and even asking for any-thing.Making way through dire poverty, he went to a college in Baroda in 1919 but gave it up the next year to go to Vidyapeeth. He later joined Indulal Yagnik, then the right hand man of Gandhi, and worked for helping the Harijans.

A drastic change came in 1928 at an ashram at Bodal. It was night time, with everybody asleep.Since it was overflowing with visi-tors, some people like Chunilal were sleeping out in the open. A poisonous snake bit him. As the poison took effect, fears mounted about his chances for survival. The tiny village had no medical fa-cility to treat a snake bite.All rhat Chunilal could do till help from a city arrived was to silently recite Hari Om, Hari Om. It was 72 hours before he could be reached to the Mission Hopsital at Anand where a German Catholic doctor was surprised that the young man had survived deadly bite for such a long period. His life was saved, con-vincing Mota of the efficacy of chanting God's name.

He was a bit of a recluse from the early days and got involved deeper into spiritual practices such as total silence. Through chant-ing and silence, he learnt to make his mind still and began to at-tract notice. He would commend prayers and chanting as also ceaseless endeavours to do one's worldly duty.

Yet, he was averse to setting up any special cult or sect.He never preched in public. He did not go in for building temples; in-stead, he commended building school rooms, helping gymnasiums, fostering science.He was no blind follower of any religion and would offer prayers at the mosques too,observing fast from sunrise to sunset during Ramzan, according to his folllowers.The only facilities he allowed to be set up were three simple structures called Moun Mandir, temples of silence,where people could go in for keeping silence for specified days, in order to do introspection and come to terms with the self. The Lord abides in every heart was his dictum. He was a prolific writer, penning nearly 50 books on spiri-tual growth, derived from his own experiments and experiences.

On July 19, 1976, he wrote a will and testament: " I, Chunilal Asharam Bhagat alias Mota, residing at Hari Om Ashram,Nadiad, hereby declare that I will give up this body as an when I deem it necessary and proper, for now, it is not worthy of any social ser-vice. Let it be cremated in a solitary place with peaceful atmos-phere,just near the place of death, only in presence of six persons. The ashes should be completely immersed in the nearby river and no memorial or statue be erected in my memory. Any fund col-lected in my memory should be utilised in the construction of school rooms in villages in Guajrat."

He gave up his body just four days later on July 23, 1976, at Fa-jalpur, near Baroda, in presence of six people,as stipulated by him. The body was cremated without any pomp or show. His wishes were followed in letter and spirit.
Though there are no memorials for him Mota lives on in public memory as the prototype of Godmen a secular India needs.

A short man, a tall music-maker: Purushottam Upadhyay

Tushar Bhatt

It was a Tuesday night,some 65 years ago.Arya Naitik Natak Samaj was staging a performance of a play,Aparma Ahmeda-bad.The scene showed a patient suffering unspeakably;no medi-cines were working.Suddenly,there was a melodious ,childish voice,singing outside in the street.The patient's relations ushered in a child sadhu in the sick-room,urging him to sing,hoping music may prove soothing.The boy,barely six years old,sang:Sadhu,charan kamal chitta jod. A hush fell over the spectators as notes divine seemed to fill the place. The audience went into raptures;there were 17 once-mores.In the 18th encore,the child prodigy could not take it any more;he went asleep,even as a thunderous applause brought down the house.His name was Purushottam Upadhyay,who has never looked back from that fateful night,scaling newer heights in sing-ing,composing and nurturing new talents that have enriched Guja-rati music over the past half-a-century. The song written by Raskavi Raghunath Brahmbhatt for the child star was new,but the tune was familiar enough in those days.Young Pasha had made a name for himself in his na-tive,Uttarsanda in Kaira district,as a brat with a magical ability to sing.He had a sharp ear,photographic memory and an uncanny ability to reproduce an entire composition flawlessly in the same way as had been originally sung,even thought he did not know any-thing about classical music or ragas.His favourite in those days was a hit-tune from the old movie,Ram Rajya,sung by the melody queen,Noor Jahan: Beena Madhur Madhur Kachhu Bol. Listeners were highly impressed;one of them took the boy over to Ahmedabad to see Nakubhai Shah of the Arya Naitik Natak Samaj,one of the leading companies in the old professional stage in Gujarati for an audition.Pasho,as Purushottam was affectionately known, was asked to sing,and he sang,Bina Madhur...It was a Sat-urday night and some of the artistes were asleep back-stage.One by one they collected to listen and ask for once more of the child.He sang it a dozen times,thinking these were experts who had found some fault in the way he was rendering it.Undaunted he sang on.The upshot was that the owners of the drama company sent word to the Raskavi in Nadiad to specially write a song in the tune of Bina Madhur Madhur.. for the boy to sing in the perform-ance of Aparma three days later.The poet wrote it,but came over to listen to the boy.He thought the boy could sing all right but it was still a gamble.He asked Pasha to learn by heart Sadhu charan ka-mal.... so that he could sing it properly.The boy,with a characteristic confidence,said he had heard it once,had remembered it and could sing it without any problem. The 18 encores turned Pasha overnight into a child star,Master Purushottam,launching him on a life-long musical journey.Not that there were no sour notes;the son of a doctor,a career on the stage and in singing in public was thought to be too lowly for an upper-caste youngster.But Purushottam had an inexplicable strength of character that has stood him good stead over the years.He had from an early age discovered that music was the life for him,had decided to puruse it as a hobby,passion ,a mission and a ca-reer,come what may.The world is full of people who could never discover what their real talent was,and could take courage in both the hands to further it.Purushottam was fortunate in that he knew what he was good at,what he wanted to do with it,and has done it without flinching-- which in short is the formulae for a con-tented,artistic life. Once or twice,after the Ahmedabad debut,the boy ran away to Mumbai,away from studies and all,for the star-studded world,only to come back.His father,who had encouraged Purushottam,did not relish the idea of a drama company career for the son of a medico in the employment of the then princely State of Rajpipla.And the boy did not relish the life in Uttarsanda or Nadiad. Eventually,his grandfather,Ambalal,who was known as a mystic,told the boy's mother,Vidya,to let him go willingly and happily."Mumbai is calling him.Let him go,with our blessings",the old man said.The lure of Mumbai has lasted till todate for Purushottam,who has made it his home for nearly 50 years now. Recalled Purushottam:"Armed with the blessings and a letter of recommendation to an acquaintance,I came to the city of Bom-bay,living first in Thakurdwar,with a family that was itself planning to leave for Africa in a week's time.But I was not worried at all." His life has been full of happy accidents.He had seen Ashraf Khan,the master thespian,act and sing at Arya Naitik Natak Samaj,and had been highly impressed and enthused. In Bombay,a poet,Jivanlal took young Purushottam to meet his first stage idol.He was selected to play the role of the master's son in a new play,which had music by Purushottam Marwadi and Sadat-bin Ash-raf.Ashraf Khan took to the youngster so much that he would ask him to sing while he was getting ready for the play in the make-up room.A stalwart of the Gujarati silver screen in those days, V M Vyas,came to see the play,and asked the young man to work and sing in a film he was making.That led to an acquaintance with an-other musician of note,Dilip Dholakia.In those days,one had to go to the HMV studio for recording music and one of these led to a chance meeting with Avinash Vyas."Those were the days when waking up in the morning I did not know how the day would go;whether there will be some work or not for me." often for want of money,Purushottam would walk to Mohan studio in Andheri from Opera House in central Bombay.He was tenacious,if anything,and uncomplaining.Said Purushottam:" In those days one had to record songs seperately from the film track.He had gone to the studio for a recording of a song for the Gujarati film,Shamalshano Vivah,where in the adjoining studio,Avinash Vyas,was supervising another recording.When the young man was introduced to him,Avinash asked him if could sing in a group.Purushottam nod-ded yes,heard the rehearsal for five minutes and sang it.He was taken to sing one line in the now famous hit of olden days: Dur dakhkhan na dungara bolya pan morla bolya nahin.The peacock's song is still echoing in the Gujarati music.Avinashbhai took Pu-rushottam in his wings,and his home.The Indian National Theatre in those days used to stage dance-dramas and he went to sing in Narasainya,striking acquaintance with people like Yogendra Desai and Damu Jhaveri. Said Suresh Dalal,poet and former vice-chancellor of the M S University,Baroda,who has known Purushottam for many years: "Such happy accidents have taken place in his life that one would think he was destined to be whatever he is today. Take for in-stance,the recording of a famous song by Mukesh to be sung with a female companion;"Ame gamdana manah chhiye". Gita Roy was to record it with Mukesh and could not come for some rea-son.Purushottam,who could sing in a female voice,sang in her place. In 1950,when the late Mr K M Munshi set up Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan,Avinashbhai and Yogendrabhai became in-charge of its Kala Kendra,with Purushottam helping out.When away or other-wise busy,the young man would look after their work at the kendra.A connoisseur of music,Jagannath Bhatt,counselled the youth to learn Indian classical music."You have far to go and you must learn it",he said.Purushottam,who had been listening to every musician of note he could-- Bade Ghulam Ali,Allarakha,Amirbai Karnataki--took the advice to heart and became a disciple of Navrang Nagpurkar."Whatever I am today is because of the Guru",he said modestly. He has been a life-long student.Once,when Avinashbhai was planning to go abroad,he became worried abvout the light classical music (sugam sangeet) and women's music classes because Pu-rushottam did not know harmonium. Purushottam took up the chal-lenge and learn the instrument,practising for days together for more than six hours a day.His first composition ,Amathi Amathi Mui..Olya Mandvani Jui,became a hit number.In the 50s,the Bha-van started a series called,Aa masna geeto,and in 1954,he took a troupe of the Bhavan to Calcutta where he was praised by Ustads Nazakat Ali Khan and Salamat Ali Khan.When they came to Bom-bay for a performance,Purushottam was naturally asked to accom-pany them on the harmonium.This acquaintanceship led him to the Mangeshkar family,and Lata ,highly impressed,phoned a recording company to cut her famous Gujarati song,Mazam rate nitarati nab-hni chandni,composed by Purushottam Upadhyay.Her first Gujarati song on the radio,Bhaskar Vora's Haiyane darbar,was also com-posed by Purushottam. In this musical journey,he came in contact with the Jhaveri fam-ily,and married Chelana, a musicologist by training.For sometime after the wedding, the couple went off to Africa,but returned to Mumbai after a while.He remembered the days of his early youth when he performed for a mere Rs.5 in Kalbadevi during the Diwali festival,sharing it with a colleague.Years went by,Purushottam forged ahead steadily in composing,performing and helping others like Rasbihari Desai come up. Said late Kshemoo Divetia, another noted Gujarati composer:"His greatness is in that he persisted in elevating the Gujarati language only.Had he taken to Urdu and started composing Ghazals,Purushottam would have been a top ghazal singer and composer in the country today." But,he never wavered.In the last 30 years,he went abroad a dozen times,staging music shows,has composed innumerable songs,given music in films,cut records of light classical music.The number of performances he has given exceeds 9,000.He has com-posed innumerable songs,given music in films,and a helping hand to many aspiring artists.Today,as he looks on his life's progress from the day of his birth,August 15,1934,one thing stands out-- his independence.He has a slightly husky voice,which could have been a drawback in the case of others,but Purushottam has moulded and modulated it beautifully with arduous training. He has also a way of feeling the pulse of his audience,and begins his per-formance with what is appropriate for it,slowly raising the level to reach semi-classical or classical stages later on without letting them out of his spell. Purushottam also has done a singular service to the poetry in Gujarati.Dr.Dalal said:"He understands poetry very well,and could compose the poems with feelings." Madhav Ramanuj,another poet,said:"He has composed some of them in such a way that the people will remember the poems more for the beauty of his com-position." Purushottam himself merely said that " I have always held that I will not ask a poet to write words to fit my composition of music.I would rather catch the nuances of meaning from the words they had penned and compose them in music.I will always en-deavour to translate the depth of meaning in their words into mu-sic." Today,Purushottam straddles the Gujarati music scene like a co-lossus.But that is figuratively speaking.In appearance ,Purushottam is a short man,with a receding hairline over a round face,marked by a thinning bush of a moustache,showing signs of greyness.Clad in a silk kurta of cream colour and white pyjama ,he comes across as a happy-go-lucky fellow.And that literally he is. Brimming with self-confidence,the composer is not an arrogant man;yet he has rejected an award whenever he felt that it had not been decided upon by a committee of artists.He accepted the award of Gujarat Gaurav only when he was convinced that artists were behind it. He said:"It is enough of an award for me that music lovers have been avidly listening to me since I was of the age of five years.What greater award could there be than this ?" Yet,the success has not gone to his head.One could ask him to sing a song anytime,and he would sing it without displaying any ego.He has a very sunny temperament,and can revel his friends by doing mimicry of many a famous person.He keeps laughing all the time.He was once asked: how come no one has heard him crib-bing.Pat came the reply;" When I sing, I cry."

Monday, December 14, 2009

A thinking exponent of Kathak: Kumudini Lakhia

Tushar Bhatt

Her eyes twinkle,there is animation in her voice and a quickness in her steps as Kumudini Lakhia,renowned Kathak exponent,teacher par excellence of dance and an explorer forever in search of more effective ways of artistic expression through dance,bustles around the premises of Kadamb,her dance institution,near Parimal Garden in Ahmedabad.
A mild January sun lay in strips and the winter breeze tried to make impression of being nippy,like a night watchman hitting fours towards the close of the play in cricket.The warmth all around was well-matched by that in Kadamb,which has been the training centre for hundreds of students over the past 25 years.She has also earned enormous credit as a thinking,socially-aware dancer who has a statement to make in whatever she is creating.
The guru at Kadamb,Kumudini,started on her search of finding artistic expression of the inner yearnings of her soul much earlier.
It was more than half-a-century ago in December,1944,that still in her teens,she burst upon the professional arts stage with a scintillating performance in Allahabad.
Born on May 17,1930,in Mumbai ,Kumudini started learning kathak when she was hardly seven or eight.She was educated in Lahore and in Allahabad and was trained in kathak by gurus such as Shambhu Maharaj of Lucknow gharana,Pandit Sunder Prasadji of Jaipur gharana,Radheylal Misra also of Jaipur gharana and Ashiq Hussain of Benaras gharana.She learnt Bharat Natyam from U S Krishna Rao and Ram Gopal and got an Indian government scholarship for advance training in kathak for three years from 1958.She has travelled in more than 40 countries giving performances over the past half a century.She came to live in Ahmedabad years ago after getting married to Rajnikant Lakhia,a businessman and connoissuer of arts himself.She was given a padmashri in 1987 for her contribution to arts and Omkarnath award in 1990,but these are but two of a huge number of honours and awards she has been bestowed upon.
As she surveys an illustrious career,Kumudini feels happy,but she has not had enough everything in dance yet."I need another 50 years to transfer into dance forms many ideas that are surging through my mind", she says.
She does not remember much of the maiden professional performance in Allahabad,a culmination of rigorous training of seven to eight years,except the fact that it was held in the Senate Hall of the university and among the 3,000-odd audience sat titans of classical Hindustani music such as pandit Omkarnath Thakur,Narayanrao Vyas,Achchan Maharaj,Gudai Maharaj and others.
Kumudini has no recollection how the day was,or any other details that many others would have remembered in every nitty-gritty. "I did not know that my first professional stage experience was going to be a landmark. I only remember some of the big names seated in the auditorium,and the fact that I was not afraid",she says,her words not at all sounding pompous or arrogant.
Looking back today, she thinks that the only thing that bothered her at that time was that while every new comer should be a bit apprehensive on such an occasion,"I kept wondering why I was not apprehensive at all".
In retrospect,she can only say that perhaps it is not in her nature to be over-awed."Mind you, I do get irritated,and even excited,when, say,someone is performing badly in a group. I do not get perturbed at the defaulter as a person but at the errors,the shapes,forms. Then, I even scream." The serene temperament perhaps had a lot to do with Kumudini becoming eminently successful as a teacher, an eminence that is competing with her prowess on the stage as a Kathak dancer with a difference-- the difference being that she always tries to project her own ideas through the traditional forms,rather than sticking to repeating ad nauseum the age-old Radha Krishna themes without anything original of the artist coming through,or totally delinked from the society in which she has lived, its problems, joys, hopes,aspirations. It was Kumudini who brought a new social awareness of Kathak among the masses,and it again was she who inducted some social awareness in the dance performances she composed and choreographed,sometimes annoying the orthodox.
Which was the most memorable performance of hers in the past 60 years ? With a characteristic flourish,Kumudini says this is a very difficult question to answer because I do not approach my work in that manner. One always learns a bit more,sometimes making corrections,sometimes influenced by something that happened during a performance,adding something more in the next one, and yet more in the one after that.
She says that as a human being,one is growing in whatever area of work or discipline."I also have the urge to live fully,to better the quality of whatever I am doing and this keeps me conscious of my growth.I always feel every performance of mine,when it is over , becomes a memorable performance because with every single one I am growing.I do not say that everything I do has to be good or is always good.It has to be different since I have given a little more of my creativity to it; I draw something more from every moment and I give something more to every new expression of art." One cannot decay or vegetate if one has concern for one's self,both in body and mind.That could happen to only those who are lazy.Otherwise,every day in a life time is a new experience."Every night a different moon comes up,in different shape; every morn a different sun rises,with different intensity."What is the secret of her continuing search for better and better quality ? Kumudini laughs: "There is no secret.I am in love with my work, in love with life and I want to go on and on till my last with all the speed that I am capable of."
In corner of the room a typewriter is chattering away in a muffled manner.A phone rings,but Kumudini does not seem to notice it. She turns to Moulik,one of her more known disciples: I am repeating one of my oft-repeated remarks to my students.It good to be a bad original than to be a superb photostat."The guru whose disciples get ahead of the teacher is a good guru.
Over the 50 years she has been performing,she finds a big change has come over."When we started out,the dance was available to a few select people -- available not in the sense of economics but in the sense that few people were able to go out and enjoy a classical dance or appreciate it.There was a limited awareness.There used to be a handful of students with renowned gurus learning dancing in those days -- two or three in a batch. Today there are hundreds of students who want to learn.More and more people now want to change their life pattern to understand,to be able to appreciate,the art forms like the dance. They now understand better the place of arts in life. You see, art never lets you down. Money lets you down,politics can let you down,people do let you down,but art never lets you down.Once you have befriended an art it is always with you,and becomes a great source of strength to an individual- just to sit back and enjoy music, or go watch a dance performance or see a painting. Things aesthetic create not just a sense of beauty,but also of refinement,fulfillment".
She does not view this refinement or fulfillment merely from the point of view of an artist or performer."This awareness is available to everyone. If you can enjoy a good dance,appreciate a lovely painting and feel happy at good music,that is just wonderful. It is what I call accretion of rasa that is important and rasa (artistic communication or artistic communion between a performance and and audience) results from this aesthetic awareness.When I talk of art I talk of rasa,from the point of an aesthetic expression."
There is much more awareness now than it was there half a century.More people understand the value of arts in our society.She does not subscribe to the belief that in this age of technology arts are retreating. "I do not think the arts are retreating.You see, technology is growing at a much faster rate than arts and that is all. Arts too are growing but not at the rate of technology growth,but I do not believe that arts are in peril because no society will allow arts to die.No society can survive without arts.Societies and individuals never allow anywhere this to happen."
Her own dancing in the grammar of Kathak has grown over the years into some newer manifestations that many see as dilution of the classical system.She pooh-poohs this criticism,especially that she has gone away from the tradition."I am a cent per cent traditionalist with an open mind",she asserts. We in India,whether in dance or behaviour at home, we tend to confuse orthodoxy with tradition. She is against orthodoxy. "Our traditions teach us that keep your windows open and let the winds of the world come through into my house. Gandhiji was a traditionalist,not an orthodox." The first of her such composition to allow maximum new winds to come in was Duvidha, a woman's dilemma between being modern Indian woman,like Mrs Indira Gandhi was, or a docile housewife who would not even eat till her late coming husband came,whether or not half-drunk.
She says people erroneously think that a dancer should have good figure,waist and so on. "I feel it is the birth-right of anybody to dance.Anybody can dance; animals dance why not human beings?What is a dance? It does not mean to move hands and legs in a particular way, wear earrings. There is a different meaning in my dictionary.In Duvidha I explored this in the early seventies."
That was the turning point in Kumudini's journey on the art path.She changed,her kathak changed."Tradition is grammar,not the language.Using the grammar of kathak I make artistic statements about the society,its problems.I live in a society ,am a part of it and therefore think about all the conflicts,dilemmas,drawbacks and weaknesses it has. I have a statement to make on these and I make one of these from time to time through expression of my soul-- my language --into the grammar of kathak. Why not in any other grammar but kathak ? Because I happen to know that grammar; had I known some other grammar I would have done it through that too."
Kumudini has almost become an activist in artform.Her art must reflect like a mirror what is happening around. I am not going to dances about Radha,Krishna or Shiva and Parvarti because that amounts to repetition of someone else's art form,language,done again and again.A critic once said I had divorced Krishna--kathak as a dance form has been a Vaishnav tradition.But it is not so.My Krishna lives in my soul and he is not an external attachment.His is an itnernalised existence and therefore I would not dance at the bidding of what might be an external bidding. I dance according to my internal bidding,according to my Krishna."
Kumudini is so emphatic on this individuality that she says that her creativity can be triggered only if she has a statement to make.Then,she tries to make that statement through the artform of kathak because that is the grammar she knows very well.
The name,Kadamb,she gave to her dance school is also deliberately chosen. "I do not want to become a massive tree (under which nothing grows). I want to have a tree that is strong of bark,of beautiful colours,of fragrant flowers and leaves."She comes to Kadamb around ten in the morning and stays put upto at least 7.30 in the evening, teaching,training,composing.In the growth of the institution a disciple of Omkarnath,Atul Desai, the noted musician has made an immense contribution,something Kumudini warmly acknowledges and appreciates.Kadamb has several batches of students undergoing training throughout the day.The rooms,spaciously laid out,equipped with mirrors and musical instruments,having all the facilities for thorough riyaz hum with the music and echoes of dance for better part of the day.Each of her student is not just a kathak dancer,but a human being learning artistic expression through a dance form called kathak.
For sometime now,she has also been toying with an idea to experiment a dance form that would eventually emerge as Gujarat's own classical dance. "Gujarat has its folk dances such as garba,but no clasical dance as south India or eastern India or north India have.This form,she says, cannot evolve overnight.It will require a group of scholars in history,geography,culture and even environment coming together to determine on its primary form and shape. It would do no good to lift one step from here and another from there.It will take a long time to evolve.That is why perhaps Kumudini is talking of her need for another half a century; maybe she will need more,maybe in the available years she will make only a beginning. But it promises to be a good beginning, a thorough beginning, a Gujarati grammar for its people's own artistic expression.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

An unforgettable episode

An unforgettable episode

Tushar Bhatt


Darshak is gone from this earth but the memory of one particular remains evergreen. The dust of time has failed to dim its impact.

It was a unique classroom and a unique celebration. One of the tallest Gujarati authors and winner of the many a national award for literature, Manubhai Pancholi,who wrote in the penname of Darshak, celebrated his 84th birthday on October 15 in this sleepy district town ,by delivering public lectures on history of democracy. Hardly a soul in the audience apparently remembered it was his birthday.

The audience did not consist of youngsters as has been customary for Darshak, a lifelong teacher. Under the merciless glare of halogen lamps, relieved only a bit by fans, there sat the elite of so-ciety, doctors and lawyers, teachers and housewives, social work-ers and folk singers, politicians and plebeians, listening for more than an hour and a quarter in each of the three sessions, about how democracy blossomed in Greece; what kind of democrats the Athenians were, what the Romans did and what they did not, brought forward with smart linkages to modern day.
Darshak had been for years thinking, talking and writing about Socrates and Plato, interpreting their thoughts in the modern con-text. His most famous novel carries in its title, Zer To Pidhan Chhe Jani Jani, a subconscious awareness of Socrates' hemlock. That he compulsively talked about Greek philosophers and history was because Darshak, which means an observer, was a writer by hobby only and a teacher by mission.
He said: "It is well-nigh impossible for me to live as Darshak all the 365 days of a year, although I would love to do it. With great difficulty I can manage to live as Darshak for some five to 25 hours a year." The teacher in him cannot be subjugated by the writer in him.
The remaining period of his existence,Manubhai Pancholi remained an untiring and unretiring teacher and not even the frailty of health could deter him.
He was in Surendranagar, away from his home base of Sanosara in Bhavnagar district, on October 14 and 15 as part of an un-usual educational experiment that a handful of imaginative public workers and educatonists had just begun. The three lectures by Darshak, spread of over two days, were video-taped and cassettes of these would,hopefully, be soon made available to schools and colleges in the area to enable a wider audience to learn from what the veteran educationist and writer has to say about history and its lessons.
Said Mr Sanat Mehta, former M.P. from Surednranagar who was instrumental in devising the experiment: " What is needed among our youngsters as well as adults already in the thick of the life's battle, is to look at history of democracy with a new perspective that Darshak provides."
Shabdlok, a voluntary organisation that runs a library and cultural centre, Uttam Prakashan, a co-operative publishing ven-ture,and a Gandhian basic education institution, Maitri, headed by Mr Nagjibhai Desai,joined hands to organise the lecture series.
Although a highly creative person, Manubhai Pancholi blended in his thinking and attitudes a high awareness of reality.To a ques-tion from the audience at the end of the lectures whether it was necessary to rewrite India's constitution to make democracy per-form better in the country, he said: Nothing written on a piece of paper can make democracy work anywhere. What can make it click is what its citizens were prepared to undertake for them-selves."
An enlightened citizenry required people to imbibe a scientific temper and inquiry, a compassion in the heart for the plight of their fellow human beings and a staunch belief in the rule of law. All this in turn needed education, not just in schools and colleges, but throughout life.
Manubhai kept the listeners spell-bound with his insights into history of democracy, laced with Greek and Roman examples, how these states flourished and how they perished.
His voice was often cracking. Once or twice the electricity and the public address system played truant,
the weather was unbearably sultry.But nothing seemed to bother the elderly speaker, or the audience that included Swami Akshay Vivek Bharati, Mr Ramesh Shah, president of the Surendranagar municipality, Prof. Dinesh Shukla, political commentator, Mr Indub-hai Jani and Mr Hasmukh Patel, both social workers, and Mr Mad-husudan Mistry, a leader of the Congress.
The teacher had made it clear in the beginning he did not have all the answers, adding that there never could be all the answers. What could be there was a relentless examination of what is going on around us, compassion in the heart to rise above mere reason-ing and an ability to stick to unpalatable stance if that was what the situation demanded. It was a sure-fire recipe to make an aware citizenry.
Though a Gandhian,Darshak was never hesitant to voice a dis-sent.He believed that Acharya Vinoba Bhave erred in persuading many seasoned Congress not join politics,go to parliament or be-come minister.The country badly needed them to push the admini-stration towards the Mahatma’s goal of Swaraj.Swaraj could be reached more speedily by first providing Surajya, or better govern-ance.

Rohit Mehta, A Gujarati philosopher Ahead of His Time

Tushar Bhatt
Rohit Mehta, who died at the age of 86 at Varanasi on March 20, 1995, is remembered differently by different people. Some recall his cogently thought and delivered lectures on philosophy. Some talk of him as a man with legendary memory who could quote flawlessly from Sri Au-robindo,Upanishad,Gita as also Marx, a teacher with a vast repertoire and a subtle sense of hu-mour and a prolific writer,and a man of unfailing kindliness.
Still some others think of him as a charismatic personality, donned most of the time in spot-lessly white dhoti and yellowish khadi-silk kurta,slightly stocky in build,and wearing a black-framed pair of spectacles over deep penetrating eyes.He was brilliant, but never flamboyant, solid but never seeking recognition, an original thinker who could easily and without showing any burden mix with the most ordinary.
An unusual man who was extra-ordinary in many respects, and yet strove to conceal all this un-der modesty and nonchalance
Remembered Late Prof.P G Mavalankar, former M.P. and a well-read man himself: “Rohitbhai was a five-in-one personality - a thinker,philosopher,interpreter, writer and speaker, clear in thought and precise in language and eloquent in delivery. All these took him to the top.” He was all this, and much more.
A many spleandoured man,Rohitbhai as he was universally known was not just a run-of-the-mill freedom-fighter,a socialist-turned-spiritualist. He was in the world class, a thing about which he never had to seek certificates or to boast. Yet, he was so self-effacing that one would have to hunt for a photograph of his.
How tall was he could be measured from the fact that he was one of the pioneers of the Socialist Forum within the Congress in the early 1930s .He went to prison repeatedly, starting from stu-dent days and would have gone far had he stuck to politics. It was Rohitbhai who introduced a then young Morarji Desai to the youths during the freedom struggle.
He quit it in 1935,and was never to regret it.
He penned more than 25 books on philosophy, delivered thousands of lectures all over the world and sought to interpret the coming world far ahead of his time to his contemporaries. He was an able interpreter of his friend and philosopher,J.Krishnamurti,of Gita,of Upnishads and Yoga.
Yet, he was no parochial a preacher. His vision could embrace technology and spell out its im-pact on society and mankind far ahead of his fellow human beings.
What he diagnosed in 1950 in one of his early volumes, The Intuitive Philophy,rings so prophetic after 59 years today,as if it has been foreseen in minute detail by him.He said: “Ever since the industrial revolution of the early 19th century, there have appeared such factors in our society as have led to rapid and revolutionary changes in the socio-economic structure of the world. This tendency towards rapid changes has been considerably intensified by the scientific advance in the course of the last 100 years and more. Large-scale economic production and the breaking down of the barriers of space have been the two most outstanding features of the social and economic revolution which began in the 19th century and which still continues its onward march.”
“The new means of transport and communications, moving at terrifically increasing speeds, have eliminated distances between countries and have thus brought the peoples of all nations suddenly together. Along with this advance there has been an enormous increase in the scien-tific and mechanical skill as applied to economic production. This scientific technique is becom-ing more and more perfect so that there is today production of economic goods on a colossal scale. These goods must be sold and one country is too small an economic unit for the absorp-tion of commodities produced on a mass basis. This factor of large-scale economic production, coupled with the elimination of distances, has tended to break down national barriers. Economic life has become international, for economic trends during the last years have moved in the direc-tion of world unity.”
He perceptively observed: “But this economic currents have been obstructed in their progress by political forces. While the world is becoming one on the economic plane, it is kept divided on the political level. The idea of complete national sovereignty does not leave its hold on the minds of the people.”
He said:” One of the major contradictions of our age is this: the trend towards unity in the eco-nomic sphere and the maintenance of national sovereignty on the political plane. ... This is one of the paradoxes of our civilisation that while we desire for peace, we work for war !”
“Man’s psychological inability or refusal to adjust himself to the requirements of technological revolution has created an immense problem for our human civilisation...We cannot stop the ad-vance of science producing continual changes in the material conditions of life, nor can we stop the activity of the mind which makes every change in the objective conditions too dangerous for the very existence of human civilisation. It may sound strange to say our generation is mentally tired while it has reached new heights of mental development through scientific advance.”
He thought specialisation and over-specialisation was the craze of the modern age, which had enabled us to create a wall between the real problem of life and us, the real problem being the increasing mental tension in the life of the individual. The problem of the individual, according to Rohitbhai, was to discover the fundamental value of life. Today the subjective life of man has been rendered extremely poor while the objective conditions are changing at a terrific pace. Man is trying to cover up his inner poverty by erecting huge mansions for social, political and eco-nomic activities. But these activities, instead of providing relief, gradually create greater and greater psychological tension in the life of the individual. Probably at no time in human history was the gulf between the subjective and objective factors as great as it is today. Unless harmony is established anew between these two factors, the human crisis is likely to move towards a deepening horror, the result of which will be complete destruction of our civilisation. We must discover a philosophical approach that would enrich the subjective life of man.” Prophetic words, coming from a man then in his early forties, and that was ages before Alvin Toffler had dreamt of his Future Shock.
Rohitbhai was born on August 3,1908 at Surat in the family of Hasmanram,who used to be a pro-fessor in physics at the Elphinstone college,Bombay.The bright child was destined to do un-usual things from the early age. At the age of 18,he led a student strike in the Gujarat college in Ahmedabad against the dictatorial behaviour of its principal F.Shiraz.His two other associates were Jayanti Dalal, writer and Nirubhai Desai,who later became a famous journalist and au-thor.Shiraz had ordered that no student shall participate in any political activity.The strike con-tinued for three months at the end of which the young Rohitbhai was rusticated from the college and the Bombay university, according to Dr Bhaskar Vyas of Baroda.
Between 1926 and 1934,the young man was sent to jail five times for his activities in the free-dom struggle, making him a blue-eyed boy of Mahatma Gandhi. He had already been an avid so-cialist by then, a core member of the group believing in socialism within the Congress in those days. During the floods in 1927-28,Rohitbhai did a lot of work for the poor.
He went to jail during the salt satyagraha too and in 1934,Rohitbhai was handed a two-year term of hard labour, and sent to Ahmednagar.The heat and hard work in breaking stones there led to a terrible illness. He suffered a sun-stroke and then was partly paralysed. The alarmed authori-ties rushed him to the KEM Hospital in Bombay under the care of Dr Jivraj Mehta, who was to later become the first chief minister of Gujarat.
Rohitbhai had refused even to go on parole but the Mahatma intervened. According to Prof Ba-babhai Patel, a Congress worker,Jamnadas Dwarkadas took J.Krishnamurti to see the ailing Ro-hitbhai. Krishnamurti kept his hand on the parts of the sick man’s body wherever it was paining. The therapeutic touch is said to have cured Rohitbhai completely. He walked next day, and was discharged from the hospital soon.
Rohitbhai who was in the freedom struggle along with Jaya Prakash Narayan ,was a sort of maverick. He invited Subhaschandra Bose to Gujarat,ignoring Vallabhbhai Patel’s orders.
But the spiritual bend of his mind had already started asserting over his rebellious political mind. He had begun to realise the “soullessness” of politics and plunged into studying the works of theosophy and Krishnamurti.
Leaving “the dunghill of politics”, he took to spiritualism and philosophy for life. He explained in 1937 his transformation in a volume called, A new world of theosophical socialsim,predicting the eventual downfall of the Soviet Union.
In 1941,Rohitbhai went to Adyar in Tamil Nadu to act as recording secretary of the theosophical society,and soon became the international secretary. He explored the ideas propounded by many and yet did not subscribe to any one idea completely. This however was not out of an in-tellectual arrogance but out of modesty. He was to be later given a doctorate in philosophy by the Swiss University at Lugeno.Among the books he wrote were many notable ones such as Yoga-the Art of Integration, The Nameless Experience, From Mind to Super-Mind,The Call of the Upanishads,the Intuitive Philosophy,the Play of the Infinite, the Dialogue with Death,the Being and the becoming, the Eternal Light,the Creative silence,Seek Out the Way,the Search for Free-dom, the New World of Socialism, the Science of Meditation, and the Journey with Death.
in 1936,Rohitbhai was married to Shrideviben,a decade younger to him. She used to sing very melodiously. At his lectures, recalled Prof P.G.Mavalankar, Shrideviben would sing bhajans and hymns appropriate to the theme of his talk.” People would appreciate these after listening to Rohitbhai since the talk would make them understand the bhajans and hymns and their meaning all the better”, Mavalankar said. Prof.Mavalankar and his wife used to know the Mehta couple well and fondly remember Rohitbhai’s request at his talks (he would call them talks, rather than lectures): “You cannot leave while Shridevi is singing the bhajan. However,you can leave when I am talking.” Hardly anybody would go.
He used to live in Varanasi,when not travelling or lecturing around the world and the country.He used to come to Ahmedabad at least once a year for a series of lectures,which would start at 6.30 p m in the lawns of the late Rambhai Amin’s house in Gulbai Tekra,on the Labh Pancham day .Prof.Mavalankar remembered having seen around 2,000 people listening to Rohitbhai in rapt attention.When his health started giving in, he used to come every alternate year.
Remembered Mavalankar:” Rohitbhai had good diction,and he would speak neither fast nor slow,quoting with ease from a variety of works.His sense of humour would peep through in sub-tle manner every now and then.He was an optimist and knew the future lay in re-discovering In-dia.This could be done by reviving its great culture which has been showing strands of deca-dence.”
Rohitbhai was a widely travelled man,having lectured at various places in Europe,the U.S.,Africa and Asia.He could talk fluently in English, Hindi and Gujarati.”
Dr Bhaskar Vyas of Baroda, who knew him for more than two decades remembered of an at-tempt by himself and Dr D V Nene at doing a biography of Rohitbhai. He read some chapters Vyas had written and recommended: “Tear them up”. Apparently, to Rohitbhai ideas were more important and lasting than the man who thought them, even if it was Rohit Mehta.
Despite his tall stature in the world of philosophy,Rohitbhai always preferred to remain the shad-ows, shunning the limelight. In 1993,a greeting card he sent to his friends said:” The mind that is constantly renewing itself never grows old. It is constantly on a voyage of discovery. It never ar-rives. It moves on towards an endless journey. And the secret of life is found not by one who has arrived, but by one whose journey never ends.”
In January,1994,he came for the last time to Ahmedabad.Shrideviben’s younger brother, Late Devendra Oza, a veteran journalist and humour writer in Gujarati,under the pen-name of Vanmali Vanko had lined up an interview for this writer. Hours before the meeting,Rohitbhai developed fever and the meeting was put off to a future date. That date would now never come. He has moved on to an endless journey of no return.