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Friday, January 1, 2010

A golden voice, a golden man and his not-so-golden twilight

Tushar Bhatt

The years roll by easily as the chariot of time presses on relent-lessly. But some time-spots remain green in memory. This tête-à-tête took place way back in 1994 but it seems like it was yesterday.

This would, perhaps, be more difficult of the questions in any music quiz programme: Name a singer, who lived for a while in Ahmeda-bad, for whom the revolutionary Bengali poet, Kazi Nazrul Islam, specially wrote a song to make a debut as a recording artist ?
Even more difficult would be the poser: What was the first line of the song ?
No prizes are offered for the right answer, but the countless who might fail to answer correctly may also not feel so embarrassed. Very few as such are aware that it was Jagmohan Sursagar for whom the Kazi wrote the song in Bengali and its first line ran thus: Saono Ratey Jadi Smaraney Ashey Morey. And, what is more Jag-mohan has been a resident of Ahmedabad for sometime, living at D-8,Rajdeep Park Society, Baliakaka Road, Bhairavnath Road, Ahmedabad.
At 77 then, Jagmohan defied the customary description of being old. His face did not have the dull skin of the aged. It had a glow, reflecting the good health of the stocky body on which it sat. The balding head was held high, the friendly smile he flashed still showed teeth, and there were virtually no wrinkles on his familiar face, the familiarity springing from the fact that it has been seen on record albums and cassettes by lovers of the non-film light classi-cal music all over the sub-continent, both for his Bengali and Hindi compositions.
The drawing room in the ground floor apartment that Jagmohan occupies was rather spartan. There was a sofa set with a tea-table in front. A window at the back of the sofa set even did not have cur-tains.There were no trophies or other memorabilia adorning the room; none of the trappings through which the celebrities re-emphasise their celebrity status to their visitors. Dressed in a deep cream colour achkan and surwal,the singer-composer obviously was not a man who depends on external embellishments to under-line his towering music personality. Since 1958,he has not cut a single record. In 1950,he came to Bombay to become a playback singer in the films but the trends in music composition even at that time in India's Bollywood put him off so badly that he never sang in films. And,yet,the music-maker,the poet,the singer in Jagmohan stood the test of time; his non-film songs of yesteryear are still a big draw.More pertinently,the chosen path he took away from the filmdom did not push him into oblivion.
A dignified individual,Jagmohan never turned bitter,became more of an introvert,paying heed to the calls of none but his inner voice.After the deaths of his mother and his wife in 1981,feeling lonely,he had moved residence thrice-- from Bombay to Delhi for two years while he was a member of Censor Board,then to Cal-cutta and to Ahmedabad.
He did not seem to regard his moving from one city to another as something of great importance. He declared :"I crave for affec-tion ,respect and human warmth and go wherever my inner-self tells me to. I have followed the dictates of my inner-self only all my life."
"I can go away from a city,but I cannot go away from music",he said.Then,no place has really been alien to him. "I have been com-ing to Gujarat for nearly half a century,to cities and towns like Porbandar ,Gondal, Rajkot, Surendranagar,and ,of course, for countless times to Ahmedabad."
He would not talk much about the inner landscape of his heart. But it would appear that an event in 1991,when he was on a brief visit to Ahmedabad,moved him deeply.In April that year,says Mr Rajnikumar Pandya, a noted Gujarati writer ,who looked upon the singer as a father-figure,Jagmohan was at his house when news came that an aged fan of the singer,Mr Manubhai Trivedi in Isanpur suburb was critically ill, and was pining to hear a Jagmohan song. All through the years, Manubhai,whose son Niranjan Trivedi is a humour writer of note in Gujarati, had developed a habit of listening to Jagmohan before going to bed. He had one wish to see the singer personally and hear him sing,before he went into the eternal sleep.
Jagmohan took his harmonium and went to see the ailing fan.At the sick-bed,he rendered a Bhajan by Kabir Saheb,Ab tum kab sumiroge Ram,Jeevan do din ka mehman...and it seemed to many that the very air ,the ambience in the room echoed his deep,melodious voice,soothing the dying.They said Manubhai,who had been unconscious,briefly regained partial, flickering con-sciousness during the bhajan, and slipped back into a coma,perhaps with the satisfaction of having fulfilled his last wish. Everybody was stunned even as Jagmohan wept after completing the bhajan.
But,if Jagmohan was capable of melancholy,he was capable of recovering fast as well.Remembers Pandya:"He was again deeply moved when the same day,my daughter ,Tarjani,showed him her collection of dolls that included a doll bride.In the next visit,the singer had brought a bridegroom doll to celebrate the doll wedding.
That Jagmohan was a cut above the normal run of singers was an established fact even in the hey days of the stalwarts like Pankaj Mullick and Kundan Lal Saigal.But what is not generally known is that the singer is a deeply philosophical person as well.He did not sing in films after 1950 in Bombay was an act of conviction,but he has not run away from the battle. "There is so much of moral degradation everywhere,including in music.Music should not elevate you momentarily as the modern ones-- derived from rock-and-roll variety-- does. It should uplift the body as well the soul.I have always worked in my own way to propagate the music that would lead to the total uplift of human beings rather than providing thrills of transitional nature", he says,referring to the fast beat music that is the craze today.
"There is no reason to despair. This is a passinge phase -- or,craze and again the real music will take hold,"he asserts with confidence. As proof he cites a recent concert of light music he gave in Ahmedabad; not only the large half was full, they had to set up close-circuit television sets outsides to enable the crowds out-side to enjoy it all. "I get letters aplenty ,telling me how they love my songs and these are not old timers. A lot of youngsters also write to me."
Apart from the heavy dependence on ever quickening rhythm ,Jagmohan finds another major drawback in the modern day music. "It lacks poetry". He says that "poetry is at the core of music; first came the poetry,then the ras and then the music. It happens some-times that you have a tune,but unless proper words can be penned to fit it,it will never catch on for any lasting popularity."
His most precious gift, the lilting,soft and yet booming and deep voice that Jagmohan has,according to the singer,"is a gift of God". But he also admits to having tended it properly through riyaz or sadhna; he has an impressive array oof Gurus-- Dilip Kumar Roy, Bhishmadeb Chatterjee,Shambhu Maharaj,Ustad Zamiruddin Khan and master Gama.
Born on September 6,1918,Jagmohan whose real name is Ja-ganmoy Mitra coomes from a conservative family of land-lords.Sometime before he was born,his father died of a stomach ailment, while his mother was still in her teens. Though Jagmohan had no problems in childhood,he was to grow up an ardent devotee of his mother.When she died in 1981,and was followed by the singer's wife,in a few months time,Jagmohan felt a terrible void in his life,something that he appears to have been unable to fill ever.There was an atmosphere of music in his maternal grandfa-ther's house where they went to live after Jagmohan's father died.He literally grew up listening to dhrupad,khayal,thumri and tappa,surreptiously learning from his uncle's ustads ragas and raginis as also the tabla.It all paid off when after passing his ma-triculation examination, Jagmohan took part in all Bengal music competition ,topping the list in dhrupad,tappa,thumri,kritan and baul,religious folk music of Bengal.The year was 1937.In the same year,his professional singing career began at All India Radio.The next year,he stood first in khayal singing in an all India competition at Allahabad.A music recording company, HMV,grabbed him for recording.Says Jagmohan: " I had a tune and had been trying to compose a song to suit it.But,an acquaintance, Hembabu asked me to see Kazi Nazrul Islam,the great poet.Hembabu took me to him and left me with the poet.The poet was a very kindly man and my diffidence vanished after a while. I sang the few lines I had composed.He praised my tune and music but offered to write a song for me to fit them.I sang the tune several times as the Kazi sat writing stanza after stanza;his words, as if poured after,and there nary was a change or scratching out of a word here or there.That was the song Saaon Ratey Jadi.... on which my re-cording was made." It was a great hit.Then,in 1940,came two songs of Rabindranath Tagore,both approved by the Nobel prize winning poet.Tagore permitted him to record two more of his songs.
In 1945,Jagmoohan was given the award of Sursagar (ocean of music) in Bengal.The award has not since been given to anyone else,and the singer was only the second recepient of the honour.In fact, most people have forgotten that Mitra is Jagmohan's real sur-name; it has just become Jagmohan Sursagar, a name under which he also wrote an auto-biography in Bengali. It has recently been translated into Gujarati and brought out under the title of one his more famoous songs, Dil Dekar Dard Liya Hai Maine...
Gandhiji too had appreciated Jagmohan's singing and the singer recorded Sapt Kand Ramayana in six minutes at the Mahatma's suggestion.Another national leader fond of his singing was Jay Prakash Narayan.
Jagmohan toured abroad also extensive and has been to among other countries East Africa,the U.K.,the U.S.A.and Can-ada,earning vast fan following everywhere. Speaking at the Ontario College of Art in Toronto,Jagmohan held his audience spell-bound,claiming there essentially was no barrier to music.He sang a Bengali composition in Bhairavi and followed up with an English song ,rendered in the same raga.
Jagmohan has never regretted that he did what he did in abjur-ing film singing.In 1965, Mouni Baba initiated him into meditation, but Jagmohan has been rather clinically detached from the mad mad world of filmdom even before that time."Essentially,I sing for myself" he confesses. The involvement has been so total that any-time he starts playing on the harmonium and begins singing, a visible thrill runs through his body. He asked photographer,Kalpit Bhachech, who was clicking away as the singer talked to me,to bring the harmonium box to him. For,once he gets keyed up,he cannot but sing. And,he launched into a poetic description of Krishna and Gopi,the effects of music became visible on the tiny,grey hair on his hands. There is no English equivalent for it; but he experiences romaharsh when he sings.And, it was just two line that took him into the trance like situation.He was talking of the wonderment at Krishna playing ras with so many gopis and said there is a question in the first line."When you write or speak, the way you do makes it amply clear that there is a question mark at the end of the line. But how do you convey the impression in sign-ing without resorting to anything else."
He says: "This is how it is done",and launches into raising the question is it possible to play ras or have premlila even with one in a night? " The composition, obviously, his own, began with the ac-companiment of the harmonium,then the harmonium receded and his voice became a whisper,almost conspiratorial,with the notes of harmonium faintly echoing in the background.The listener would have no doubt there was a question mark at the end.
Innumerable songs have been composed and sung by Jagmo-han and he ,and his solitary discipline,go on bringing out diary after diary,full of notations written down in Bengali. In between ,he talks about his life now. How they presented him with a purse of Rs.five lakhs and how it has been made into a trust to help the penniless artistes in their twilight years and to promote music. He is not even a member of the trustee board. "My attraction to be in Gujarat is partly owing to my ambition to raise as much as Rs.50 lakhs for the benefit of aged artistes." He also went for performing concerts oc-casionally. "No I do not get tired even after singing for three or four hourse.I do not have blood pressure,my systems are normal. I do not consume alcohol,do not eat onions and garlic.My meal consists of two chapatis twice a day. I take milk, as also tea but without sugar. I have no chillies in my food,but would have raw green chilly, which contains vitamins."
Apart from this regimen,there is a stricter one in his lifestyle. He gets up att 3 a m and goes to bed at 11 p m.After getting up,he does meditation for three hours in the morning,and then some riyaz whenever there is mood.He derives immense satisfaction from the fact that his hit songs such as Mujhe na sapnose behlavo,Meri ankhen bani diwanee,Ye chand nahin teri arasi hai, Dil dekar dard liya.... The list is seemingly endless. But the curious detachment also shows up:he tells you he recorded his last song,titled Antim Gaan in 1958 and it goes something like this...My time to go has come,and while taking my leave I bow my head to everyone..
Yet,in the same moment he believes in doing whatever he thinks as his primary task till the last breath. One song he has never re-corded and which has been rendered by innumerable others ,ranging from K L Saigal to Bhimsen Joshi to Kishori Amonkar to Faiyaz Khan is Nawab Wajid Ali's compsition... Babul mora naiyar chhuto jaaye.. "Do you want to hear it?" He picks up the diary,leafs through the pages to come to the notation and begins. This man of 77 sang without any effort or strain,maintaining the breath for more than a minute in one particular line.His entire being seemed to sing -- not just his vocal chords.The effects are almost electric as the notes fill the room, travel out of the half-opened window,into the evening sky.Everything else stands motionless, rapt in listening.
After what appears like ages,he concludes,by which time his lis-teners are on the verge of tears. He feels at home in Gujarat where ,he says, there are innumerable fans of his.He recounts the experi-ence on his birthday a few days ago in Gandhinagar. He was at the Aurobido centre and got up as usual at 3 a m, going into the medi-tation room to find Happy Birthday written in large letters. At the vedi,there were 77 roses,marking his 77th birthday. They want to put 78 roses next years and one more there after and one more thereafter,and yet another,and on and on.Thirsting for affec-tion,Jagmohan appears to find it in abundance,an eloquent repu-diation of the myth that Gujarat is synonymous with money.
Jagmohan left Ahmedabad when he felt he should. He went away.never to come and died.

1 comment:

Bhaaveesh said...

Dear Tusharbhai,
It was a great pleasure reading about Jagmohan (Sursagar). I have heard that he used to use Geetanjali's Harmonium which although nowadays not so popular as Paul & Co. but wonderful Harmonium.