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Saturday, January 16, 2010

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 Aurobindo,Upanishad,Gita as also Marx, a teacher with a vast repertoire and a subtle sense of humour 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 spotlessly 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 under 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 student 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 impact 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 scientific and mechanical skill as applied to economic production. This scientific technique is becoming 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 absorption 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 direction 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 economic 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 advance 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 economic 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 professor in physics at the Elphinstone college,Bombay.The bright child was destined to do unusual 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 author.Shiraz had ordered that no student shall participate in any political activity.The strike continued 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 freedom struggle, making him a blue-eyed boy of Mahatma Gandhi. He had already been an avid socialist 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 authorities 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 Bababhai Patel, a Congress worker,Jamnadas Dwarkadas took J.Krishnamurti to see the ailing Rohitbhai. 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 intellectual 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 Freedom, 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 subtle manner every now and then.He was an optimist and knew the future lay in re-discovering India.This could be done by reviving its great culture which has been showing strands of decadence.”

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 attempt 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 shadows, 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 arrives. 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.


A Kannad Professor and "Manvi Ni Bhavai" :V Y Kantak

  Tushar Bhatt  

    May can be mercilessly hot in Baroda.Although it is already past 4.30 in the afternoon,the city as if lay under a heat haze,with traffic thinning to bare minimum.A man of medium height,in long-sleeved white shirt and trousers comes into the cool environ of the air-conditioned office,mopping sweat from his head of receding hairline.
    Under the thick eyebrows,his sparkling eyes are sunken in the sockets,the only signs of age that Prof.V.Y.Kantak shows.
    Many others at 85, when I first met him in early 1990s, would have remained indoors.But not Kantak.His quest for divining the inner meaning of life is driving him even now to look at the world around with alacrity,rarely found in men half his age.
    A sprightly man,with a firm voice, a lively interest in the world around, a life-long experience of teaching,reading and writing in English,combined with a mental agility that is able to transcend mere words,format and story element,were as if waiting in the wings all these years.They have come in to play a role in Kantak in adding to the list of world class novels a gem of Gujarati literature rendered into English.
    Manavini Bhavai,the celebrated novel by the Late Pannalal Patel,has at last become available for the non-Gujarati reading to sample the richness of the regional literature,its cultural ethos.
    It has been waiting for nearly half-a-century for Manavini Bhavai first came out in Gujarti wayback in 1947.By now,it has gone into as many as 13 print-runs.Late Pannalal Patel,its author,was given the Jnanpith award for 1985 for it.
    But,the much-acclaimed piece of literature,rated as the most powerful portrayal of Gujarat's rural life,had to wait till 1995,to come out in English.It would,perhaps,have taken a bit longer had it not been a chance suggestion some four years ago that triggered the literary interest of Prof Kantak, a retired don of the Maharaja Sayajirao University here.
    A low-profile,self-effacing teacher of great eminence,Prof.Kantak gave the translation to the Sahitya Akademi in Delhi to publish,and did not think much of a follow-up to let the larger world know about it.Mr Arvind Patel, son of late Pannalal,took the translation,published under the tital Endurance,brought it to this reporter along with new editions of several of the late author's other works in Gujarati.
    The blurb on the flap of the English version of Manavini Bhavai is rather miserly,about the translator.It makes for a terse reading of four sentences:"V Y Kantak(1912),eminent academic and critic,retired from the M.S.University,Baroda,as Professor of English.He has been working there almost since its inception.He has also taught at the Utah University,in the U.S.A.and was for some time Professor of English Literature at CIEFL,Hyderababd.He has written extensively for various literary journals in India and elsewhere."
    Even a brief meeting with Prof Kantak would underline the inadequacy of the introduction,for the professor not only possesses extra-ordinary depths of knowledge about literature of the world,but also has a sound backing form a powerful insight into philosophy,erudition in half a dozen languages and profound understanding of both the western and the oriental thoughts,the first emphasising the reality as perceived in the world outside an individual and the other stressing the world within an individual.
    Pannalal Patel,one of the leading figures of Gujarati literature,who died on April 6,1989 at the age of 77,himself got a belated recognition in the country when Manavini Bhavai bagged the 1985 Jnanpith award for him.Many have likened Pannalal and literature of early days to Maxim Gorky.
    Like Gorky,Pannalal had also graduated from the university of life and had excelled t portraying in words powerfully life around him.He wrote graphically,and yet with a simple beauty and directness of prose.Man was at the centre of the best that was ever written by Patel and yet it was no fanciful flight of imagination in individualism totally divorced from the contemporary society around the author.Pannalal never cme out as an escapist in the struggles of ordinary people he wrote about. "Man", he once said," is not evil as such. Hunger is.And worse evil than hunger and poverty is begging."
    Pannalal's characters,such as Kalu and Raju in Manavini Bhavai,were intensely human,drawn from the rural world of north Gujarat,speaking their own language,reflecting their own hopes,fears and frustrations,but never despairing of being alive.
    Yet, Pannalal's reputation as a wordsmith largely remained confined to Gujarat,even after he came into limelight natioanlly after the Jnanpith award.That there was little awareness in the rest of the country about it underlined the tragedy of contemporary Indian literary scene as well.A man who was not well-versed in English and the art of advertisemet for the self,Pannalal in his lifetime never managed to bridge the gap; not that he cared either.
    Kantak's translation of Manavini Bhavai at long last mercifully tries to fill the gap.Were Pannalal alive today,he would have perhaps called it a divnine co-incidence.Recalls Kantak: "Some four to five years ago, the son of a professor colleague,now living in the U.S.A. suggested to him a translation into English of Manavini Bhavai. I had not read it till then,although I have been in Gujarat for years.I read it,liked it and Endurance is the end-result."
    Kantak came to Gujarat wayback in 1947,the year Pannalal's book was first published in Gujarati. He had been,by then teaching English for 11 years at Wilson College in Bombay.Some friends goaded him into joining a vast educational complex that was being set up at Vallabh Vidyanagar by late Bhailalbhai Patel,popularly known as Bhaikaka,and his colleague. "I and an old-time colleague,Dr.Aloo Dastur,came to Vidyanagar,setting up a college there. In the initial days,I rememebr we even used to take part in the voluntary labour at the construction site.Such was the enthusiasm Bhaikaka could generate."
    After three years,in 1950,when the M.S.University was set up,Kantak moved to Baroda and rose to become the first Dean of the Arts faculty and retired in 1972.He then went to the USA and taught at Utah University before going on to Hyderabad,to call it a day for teaching sometime in 1977.He has been in Baroda eversince,occasionally writing here and there,delving deeper into philosophy,his yearning to unravel the mystery of reality as compelling a motivating force as ever.The translation of Manavini Bhavai into English also formed part of that quest only.
    Pannalal's novel has been hailed widely as a modern classic,modern in the sense that it was a major achievement in a fictional mode that Pannalal himself started with in his 1941 work,Malela Jeev.Set in village life of north Gujarat,it is a fictionalised account of the great famine of 1900,remembered as the most ravaging calamity of Chhapaniya after the Vikram Samvat 1956 in which it occurred.Pannalal was a self-made writer and wrote it in a simple,direct style,devoid of any literary artifices or sophistication,and yet he was never "crude" or"raw"The story of a love affair between Kalu, a rustic village youth and Raj,a woman with immense mental power,the novel progresses on parallel tracks;it talks of the tragic lives of the two lovers,their endurance in the face of all adversities and the will to survive it all,as also of a people who were were devastated by the great famine,enduring similarly.It created waves in Gujarati literature,impressing readers as well as the pundits.Noted film actor and director,Upendra Trivedi,made a film based on the novel,and it won a Silver Lotus in the regional film category at the 41st national film festival a couple of years ago.
    It moved Trivedi as it did Kantak.Said Upendra Trivedi; "Time is the hero,nature its leading lady and the famine the villain.Man's battle against the famine,the shortage of food fodder and water,the miserries all around,are enough to crusrh his spirit.Yet,man fights on,often hanging on to the the fragile threats of non-existent hope.The saga of Kalu and Raju too was equally moving."
    Says Kantak: "Pannalal achieved a break-through in writing this powerful work.It was not only set in rural background,used the idiom familiar to the rustic folks,and still it was neither crude nor raw,neither did lack in intellectual content.With a complete artisic control,Pannalal made powerful probes into the basics of the human condition.Apart from imaging a peasant culture with ancient roots in its effort to cope with nature's callousness and human perversities,the novel has the distiction of fictionalising a historic catastrophe,the great famine known as Chhappaniyo.It is the tale of a man wedded to the soil in a raging tempestuous sort of conjunction from which a few chancy drops of 'nectar' can still be salvaged."
    For all this,it was no easy a job to render the novel into English. Kantak says: "One addresses the task of translating into English the idiom and speech-tones of the well-grounded dialect of this novel of the Indian peasantry's life-style,with considerable trepidation." He has tried to retain,as far as possible, something of the naive simplicity and force of the direct immediacy of utterance implicit in it. Still,Kantak,the life-long university don and critic,is not making any claims. I am aware that howsoever one may try,the brevity,the compactness,the brilliant staccato effect, are inevitably lost."
    He says "I have tried to avoid anything like a special stylstic feature that might call attention to itself in the English that is used. I hope the 'Englishing' conforms to the norms of the ordinary English that is current in India, without obscuring altogether the down-to-earth quality of Pannalal's art." One thing that gave Kantak a lot of troubles was the rendering into English of the songs and lyrical strains used for group-singing at marriage ceremony and other occasions.He rendered these in unrhymed iambic verse or less in keeping with the singing quality of the original pieces.
    How did Prof.Kantak go about translating it? "I read it very carefully twice as a whole novel ,and then again read it meculously chapter by chapter as I went on rendering it into English. There were revisions too, especially in songs and lyrics.It took me some two years to do all this."
    About the ethos of the novel Manavini Bhavai,Kantak says he is deeply impressed. "It is obvious that the Kalu of the famine sequences,towards the close,strikes one as a different Kalu from the puny,sentimentalism-prone, schoolboyish young man that the earlier Kalu was.What transformed him ? It is no doubt the natural process of maturity in the first instance. But the peculiar toughening of mental fibre and inner growth come from his respnse to two things -- the impact of Raju, and late, of the Chappaniya.Of these,Raju over-shadows everything in the novel.She is the heart of the story.She makes her young man. You almost hear the potter slapping and patting the maleable mass,and see her at the wheel,nudging,pressing, coaxing,as she spins the mass giddily into a shape.And, all done as though unconsciously,without any sort on design."
    He continues: "Raju on the one hand, and the Chhappaniya on the other,bring Kalu to the boil, to maturing. Raju's role, in subtle ways,is that of a "mother" too,in addition to being a beloved. It is this vista,this simutaneous perception of the dream girl-- the soul mate (italics) mater (italics over),mother earth,prakriti,the one manifest in the other.Perhaps this, more than anything else spells the Indian experience.The secret of the endurance she instils in Kalu is the kind that is implcit in prakriti,nature, itself."
    For Kantak,an image of the Indian reality comes to life between the two intensities,represented by Raju and the Chhapaniya,as if acquiring name form-- Namrup. "It is possible the perceptive might catch a glimpse of that elusive entity in the blundering innocence of a Kalu," says Kantak " More likely,they will see it all the more clearly in the eloquent silences of a Raju.And in the process, the 'drollness' of the tale,too,will have taken on a certain subtle singificance."
    The reference to the drollness is to the original title's word Bhavai,literally speaking bhavai would mean a droll story,implying superfluousness.When he gave the original title,Pannalal himself was aware of the ordinary,literal meaning.In the foreword to the Manavini Bhavai,dated April 25,1947,the late author said that in addition to the literal meaning,bhavai would also imply in certain situation a reference to the worldly affairs or property,as was depicted in the Gujarati saying,Be Dhoran Ne Be Chhoran,A Aapni Bhavai (Two cattle head and two children,that is all what is our property in this world). Or,in another saying, Kheti A To Bhai,Zazan Manavini Bhavai (Farming,my brother, is a droll story of many people together).
    The unarticulated question is: Could this, as Kantak puts it,"what appears merely droll in the eyes of modern humanism -- be hiding a profounder insight underneath?" It does,making the apparent droll saga assume contrary meaning.
    To Kantak, it was part of a personal journey of the innr landscape, an"experience". He says,without much ado:"I think I am satisfied with what I have done." He is not bothered if the translation attracts much notice,or not,wins acclaim or is ignored. He had done his job and was happy with the resultant volume.Alas, he is no more and a hunt to locate his family did not yield.Maybe,they have moved away, maybe our memory is too weak to


Upendra Trivedi : Lone Shining Star of the Gujarati Cinema


Tushar Bhatt

His face averted from the rest of the workers, an old man was digging earth at the drought relief work. The general deportment indicated he must have been a man from a well-placed rural family that had fallen on bad days because of the failure of the monsoon, but that did not prevent him from working like a fury. As his pick hit the land with gusto, he sang in Gujarati: "Khandaniya Ma Mathan Ram, Zinko Ram Zinko Ram, Dukale Pidhan Lohida Ram" ( We are like the grains being pounded in the mortar's God, go on pounding us with as much force as you like in this famine which is sucking our blood.) A visitor who was at the site to distribute buttermilk among the workers was overhearing it, as if petrified by the sorrow and pain the old man, as also thousands and thousands like him, were suffering, uncomplaining and yet with dignity facing miseries inflicted by the vagaries of the rain God. "It sort of sent a flashlight through my head", said Upendra Trivedi, noted Gujarati thespian, whose depiction on the celluloid of the terrible famine in Gujarat nearly a hundred years ago, done on paper with great mastery by the late author Pannalal Patel, Manvini Bhavai, had bagged a silver lotus award for a regional film at the 41st national film festival. Basically, Upendra is a showman in the genre of  Raj Kapoor and Dilip Kumar. After a lifetime in films, he had a stint in politics and found out that the real life is far more complicated than the reel life. For some time now he has been in wilderness and was almost in the oblivion. Politicians, cricketers and denizens of the filmdom cannot afford to remain out of public limelight. Perhaps, Upendra Trivedi had perceived it to be a clear danger. His friends and well-wishers rallied round with a volume containing the actor’s own life statement and writings by others and released it on July 9, 2009 at Gandhinagar. Among those who were present was Morari Bapu, a noted Ramayan preacher.  An exhibition of cartoons  and caricatures on Upendra by Nirmish Thaker, whose cartoons appear in a number of publications, including Opinion was another highlight of the programme. Nirmish said later his was the first solo exhibition of cartoons on a single actor. Rahul Gandhi notwithstanding, aged people rule the political arena, but perpetual youth is expected of sport persons and show people. So it is difficult to make whether Upendra’s political career blooms once more or his screen life, his real life or his reel life! Whichever it is, it remains true that had he not done anything else but the film on Pannalal’s novel, Upendra Trivedi’s name would always deserve respect. The novel, on which the film is based, itself had won laurels for Pannalal, ever since he wrote it in 1947, capping it with a Jnanpith award for 1985, given in 1986.The late poet Umashankar Joshi had hailed Pannalal as a writer no less than Shakespeare. Upendra Trivedi would compare him with Chekhov; others have drawn parallel between Pannalal and Maxim Gorky. Like Gorky, Pannalal had graduated from the university of life, portraying life around him powerfully, graphically and beautifully. Man was at the centre of the best produced by Pannalal, and yet it was no fanciful flight of imagination in individualism totally delinked from the society around him. In the struggles of ordinary people he portrayed, Pannnalal never came out as an escapist." Man, " he once said, " is not evil as such. Hunger is. And a worse evil than poverty is begging." Upendra Trivedi, who has been a leading light of the Gujarati silver screen and stage for years, had acquired film rights of Manvini Bhavai even before it got the Jnanpith award to Pannalal.The story, its social relevance, its pathos, its immediacy all appealed to him as something that would lend for a powerful movie. But, said Upendra Trivedi later, " I could not clarify in my own mind as to what I wanted to do with the story. That day when I saw the old man on the drought relief work, heard his song, and later spoke to him to find out details of his life, it all clarified in an instant-- as if like a flash."  He said that almost every Gujarati who can read has either heard of or read Pannalal's Manvini Bhavai. What kind of treatment should be given to it in pasteurising it was the million-rupee question that had been exercising his thought-process. "When I saw the old man and his dignified struggle, learnt of the fact that although he had a rich son in law, he was loathe asking for help, that during lunch time, he would go running home to look up his cattle, all touched my heart, and gave me a cinema idiom, so to say." He could as if fathom the suffering of the old man at the relief work, and strove to transform that suffering in filming Manvini Bhavai. "It was not a story of Kalu and Raju, or of any of the characters portrayed in the novel only. It was during a famine that most of the established demarcations of behaviour disappear. Family ties became strenuous; man and animal both would be compelled to drink dirty water from the same source. It was a timeless tale of the rural folks pitted against hard times, the story of a drought, a famine, whether it is in Bhiloda, my constituency, north Gujarat, Saurashtra or Kutch, or entire Gujarat. It transcended boundaries; it could be the tale of farmers in Somalia or Ethiopia." "Time is the hero, the nature its leading lady, and the famine the villain. Man's battle against the drought, the shortage of food and water, the miseries all around are enough to defeat him, crush his spirit. But man, fights on, often on the strength of fragile threads of non-existent hope. I made the film on this concept", Upendra Trivedi said." I realised how magnificent this epic struggle of human beings against the vagaries of nature has been. I have tried to celebrate it, eulogise his fighting spirit, and pay tribute to his ingenuity. Look at Kalu, one shower of rain and he revives as if Shiv has returned with the Ganga in his hairlock." He also felt that a paucity of water -- for drinking, for farming, for animals-- was at the root of most of his miseries. "Water is life." In filming the novel, Upendra made a few changes; " I have dropped a few characters, added some, added some descriptive scenes to make it all the more focused. For instance, to drive home the real face of the famine of the 1890, which Pannalal wrote about in the book, I have added a pre-drought scene of charming rural scenery. But I have remained faithful to the basic purpose of Manvini Bhavai."  In a way, this is the graduation of Upendra Trivedi, successful actor, from the days he used to play varied roles such as Veer Mangdawalo, Malavpati Munj, to Kalu, the famine-ravaged rustic from rural Gujarat. If he began with Veer Mangdawalo, a beautiful story of history, in which a newly married man goes out from the marriage pandal to save cows. He remembered, with visible signs of pain, how the literati in Gujarat used to scoff at his such roles in historical movies made on low budget in Gujarati in the 1970s and early 80s.They made him a household name in the villages, but did not earn him respect among the elite. "The literati", he recalled as if to comfort himself, " had found fault even with Zaverchand Meghani half a century ago, when the poet and writer had roamed all over Saurashtra, collecting folk tales and songs. These had been the rich heritage of our people but the elite pooh-poohed it all. The same happened to me too." But, this has been an education for Upendra Trivedi and has helped him in transformation from a popular screen figure into a producer it some social insight and politician with some commitment. Born at Indore, Madhya Pradesh, on July 14, 1937, Upendra has seen many ups and downs. "For some time, we used to live at Ujjain and I did not even know much of Gujarati", he recalled. Then, he went to college in Mumbai, got a diploma in dramatics, studied Hindi, even as he pursued a career of acting on the stage. The exposure to the theatre gave him an abundant love for literature, an ability to put his finger on the popular pulse and courage to strive on and on. He remembered he had done an earlier picture in Gujarati just for a fat fee of Rs.500. Those were the days when one could be happy earning as little as Rs.125 a month. He got a break when he got a job as a producer on the All India Radio, but his first love, acting, made him gave it up." I was told I could not act at will if I was in the service. I chose not to be in service." His search for the self had begun. One of Upendra's early works was a highly successful play called Abhinay Samrat, a title that  was soometimes applied to him in sniggering and derogatory reference. He played seven roles in the play, and yet the real identity of the hero was a mystery till the end; he was Radheshyam Maharaj, Haiderali Habib, Captain Rajesh Thakur, Rev.Johnny Walker, a tobacco trader from Talod, Pashabhai Patel. The story was that of a conman par excellence who could assume a different identity every time he needed to cheat someone, and get away by pleading that "Hun te nathi (he was not that person)." From "Hun te nathi", Upendra progressed to the silver screen, becoming the archetypal of Mangdawalo. But, he has also made films like Zer To Pidhan Jani Jani, based on the literary work of the same name by Manubhai Pancholi, Darshak. He has some 125 films, and many plays, to his credit by now. He speaks almost regretfully of the stunted growth of the Gujarati film industry; "It was beginning to blossom into its own after the inception of Gujarat as a separate state in 1960 and the formulation of a film policy later. But the video invasion, quickly followed by the satellite TV, aggression, dashed its hopes." He said that despite this, it was his ambition to make a film version of Manvni Bhavai. He has directed the film, in addition to playing the main role, written the script, the dialogue and chosen the locations himself. While Upendra plays the role of Kalu, whose struggle against the drought and pining for his lost love for Raju are at the centre of the theme, Anuradha Patel plays the female lead role. Among others in the supporting cast are Chandrakant Pandya, Bhairavi Vyas, Anang Desai, Kalpana Deewan and Ramesh Mehta. The only fault some people have found in the film is a reference to the Narmada project at the end of the movie. While it is true that water is very important, and so is the Narmada project, the mention of the Narmada super-imposed thus, lends a touch of propaganda to the effort. For a person who is a household name in countless village homes, Upendra is a very low profile person. He has an easy amiability, a presence and a good voice, but lacks the showbiz fizz. He had represented Bhiloda constituency in the backward Sabarkantha district for two terms, is very popular." I am not in politics for politicking", said Upendra, as if defending his place in it." I want to help the people; I am a people's artist and thought I could help them by working as their representative." He has an asset that may come handy in months ahead; he has a face that gets recognised by the crowds.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Resurrection ( translation of a famous Gujarati satire)

(A celebrated satire in Gujarati }
Originally written  By VINOD BHATT              

rendered into English by Tushar Bhatt

     I could not trust my ears and stared with a dumb expression at my friend. He was emphatic: “You just try and find out if I am telling you the truth.”
He held up a small bottle containing sparking liquid. “Put only three drops
of this magic potion on any inanimate thing and it will spring to life.”

  Disbelief would just not disappear from my face, although like Gandhiji my friend also had taken a vow never to tell a lie. Maybe, he was making a mistake. 
As if reading my thoughts, the friend drove home the point further. “I will tell you what you could do. Just go to any statue standing in a public place,put three drops of the potion into the statue’s left ear and see what happens.
He was so insistent I thought I had no option but to try. There being any number statues of any manner of people all over the country, it was easyenough. The question now was of choosing a proper candidate in an appropriate place.

It occurred to me why not try the potion on the Mahatma’s statue, standing at the Income Tax Circle on Ahmedabad’s Ashram Road? On his return from South Africa, Gandhiji had made home in Ahmedabad and founded the Ashram, the first
HQ of India’s non-violent freedom struggle.
Modelled on a famous woodcut of Nandlal Bose, the statue is beautifully done. With a walking staff in hand, the Mahatma seemed to be in a sombre mood and striding away from the Sabarmati Ashram.
Nevertheless I paused for a jiffy to ponder. Was it proper to carry out this seemingly innocuous experiment on the statue?
  No one had objected when some people had bathed the statue of the Apostle of Non-violence with milk to purify it. Later, some other had even applied a blood tilak on its forehead, invoking the Mahatma’s blessings in whatever the
cause they were fighting for.

Perhaps, he also would not mind my putting in mere three drops of the potion in the statue’s ear. After all, unlike others I was only verifying the truth of my friend’s claim, a harmless experiment with truth, with no personal or group axe to grind.

I cautiously put the drops into the statue’s left ear.  As soon as the drops went in, Bapu came alive.

There was some cramp in his sprightly demeanour, a result of standing in the same rigid position for years. He stretched and yawned. The walking staff in his hand dropped to the ground. Dutifully, I bent down and picked up the
staff to hand it back to Gandhiji.
  Bapu sanpped: “Not walking staff any more. It would not do. Fetch me a gun.




Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A gentleman and a gentle satirist: Vinod Bhatt

Logo Random Notes\ for STOI Dec 24, 1995,with a picture

Tushar Bhatt*
    Hurrying slowly has been his hallmark all his life, a trait that appears even more pronounced after he recently out-stared death during a serious ailment of the kidney and liver.Vinod Bhatt has always been a contradiction of sorts, a satirist who has been so mellowed that he hates to offend.Yet,his satire,as also his humour,retain that element of wit that makes for the soul of the genre.He is at his best when self-deprecating and mildly,subtly,mocking the world even while doing that.
    In a self-portrait in words in his book of pen-portraits,Vinodni Najare,the humour writer wryly describes his own appearance thus: Small eyes,with dark eye-bags hanging underneath,bigger than necessary nose,harsh,sandpaper face, a voice that is not pleasant to the listener for a longer time than essential,giving an over-all impression of an innocent,if not highly attractive countenance.He is not at all gullible,It is a deceptive face."
    Remorselessly,he piles on: "He may think of himself as an intellectual,but he is not able to impress people as so intelligent a person.Poor in knowledge,having been below average a student from the beginning.His monotonous failure in examinations used to irritate his parents to the point of boredom."
    All of which is highly exaggerated,and countless fans will testify ,is simply untrue.He is putting on a mask to hide the real Vinod Bhatt, a warm-hearted person, a friend who would go miles just to say hello to another friend.
    A prolific writer,he has written some 52 books since 19062 when his first volume,Pehlun Sukh Te Mungi Naar (The first happiness of life, a dumb wife) came out.These are in addition to innumerable columns he has done for dailies and weeklies over the past four decades of so.Most fall in the category of satire-humour,but there also are compilations, and biographies, such as Sadat Manto.
    He is ,like other humour writers,acutely aware of what he describes as "tragi-comedy of life" that when they encounter a satirist the people expect them to reel off a joke or two.He recalls having gone,along with his wife,Nalini,to mourn the death of a friend's father once. The friend had not met Nailni.Vinod introduced her to the grief-stricken man as a woman of learning ,vidhushi,since she has done M.A.,M.Ed. The friend's eyes shone with genuine pleasure and he blurted out " what a pair.The wife is a vidushi,the husband a vidushak (joker)."It is ridiculous ,but there it is.Most think that a humour writer is a bottomless treasure of jokes for all occasions.If not that,one to validate one's own sense of humour.This is at once tragic as well as comic.A humour-writer is not a joker."
    Born on the kite-flying day, utran,January 14, 1938,Vinod has not only been frank but transparent as well.Never a bright student,he recalls that once when he managed to scrape through an examination, scoring 35 per cent,the minimum marks needed,his mother suggested they should hold an ice-cream party to celebrate the high-water mark in his educational career.Jashwantlal,his father who was a partner in a tax consultant's firm,who apparently a streak of humour in him,riposted: "Do you know what would that mean? That we are celebrating his having got 35 per cent marks,and having missed as much as 65 per cent of the knowledge that could be had." Nevertheless,the ice-cream party followed a week later. "I was a dull student", says Vinod,with utter modesty, a modesty so utter that it might smack of pride."A good for nothing."
    The suspicion about the pride arises from the fact that that boy of yesteryear has risen to be a popular satire writer,and come to occupy the chair of the prestigious body in Gujarati literature,which in the past had been occupied by people like Gandhiji. To be sure, there were only two other humour-satire writers,preceding him as president,Late Ramanbhai Nilkanth,who wrote the renowned Bhadrambhadra,and late Jytoindra Dave.
    Why did he choose to be a tax consultant, an area that a creative writer might find no end boring,since one has to endlessly battle with figures ? "There was no option.Actually, I did not want to be what I became.But having been forced to switch to the arts stream after flunking the commerce faculty exams,it was judged that I was no good to be anywhere else,but at father's firm." But, that is a half-truth only,or as satirists are prone to do,clothing truth in self-deprecation. He very much wanted to be a writer from his young days.
    "I had been writing stories full of pathos in the beginning. So full of pathos that while with one hand I wrote, the other hand would be continuously mopping up tears welling up in my eyes."
    Unfortunately,he did not find the audience to appreciate it."In the beginning,whenever I venture out with a sheaf of papers,looking for potential listeners,other boys would make themselves scarce from the Nav Tadni Pole in Ghee Kanta area in the walled city of Ahmedabad where we lived.Some will suddenly remember they had unfinished home-work,others will think of domestic chores their mothers had ordered them to.Some will disappear quickly,without offering any valid reason.That left me with a half-crack listener,a man called Chiman Badashah.As I would start reading,with tears streaming down on my cheeks,the half-mad would also get affected. By the time the story was over, Chiman Badshah too would be crying.Then,he would place a hand of commiseration on my shoulders,and begin loudly showering the filthiest homilies on the heartless world. At that point, I too would make myself vanish."
    He did eventually manage to take his B.A. degree with economics and politics as special subjects.During the student days, he loved to reads,but books other than those required for getting through the examinations. So,by the time he passed out ,"in the third class in B.A. and in the second (since that was the minimum for passing) in LL.B.",Vinod had read a lot of literature and had been dreaming of becoming an author just as Ramanlal V.Desai,Gunvantray Acharya,Dhoomketu,K.M.Munshi and Pannalal Patel had been. "Reading them I used to imagine how good it would be to know them personally, and to know an author personally, one had to become an author himself."
    Says Vinod:" I believe writing is a gift of nature. One cannot become a writer, if the maker had not endowed him or her with the required talent to put words on a piece of blank paper,no matter it would get readers or not." It was a sheer coincident that his aunt had named him Vinod, which is Gujarati for humour,wit.Among the first writings,there only were one or two pieces of humour.If he did not lack anything, it was tenacity.He is also a patient wordsmith,revising more than once what he has put on the paper.
    What is his creative process in satire ? "That is easy to answer",he shoots back. More than fifty per cent of the material needed for writing humour has always been provided by politicians,irrespective of their ideologies and the colour of their party flag.His writing in newspapers and magazines has also been partly responsible in keeping in touch with the day-to-day happenings and relate these up in his pieces,"things which readers can easily identify and understand."
    He says that he has found that readers from Saurashtra are more responsive to satire than other parts of Gujarat."This is because an element of wit may be in their blood.It also may have something to do with poverty.The poor are able to understand and enjoy humour much more than the better-off,simply because humour serves as an escape route from their humdrum existence." Human beings are the only animals in the kingdom of God who can laugh,espcially at their own plight."When a child is born and does not start crying immediately,the doctor would be worried stiff. If later on,while growing,the child cannot laugh,it would be a cause of equal alarm.Laughter makes man a social being.Never trust a man who does not laugh heartily;also never take such a person seriously."
    Humour ,which causes laughter,has a social function too,beyond the personal one. Says Vinod,"Humour can help us mock our weaknesses and lead to subtle reforms."Vinod's own humour tends to be more subtle now as compared to the time when he started out. He himself acknowledges that the way he wrote in a devastating manner,poking fun at all and sundry,he would not write in the same vein today. He would be much more subtle."I strive to progress from coarse to the more subtle all the time. I would word things differently now to drive home the same points." Age may have helped him to mellow,and view the fads and foibles of the mad,mad world around us more sympathetically,yet incisively.
    His personal favourite as an author is a satirist of avant garde,Manto."I have read and re-read him innumerable time,all my life.” Vinod is quite sentimental about Manto.A few years ago, late Adam Sumro, a Pakistani journalist and friend,had come to see him in Ahmedabad.He asked Vinod if he could do anything in Pakistan for Vinod.The humour writer asked him to light some joss sticks and put flowers on Manto's grave in Lahore,if he ever went to the city.
    But, says Vinod emphatically: “I am not writing humour as an escapist. I write it as a creative expression of myself.No doubt I have seen dire days of poverty in my childhood but humour is no escape land for me." He comes across as a man who enjoys life,does not take himself very seriously and take the world only a little more seriously.
    He relishes the fact that he was elected unopposed as president of the Sahitya Parishad,the two other eminent people in the field,Dr Harivallabh Bhayani and Dr Ramanlal Joshi having withdrawn from the field.Especially,since even Gandhiji was once defeated by a solitary vote for the position wayback in 1920. Vinod took over the presidentship of the Gujarati Sahitya Parishad at its 38th session in Jamnagar in December, 1995.

    He tried to make the parishad more people-oriented, a vehicle for cultural activities and a booster for literary ones. A high-water mark of his tenure  was a special grant of Rs.51 lakhs by the Gujarat government, chiefly because the chief minister at that time, Mr Shankersinh Vaghela was an old friend of Vinod. He and some other members of the parishad had called on the chief minister when Mr Vaghela quickly accepted the demand for some money. With a smile on his face, he asked them to name  figure and feeling nervous diffidence, they mumbled a low figure. Mischievously, the chief minister laughed and asked why were the writers miserly even in demanding? The solidly middle class men of letters weredumb-struck when Mr Vaghela named Rs.51 lakhs. Of course, it was not coming from his own pocket,but till todate,no other leader in power has been as generous even when the amount was to come government coffers. 
    What Bernard Shaw once said perhaps sums up how Vinod feels about himself and his craft.Said Shaw: " Although I have whip-lashed people with my satire,I am still alive because nobody takes a satirist-humourist seriously."
    On the other hand,thriving of humour,and high respect to humourist,is perhaps the inevitable symbol of a healthy democracy.Remember,the renowned Shankar's Weekly was closed down during the emergency,with its editor, Shankar,noting in the last issue: "Dictatorship cannot afford laughter because people may laugh at the dictator and that would not do."
    Satire has its awe-inspiring side.As Alexander Pope noted: "Yes,I am proud.I must be proud to see men not afraid of God,(but) afraid of me." Humourists are in a sense the high priests of the modern,secular democracies.
    (* Though they share the same surname Vinod Bhatt and Tushar Bhatt are not related)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A trip down memory lane with Pankaj Udhas

Tushar Bhatt        

The round face, topped by a mass of silken hair, did not show having put in any mileage at all,nor did it betray the hard struggle its owner had to wage to be accepted. Only the sparkling eyes spoke of late hours they have been accustomed to keep.On the forehead,partly covered by a lock of hair,there was a half-an-inch long scar,a memento of one of the numerous bleeding cuts he got as a boy in Rajkot while playing in the evenings,then mercifully devoid of the TV.The thick bush of his moustache,drooping a bit on both sides, stood out in the handsome face of Pankaj Udhas,the nice Gujarati boy next door till a few years ago,and now a renowned national ghazal singer ,the man with a velvet voice.
    Dressed in white kurta and chudidar,Pankaj,with his slightly diffident smile that revealed only a portion of his upper teeth,struck as a man who did not put on any airs of being a star.The unassuming nature had, in truth, given rise to a myth that he burst out like a meteor from nowhere, a fluke on the crowded firmament of ghazal singing, implying that he is a passing phenomenon. "This is not true",he said. "My victory in the eighties is built on many a defeat in the earlier period of my life."
    He vividly remembered how one evening in 1976,he stood alone,friendless and directionless at the JFK international airport in New York,with only dollars 150 in his pocket,a suitacase in one hand and a  harmonium in the other.He was there to try his luck in export business, setting up an office for a friend and manufacturer in Mumbai. Having failed to make a breakthrough in the career as a singer after struggling for nearly four years,he had decided to go in for business abroad. "I was 25,had cut a record for a film and had been successful as a ghazal singer in a small home circuit of
connoisseurs. But I was not progressing anywhere beyond, and not for want of trying."

    Earlier, he could not get admission to a medical college because he had not scored enough marks in the Inter Science examination. " I had dreamt of becoming a doctor because it was a career that carried a great prestige and work-satisfaction." The, he had graduated with Botany from Bombay and decided to pursue an MBA in the U.S.A. "I secured admission to the Illionois university in around 1970,but our middle class family did not have enough funds to finance my education there."
    He said he has come to believe that he was destined to become a ghazal singer. "Look at the happenings in my life and you will realise that through each setback my destiny was pulling me to become a full-time ghazal singing artist. It was ,as if,every defeat was designed to lead me on to build for my eventual success in ghazal singing."
    If destiny was playing a part,Pankaj too provided it enough support."I have toiled like a maniac,spending eight to ten hours a day,listening to ghazals sung by others such as Mehdi Hasan,learning Urdu ,trying to understand the finer nuances of words in a ghazal,or learning classical music from Master Navrang who has trained many a noted voice of yesterday and today."
    If he were not determined to pursue music as a passion, Lady Luck would not have smiled on him ever; "I could have ended up in a nice,cosy executive job or as a businessman,with interest in music,with an amateur's voice." His rigorous training made the difference and how could that be dismissed as a fluke success ?
    Destiny had earmarked for a singing career,right from the tender age of six,when he went to school No.20 in Bhaktinagar in Rajkot in the fifties.Hailing from a solidly middle class family of Mr.Keshubhai,a central government official in textiles department,Pankaj inherited an interest in music from his father. Keshubhai,himself a son an administrator in the erstwhile princely state of Bhavnagar,played Dilruba very well.His grandfather,Dosabhai,was one of the early graduates in Saurashtra, having got his 1902 from Ferguson college in Pune and got a job as a top official in the Bhavnagar state which had good musicians in the court.Pankaj's elder brothers, Manhar and Nirmal,too got this interest from the father.
    His memories of his childhood in Saurashtra are green,and happy.Pankaj was born on May 17,1951,in Jetpur,famous for its sarees,while his father was posted there.Although the family shifted to Rajkot by 1955,Pankaj has in mind imprinted forever some sweet memories."You would not believe,but I remember Motibai,the old woman who used to look after me as an infant. Our house was in an area where there were many houses of Memon families and I also remember Zubeda,an 18 to 20 year old girl from a family where I used to go to play as a child,showing great affection ."
    There is no history of music in the family of Udhases,except that Keshubhai learnt Dilruba from Ustad Abdul Karim Khan, the been player in Bhavnagar."I can see only two factors that may have contributed to music in me,and my brothers,Manhar and Nirmal.One,the Udhas family belongs to the Charan clan,who have traditionally been called Deviputra,sons of the goddess of learning and arts,Saraswati.Two,the father had a life-long passion for his Dilruba.My father would play the instrument whenever he found time,especially in the evenings as a hobby.Life was a slow-paced affair then and he would mostly be home only in his spare time.By the time we came to Rajkot,when I was hardly four,my brothers had already started in music;both are noted singers today."
    Pankaj went to the municipal school No.20 in Bhaktinagar,where the family came to live.The ghazal singer affectionately remembers his teacher Shardaben and the school principal,Vyassaheb,who used to organise a school assembly every Saturday. "Boys and girls,from families in all strata of society from rich to modest,would be asked to make a speech ,or to do solo acting or sing. Then hardly six ,I would sing whatever I had heard and could remember-- one of these was: Aai gori Radhika,brijbala balkhati ...". The school assembly performances gave tremendous confidence to the boy ,who could sing in a thin voice songs both by female and male voice
    In 1962,during the Navratri festival,the family had gone to watch a garba programme in Jagnath plot in Rajkot.Someone spotted them and hailed the boy,clad in shorts and a shirt ,to come up on the stage and sing. Nervously,and without any preparation or accompaniment,Pankaj sang a song,which was a rage then in the aftermath of the Chinese aggression,Ay mere watanke logon...There was a thunderous applause from the crowd of more than 5,000,the first of the big audiences Pankaj Udhas was to face in his singing career.There was a roaring demand for a once-more and the dazed boy had to be re-assured by the organisers that all was well. He sang again; an overjoyed listener gave an on the spot prize of Rs.51 to him,which his family gave back to the festival fund.
    "As a youth,I hoped to become a doctor,and was disappointed when inadequate marks in the inter-science could not get me an admission." His family had now shifted to Bombay where elder brother,Manhar,was trying to get a break for himself in playback singing addition to working as a mechanical engineer. Pankaj went to St.Xaviers, studying botany and chemistry for his degree,but his passion for singing continued.He won the first prize in an inter-cllegiate singing competition."Circumstances were such that I had not put much store by playback singing. My brother,Manhar,had been by then trying to emerge as a playback singer and had got several breaks.The field was already crowded with such singers as Mohammed Rafi,Mukesh,Hemant Kumar, Kishore Kumar,and I did not see much chance for another Udhas." Perhaps,it was the plan of the destiny that I should go for ghazal singing,he says rather simply and yet philosophically.
    Pankaj used to spend hours listening to ghazals sung by Mehdi Hasan,Begum Akhtar and others when the Maulavisaheb,who used to come to coach Manhar in Urdu,encouraged him to do something on his own in ghazal singing. The Maulavisaheb was something of a phenomenon in the Bombay film industry; he had been teaching Urdu to many a famous people such as Saira Bano,and Pankaj's brother had started learning from him on a suggestion by Kalyanji,the music director,who insisted that one should learn proper Urdu pronunciation to make a mark.The Urdu teacher started coaching Pankaj in 1969,introducing him to the treasure trove of Ghalib.
    In the closing days of January,1971, another happy accident took place.All the noted singers ,including his brother Manhar,were out of town and Usha Khanna needed to make a recording of a song urgently.She telephoned their house and spoke to Nirmal,asking him to bring his younger brother to the recording studio the next day for an audition on the microphone.He was selected to sing a nazm by Naqsh Lyalpuri for the movie,Kamna.It was recorded a day later."I felt as if a hope had been rekindled." But,nothing came his way as 1972, 1973,1974 sank into history.Maxmium,he could do was to sing in a close circuit of people who would gather at a house on a Saturday night to listen to ghazal singing.Pankaj was as if stuck.
    In 1976,he thought of migrating to the west,going in for business.He left Bombay with a suitcase and a harmonium,not sure what he will be doing,if he would be returning home.
    Fate again intervened.During a stopover in London,he sang at a friend's place,was booked for some small parties and landed in New York,still directionless,but with some more confidence.The friend with whom he was to stay in New York was himself away and Pankaj, as he stood forlorn at the airport,made a reversed charge call to another friend, Ramesh Sahaney in Toronto.Ramesh told him to take a plane to Canada,where in a few days Pankaj became famous as a singer from India. Theree were a number of Indians who had made tracks to Canada,having fled Idi Amin's Uganda.Culturally starved,they lapped up the offerings by Pankaj hungrily. He stayed on for eight months,got a lot of self- confidence at concerts,but also with a realisation that ghazal singing in Canada would never take him anywhere. He would stuck again in a rut.He was also homesick and came back to his brothers and parents in Bombay. "Ours is a very close-knit family and we three brothers have an especially close rapport." On his way back,he met Mehdi Hasan in London and spent a month with him,listening to his singing.Some say there is more than a trace of Mehdi's style in Pankaj.
    Homecoming was comforting,but it was as if, "I was back to square one." He took up learning music again, noting that ghazal was becoming popular.The years between 1977 and 1980 slipped even as he debated with himself what to do."But this time ,I was more determined than ever to pursue ghazal singing as a career.I had a lot of confidence gained abroad,could sing for three hours at a stretch, was willing to toil and learn more.The competition was tough and there was a peculiar attitude about my being a Gujarati : 'Are yaar, yeh Gujarati ladka hai,pata nahin kya gayega or kya nahin.' Very patronising--also very demoralising. "I wanted to break this myth.I am proud to be a Gujarati.I applied myself with vigour."
    In 1979 only,another happy accident took place when at a neighbour's place,Pankaj met Farida Variawa, a parsi girl,whom he married in 1982."She has been a very positive and major influence in my days of struggle to establish myself in ghazal singing."
    A new music recording company was toying with an idea to manufacture pre-recorded cassettes in 1979.Pankaj got an offer.Destiny took a hand in the matters again.
    Even as the proposal was being discussed,the brilliant Gujarati poet,Sheikh Adam Abuwala,came to their house,to spend a few minutes with his brother Manhar,heard Pankaj and sat for three hours.Sheikh Adam stayed on for days,and together they pored over a large number of ghazals. The first recording Pankaj made was that of a ghazal by the late Sheikh Adam: Tum aye meri zindagi men to barsatki tarah...
    Some seven-eight ghazals were chosen for the recording.Pankaj's first album,Aahat, was made in December,1979.The poet,says Pankaj,introduced him to poetry in a different perspective.He had a vast repertoire of ghazals;" we must have read more than ten thousand ghazals and other poetry together,just so that a Gujarati youth could make a grade." He would stay with us,talk about poetry for hours,laying a solid foundation.
    "When my album,Muqarer,was released,I had finally arrived,being accepted as a ghazal singer of substance." Mehfil, which came thereafter,re-inforced his position further.By now,Pankaj has completed more than 25 albums of ghazal singing.His album,Aman, was premiered on TV,drawing applause.He was working on a new idea."I have an ambition to reach the younger generation  of,say 14 or 16 years old people. The kind of music that is popular among them is rap,disco which has neither meaningful poetry nor any music,save the beats. I want to reach out to this segment with my kind of music-- not at all loud,full of poetry and melodious.”