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Thursday, January 21, 2010

A Century old,clicking and active,Pranlal Patel,Wizard of Camera

Tushar Bhatt



It all began in an innocuous way.
It was a hot day in May in 1940.The world was, for several months, at war for the second time in the 20th century. The Quit India movement was a good two years away in the future and the independence of the country as yet a dream.
Thirty years old then Pranlal Patel, a Rolie-flex camera slung on the shoulder, set out for Kashmir, long hailed as paradise on the earth, with a return ticket from Ahmedabad to Sri-nagar via Rawalpindi. Inclusive of the bus-fare from Rawalpindi to Srinagar, the cost per head was a meagre Rs.42.5. But the young man was not from among the rich http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_1_oPC9M1Q2I/S2D91M7SOGI/AAAAAAAACcg/_EvYv8iUyII/s1600/_MG_0228.jpgin search of pleasure.
He was setting out to take photographs, in an era when a camera was a rare thing to pos-sess, more a hobby of the wealthy or the crazy. A Kodak 120 reel cost 14 annas. Like the anna coins, the 120 film too is extinct now.
Every thing clicked in the life of today’ camera wizard Pranlal Patel, internationally reputed pictorialist. His speciality has been his mastery over Black & White photography. So much so that the photographs taken during that trip continue to fascinate even today, not only because of their excellence but as a collection of historic value. It effectively brings out how much more enchanting was Kashmir just 70 years ago and what damage man has done to it. In the process the photographs become an irrefutable witness to an era for posterity, far more trustworthy than words.

Even among the true photo-artists, Pranlal Patel, an Ahmedabad (Gujarat)-based lens man is the rarest of the rare. Active in photography for nearly 70 years, Pranlal in 2010 was in the 101st year of life, and still kicking and CLICKING. He still wields a camera, walks up-right, though slowly, and has most of his slightly yellowish teeth intact and in service.
The 99-year-old Patel is still in photography. He took it up as a hobby in 1932. In no time it became a supplementary profession and then got transformed into a life-long passion.
A representative collection of his vintage photographs at Jaipur (Rajsthan), in March, 2009, has been described by Pranlal as fulfillment of a long standing desire. “I have no desire left unfulfilled. Now, I am waiting for one way travel on God’s train.” He brushed aside protests from listeners. “I have had everything in life.”
He has dozens of albums and has held numerous exhibitions. His work was not just superb photography but also a social, visual history. Most of them though exhibited are yet to be published.
He is curious like a child, and again like an innocent small boy, gets easily absorbed into the present moment, here and now. Behind his spectacles, eyes sparkle with abundant in-terest in life. He is equally comfortable with the children, youngsters.
He is a simple person, though certainly not a simpleton, frugal with words but fluent in thought. What keeps him fit and full of zest for living? “I don’t know. I do nothing special. I eat normal Gujarati vegetarian meal, do padmasan, and eat five pieces of dates with ghee (clarified butter) every morning and drink milk. I regard myself as an eternal student, keen to learn newer things. I have many Gurus; even my grandson Piyush is my Guru because he taught me a lot about harnessing computer as a tool for photography. Among my clos-est friends are two noted young photographers, awards-winner Vivek Desai and Ketan Modi, who runs a highly-acclaimed photography training institution. Vivek is also my dear-est disciple. I am proud of today’s young generation”.
Pranlal is very popular among young professionals and helps them a lot by patiently pass-ing on insights obtained through decades of photography. His photography has been mostly based on box cameras of the old genre and in black and white, without using the flash. He firmly believes that “the real art of photography does not reside in gadgets, whether a flash light or the modern-day digital cameras. It does not rely solely on composi-tion, light and shade, but on the eyes and fingers. There must be a perfect co-ordination between the eyes and the fingers. In turn the eyes and fingers must harmonise with the camera in such a way that they know simultaneously what unusual feature is there in the subject, compose in a way that highlights that feature and decide in unison when to press the shutter. They must become one with each other and the subject being clicked.”
Alas, there is no device in the market that can achieve this feat for the lesser mortals! Those who have learnt the secret are photo-artists, the Masters. The rest are slaves of technology.
Of course, people like Pranlal can throw some hints. “You should think before you pick up the camera to shoot. Most of us do not contemplate in advance. Before going in for shoot-ing, you should think of some unusual angle, slant, and symbolism, colours, light and shadow in the composition. Almost every thing has been previously photographed. You have to bring out something that is different.”
He says “It doe not mean that you should ignore day-to-day life. It means you must learn to concentrate in the present assignment, not just take a fleeting interest in the subject of the assignment but view it as the most important thing in your life, here and now. Your mind should neither wander hither and thither nor waver. You must see what is in front of you at the present moment. Nothing else matters. This cannot be accomplished overnight. You have to practise endlessly. Like a music maker you must never stop doing the riyaz all your life.”
Pranlal quotes an example. Ages ago, he was on an assignment to create a photo portfolio of the new building of a local company. Says he, “I could have done it in two or three weeks. But I took nearly six months. I would go to the building, sit in different places outside and study the light and shade and the time. I wanted to find out the timing and season when there would be best sunlight. I did not even open my camera bag till I had decided that in the forenoon of May there would be ideal light. The portfolio was much appreciated.”
Pranlal’s photographs are not only technically perfect, underlining the superb sense of composition, and skilful management of light and shade but also are so evocative that they seem to have an enduring life of their own, vibrant, vivacious and memorable.
Another trait that separates Pranlal in the rare category is the habit of preserving and main-taining his thousands of negative, repository of images of over 70 years. Together they are a massive documentation of India’s march of progress and social change.
These images also seem to re-assert the prime position black and white pictures occupied in the art of photography, notwithstanding the rapid advancement of colour photography. There is a stream of defeatism about black and white photography these days and in many cities there are no studios that will wash, develop and print black and white pictures.
Pranlal Patel’s pictures celebrate the glory of black and white, re-inforcing what W.D. Wright, a British professor of Applied Optics at the Imperial College of Science & Technol-ogy, observed years ago. He contended that the black and white photographs may appear to the viewers more real than the colour pictures. Over the years, viewers have learned to supply their own colour information to a black and white photograph.” You may get closer to reality with colour but the closer you get the more obvious it becomes that it is a picture, (and) not the real thing.”
Pranlal is reluctant to take to colour photography. He thinks that the black and white photo-graphs have an immense capacity for subtlety, rich sensitivity of detail and graphic urgency. To him it also is a stimulating mental challenge to transform every colour around us into two shades of black and white only and bring a still photograph to life.
Pranlal has, over the past seven decades of photography, earned a reputation as a pictori-alist, extending far beyond the shores of India, bagging awards and prizes. His work has been published in international media for decades. Pranlal has an innate sense of history. For example, take his photographs of the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad over the past half a century. They instantly tell you a visual story of the degradation of the ecology. Or take the images of a typical wedding in the Patel farming community over past half century. They highlight subtle changes in customs and attire, attitudes and behaviour over time.
At his age most people would be bed-ridden, if alive. Countless others would have hung up their professional equipment and sunk into senility. Pranlal continues to explore life with the same sense of wonder and romance that first made him give up his job as a teacher in a municipal primary school in Ahmedabad.
Born on January 1, 1910, Pranlal has come up the hard way in life, but the harshness has left no trace on his personality. A man with a largish nose, twinkling eyes hidden behind a 25 per cent darkness goggles glasses, he is quick to smile and enthuse. Hailing originally from Jamnagar district, he traces his family home now to Kolki in Upleta taluka of Saurash-tra. He grew up at his maternal uncle’s place, working in Ahmedabad in petty jobs to help family. “I have sold peanuts, soda and lemon soft drinks near Victor cinema hall in Fuvara in olden days, delivered at home newspapers of Ahmedabad, which included at one time Gandhiji’s Navjivan. Remembering his childhood, Pranlal says: “I was, however, a bright boy from the very beginning, who was made to jump several years from Standard I in pri-mary school. I passed my vernacular final (which was not the final year of secondary stage in education but of the primary stage, but in those days, something of a qualification).I be-came a primary school teacher, with an initial salary of Rs.15 supplemented with one or two tuitions”
But, recalls Pranlal, he had an urge to do something different, something so well that peo-ple will remember him by.” This yearning brought me in contact with photography in 1932 when I acquired a box camera. In the early years, I learnt a lot from Col.Balwant Bhatt, an ace photographer himself.” He does not make any claims, but Pranlal must have had a gift from birth to identify visuals, compose them automatically and then capture them exactly as he saw them with his mind’s eye. He began to work as a free-lance photographer even while continuing as a primary teacher. A meticulous diary-keeper, Pranlal noted in 1937 that he had made an income Rs.710 in that year from photography. In 1938, the figure jumped to Rs.1, 241. Not much by today’s standards, but as Pranlal notes humorously: “The rupee was not so cheap in those days.”
Remembers Pranlal: “I was debating with myself if I should continue as a teacher or do something else that will make me stand out. I had been going to Ravishankar Raval’s school of fine arts,dabbling in painting to see if that was going to be my way of life. I think it was around 1938-39 that I got an opportunity to see an exhibition of photographs of Kash-mir, taken by a famous photographer, Abid Saiyed of Palanpur. My mind was, as if, under a spell. I too wanted to capture in the photo frame the beautiful landscapes, natural scenes, snow-capped mountains, the serene life style and lovely Kashmiri people.”
Abid was a sympathetic listener to the young man and not only gave him all the dope, but also a promise to speak to Kodak people to give him film at the dealers’ rate. Three friends from Mumbai and Ahmedabad agreed to join Pranlal on the safari to Kashmir. Before they undertook the trip, something happened that landed Pranlal full-time into photography.
Recalls Pranlal: “One day I was taking class III in Madalpur municipal school, teaching Gu-jarati to the pupils, A camera, as usual hung on the back of my chair. An Inspector arrived from the municipal administrative office for his annual inspection, saw my Super Iconta, and asked: ‘What is this?’ I told him politely it was a camera, to which the inspector retorted loudly,’ If you are so fond of photography and the camera, then open a studio on Gandhi Road. Such things are no good for an ideal teacher.’ I was stunned.”
Pranlal could not sleep that night. The next morning, he went to his principal to tell him he was quitting. “I was rattled by the rude remark. I had the confidence that I would be able to eke out a living from photography, my obsession. Already I was making Rs.200 a month as side income from photography at social and official functions. It was a good enough amount to live on.”
The young man who went to Srinagar in May, 1940, via Rawalpindi, spent a month in the valley. “Among other things, at Srinagar we stayed in a shikara for three days, paying a princely sum Rs.2.50 a day, and then moved on.” The days would be spent photographing the heart-stopping beauty of the Kashmiri landscape and people.
They went to Pahelgam and to remote villages, mountainsides, water-falls and everywhere in the beautiful valley. “One could buy a hundred apricots for six annas. Oh, it was like liv-ing in paradise for a month.”
Says Pranlal :”What all we saw can never be described in words or even in pictures. It was an era of black and white photography, and of mechanical cameras, with no modern tech-nology available to aid a lens man. I took pictures of Kashmir with these limitations, expos-ing fifty rolls of XX film. These rolls were washed locally in Srinagar.On return to Ahmeda-bad, we started enlarging them into prints. Friends and others who saw them exclaimed words like Oh! Wow! Fantastic! Wonderful! Exra-ordinary! Balwant Bhatt helped and guided me into sending these pictures to national and international magazines, earning me a name as a pictorialist.That was a golden period, those days 30 days in Kashmir. I yearn to go Kashmir once more, and capture as it looks today.”
The lucky break into photography via Kashmir made the life for Pranlal. Scores of journals in and outside the country carried his pictures every now and then. He never looked back, becoming more and more famous as a pictorialist with rare sensitivity and dedication, trav-elling widely in the country, capturing events like the wedding in the Mysore Royal family in the fifties and that in the Royal family of Rajkot. He has a huge collection of rare pictures of cities, famines, landscapes and people.
Among the prized possessions are huge albums of photographs of the Iron Man of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel whose every visit to Ahmedabad whose mayor he earlier had been captured on his camera. His presence was so routine that when Junagadh princely State was liberated from the Nawab’s rule and merged in the Union, Pranlal was present in the city when Sardar arrived. He hailed Pranlal, saying,” if I come, you too should. Do you keep tracking me? Is it not so?” Pranlal did a lot of photography during the Quit India movement. His pictures were lapped up by photo-hungry newspapers and magazine. His earnings shot up and he filed his Income Tax returns in 1947, to the great surprise of offi-cials. It was hard to imagine so much income from free-lance photography only in those days. Nearly 90 per cent of the surplus was used in buying newer equipment.
Along with still photography, he also undertook movie photography. He filmed extensively and in 1947 and 1957, recorded some 16,000 feet of movie of a religious head’s pilgrimage of Vrajbhoomi; it was so massive that the divine personality got tired by merely watching it. But the photographer was indefatigable.
His wife Damayanti, their son, Anand, their two daughters and grand-children all have taken to photography. Damayanti was a self-made darkroom wizard who could rescue very fuzzy photographs by dexterously doing washing, developing and printing. She was a sort of record-keeper too.
Some 40 years ago when Queen Elizabeth came to Ahmedabad, the state government wanted a hundred copies of an old photograph of the Somnath temple. Pranlal was not at home when Manubhai Trivedi, an information official, came to their studio-cum-residence. Damayanti requested the officer to wait for five minutes during which she spotted the me-ticulously preserved negative. Within ten more minutes she came out of the darkroom with a perfect print of the old picture. The government got a hundred copies before morning. She passed away a few years ago, leaving a big void in Pranlal’s life. His grandson looks after the library work now
Today,Pranlal looks back with great satisfaction that he will leave behind foot-prints in the form of photographic prints to remember him by. But he has by no means called it a day. Tell him of a topic and his eyes shine. A routine day, till recently, began at 5.30 in the morn-ing when he would wake up. After breakfast at 9 a m he would set out on foot from his home for his studio, a distance of two kilometres. If the son and others were not using the studio, he would get into the darkroom, working up to 1 in the afternoon.
He helps youngsters willingly in learning photography, emphasing the importance of com-position, painstaking care for capturing details, judging light correctly and developing and printing the photographs meticulously.
He advocates working not only with body and mind, but also heart. His own involvement in the work is such that he does not remember time or gets tired or hungry when engrossed in photography. Some years ago the Kankaria lake in Ahmedabad had a huge fish population dying out suddenly and the stench of the dead fish floating in the water was awful. But Pranlal took out a boat, taking his own time in capturing just one memorable picture of the dead fish panned by empty boats on either side of the frame. He never noticed the stink, as he clicked away till he had captured the right composition.
He says “photography is something done with the eye, the mind and the heart. The equip-ment, though important, is secondary. With the best equipment in the world, you could turn up with lousy pictures. With primitive equipment but alert mind, you could transform ordi-nary things into photographs of extra-ordinary charm and beauty.”
He generally does not use a flash and none of his memorable pictures has had the use of artificial lights. He believes that the real fruits of good photography cannot be reaped unless one takes an equal amount of care in washing, developing and printing. His one-liner to aspiring photographers is “Do not compromise, either in quality, costs or time de-voted in getting a good picture. Quality always remains in the vogue, whatever the era, whatever the state of technological development. It was so yesterday, it is so today, and will be so tomorrow and the day after too.”
It is all pure Zen of photography.

An Engineering Don & Gentleman Farmer: Vithu Patel

Tushar Bhatt

His eyes twinkled with mischief as his right hands shot up in greetings.The walking gait betrayed a bit of a problem in the leg but the man,clad in kurta and pyjama,moved forward to receive visitors,genuine pleasure writ large on the pock-marked ,bespectacled face.The enthusiasm, the warmth and the lively interest all effectively concealed the real age of the farmer, Vithal J.Patel,who has done pioneering experiments in agro-forestry for nearly two decades now in this corner of Saurashtra.
As he showed around the plantation ,he stopped at a straight-going tree,some 15-foot high."Look at this,it is a real gold mine.It is a red sandal wood tree,around two years and eight months old.In its life span,it will earn me around Rs.six lakhs.Remember,it has come up in an area where last monsoon we got hardly 14 inches of rainfall."The tree was not a solitary example;time and again,Vithalbhai would stop at a tree,pointing out its height,reeling off details about when it was planted,what it was given and how it has grown.The refrain was common;with an innovative outlook in agro-forestry,one could turn even a small field into a veritable money-spinner.The emphasis was so much on what even a small farm-holder could achieve and not so much on what corporate entities could grow.
Vithubhai, as he was commonly known, was a different kind of a gentleman farmer, who was fond of experimenting scientifically; his methods were so unconventional that they aroused ire in equal proportions among the forestry officials and environmentalists, although for different reasons. He had taken to agro-forestry in an aggressive manner, making his farm work like a factory, exercising strict on the various factors.
But,his most unconventional method was to plant saplings rather closely,making them struggle for survival. "We all know of the Darwinian theory of the survival of the fittest.We also know that struggle tends to make one sturdy and stronger.Vithubhai was for years away from farms and was known as Dr.V.J.Patel in his earlier avtar as a teacher. Formerly a professor in civil engineering,he was a noted expert on dam designs and earthquakes who took to farm forestry after leaving his teaching assignment some twenty years ago.
A man with scientific training and a scientific temper,he thought a lot about the survival of the fittest theory to come to a conclusion that for a healthy growth trees -- or, saplings must be made to struggle, and yet they should not be starved of nutrients so that they do not die out for want of enough food for all. He resorted to growing trees in closer proximity than what the forest officials would dream of, add generous doze of fertilisers and other nutrients and provide adequate water to make them bloom. Not only do they bloom,they go tall faster than the widely-spaced trees because each closely panted tree was racing upwards to receive as much sunshine as possible.
Foresters generally follow the precept that trees,if widely spaced when planted, develop better. In the experiments of close proximity plantation carried out at Surendrabag it was found that such trees grew faster than the ones grown along conventional lines; and the number of trees is also higher in closely planted places-- some three to five times more in numbers.
Said Vithubhai: " I am a farmer,earning my bread working on my farm. Many of us farmers live below the poverty line and struggle to survive ; one could not hope to make us invest money and time in the development of degraded land." That led to another poser: If the people living near these degraded land pieces were not ready for development who else would go and help in afforestation ? "The central question to which we need to address ourselves is this-- who will develop the degraded land which has poor fertility.We can rephrase the query-- can we interest the people to undertake afforestation on a degraded land?"
He himself came out with the obvious reply: " It is possible if it can be shown that high income could be generated from the development of wasteland.The productivity level of wasteland should be increased by using simple agro or silvi-cultural practices"
He set out in search of the answers to these and many related questions which form a part of the nation's search as well for a viable farm strategy that combines tree cultivation too.The search ,in the case of Vithubhai,took him on a dusty road that always kicked up some controversy or the other. In the late 1970s and early 80s,he ran foul of the environmentalists because of his experiments with eucalyptus. Instead of planting them widely spaced, he packed in as many as 10,000 saplings in an acre(or,25,000 trees a hectare),showing the small farmers how to reap bumper profits.But since eucalyptus was decried as devouring water resources, Vithubhai switched to other trees,and with equal success.
Apart from evolving viable practices for close proximity plantation,Vithubhai had also succeeded in shorterning the cutting period from five to three years so that the trees started paying off earlier than on a conventional plantation.
The 70 plus-year-old Vithubhai was no crank to be brushed aside lightly. A leftist in his younger days,farming ran in his blood.His father,Jivrajbhai Patel, was awarded Udyan Pundit title by the union government,for his best ber (Zyiphus mauritiana Lamk); he was asked how did he manage to do so well,and answered with a characteristic wry humour that agriculture department of the government had still not discovered him to educate.
Vithubhai took to engineering studies,getting his doctorate in West Germany in 1957,and then teaching at a number of institutions such as Birla College,Pilani,the IIT,Kanpur and the government engineering college,Jabalpur.More than 70 papers of his on engineering subjects got published,many of them abroad.More than 40 of these were included in the Engineering Index, a digest on engineering research published in the U.S.
Vithubhai made several innovations in the cultivation of ber, applying newer methods of insect control and hormone regulation which led to a fruit free from insects of uniform size.
He ridiculed the idea of mere conservation of forest cover for the sake of green cover.His thrust is to arrive at a strategy that leads to man controlling the cycle of tree felling in such a way that while there is tree cover,he also gets enough timber and other wood.Vithubhai felt that newer methods,such as his high density cultivation strategy,helped by addition of nutrients and fertilisers in enough dosage and with just enough watering through drip irrigation c0uld help a farmer achieve wonders in tree cultivation even on his degraded or wasteland.He was not advocating a switch-away from all food crops to tree cultivation only,but to a judicious mix of the agriculture,horticulture and tree cultivation to help restore the lost ecological balance.The Surendrabad plantation had successfully grown trees such as teak (Tectonia grandis), Bakain neem (Melia azedarch), Indian cork tree(Millingtonia hortensis),Savan(Gmelina arborea), sandalwood and Red sanders at Jivdiv Agro-fofrestry Centre.
He said that in tree cultivation,there has been a shortcoming in strategy. "All our experiences in the past are based on the rain-fed forests where trees got water only during the monsoon,no fertiliser was given to them and thus they were starved of nutrients and water for a longer period of the year." What he did at Surendrabag was to bring about a situation where the growth of the life system of trees was in an environment which met adequately its needs for nutrients and water,preferably on a daily basis. Essentially,providing enough water and nutrients were two important lessons of the green revolution which had been applied to farm-forestry." Just as the irrigated wheat gives more output as compared to the rainfed crop,irrigated tree plantations should give five to ten times more growth.To this, if we add increased bio-mass in early stages due to increased population of trees, one will start realising that the earnings go up steeply", said Vithubhai.
The high density plantation that he tried out has several advantages over the conventional farm forestry,he said.These included: plant population that is three to ten times more ,growth in vertical direction of the trees because of close spacing,the sun rays do not fall on the ground because of this and the evaporation losses are cut down,leading to a better utilisation of irrigation through a drip,growth of weeds is reduced because of the absence of the sun at the ground level,the waiting period for the first cutting or thinning can be reduced from six years to three or four years.A farmer can plant ten to 15 rows of 1.2 metres by 0.6 metre or even less spacing along the border of his field,thus utilising borders that generally remain unused.A farmer,said Vithubhai, could go for mixed cropping in the fields completely given to tree cultivation in the initial years and grow horticultural crops such as ginger,termaric,amorphopholous,or yam and bananas.
He quoted figures of income over a period of two decades for a farmer from an acre of timber plantation of savan or teak.He was rated as a maverick by many,although they too grudgingly granted that he was a highly successful one in whatever he was doing. Some others pointed to his butterfly type interest; years ago,he was advoocating the eucalyptus and now he was talking teak,neem and other species.Vithubhai was unfazed by this criticism.He would simply shrug it off,saying nobody was being compelled to follow suit.Yet,hundreds of farmers were doing just that,with the Surendrabag plantation serving as a demonstration project.
The farm-forestry experiments which the gentleman farmer was been pursuing led to steady stream of nearly 10,000 visitors,mostly farmers from Gujarat and elsewhere in the country,makiing their way to his place,16 km from Bhavnagar.But what he was doing had nothing to do with the latest craze for corporate investment in agro-forestry.What he got as visitors were not investors in shares,but farmers who were pining to better their lot.

Temperamentally, he was a man in hurry. Hurry it was when a car he was driving from Bhavnagar to Jamnagar collided with a truck,cutting short a vibrant life when he was in his late 70s.

Painter Somalal Shah's Magnificent Obsession

Tushar Bhatt

Some people become a landmark in the cultural life around them in such a way that their presence is always felt and valued,and their disappearance enhances the worth of their presence.Somalal C.Shah ,avant garde painter and art teacher par excellence,who died at the ripe age of 89,was in this category.
For such people the late poet,Gani Dahinwala,had said poign-antly: Zindagino ej sachesach padgho chhe,Gani; Hoyna vyakti,ne enu nam bolaya kare. ( That ,Gani, is the real echo of a life truely lived,when a man may be no more but his name keeps cropping up.)
For more than 60 years,Somalal not only gave India superb wa-ter-colours, sketches and disciples in such an abundance that no artist or art teacher could have dreamt of leading a more meaning-fully productive life than was his.With his death,last of the major practitioners of the "wash method" in colour paintings is gone.But,he has left behind a rich line of disciples who include Khodidas Parmar,Pradyumna Dave,Natu Parikh,Urmi Parikh..The list seems endless.
The son of a lower-middle class shopkeeper in Kapadvanj in central Gujarat,Somalal's tallest contribution was the innumerable paintings and sketches he has done depicting the day-to-day life in Saurashtra.In an era before Independence when art was still re-garded as an exclusive preserve of the elite,he brought the com-mon man into his work with such an authenticity that his paintings have already become a documents of history to learn how people lived in not too distant a past.His work has often been compared with what Zaverchand Meghani did in words for the folk arts;he did it in paintings. Poet Prahlad Parekh called his works poetry in painting.
For three decades,he made Bhavnagar his home and brought on to paper in vivid water colours not only the colourful people but also the birds and animals of Kathiawad.His birds of Saurash-tra,done painstakingly and in bright colours, still remain un-matched, and are as well-known as the book of that name by Prince Dharmendrasinhji which they illustrated.
A contemporary of such artists as Rasiklal Parikh,Kanu Desai,Yagneshwar Shukla and Chhaganlal Jadav,Somalal was the last in the line that had been encouraged by Ravishankar Ra-val,often hailed as Gujarat's kalaguru.
A traditional painter,Somalal,however,was no conservative;while no despising anything ,whether modern or abstract,he would only want to stick to his own particular style,a mixture of Bengal's wash method ,further enriched by bright colours and an individuality of the artist that made it not only inimitable but also patently his own.
The tallness of the artist-and the man -in Somalal was that he was totally unassuming and without either the ego or the arrogance of his stature as an artist.Neither was he a show-man.
Ms.Urmi Parikh, a disciple of his,remembered him as a kindly uncle,dressed in white khadi zabbha and dhoti,topped with a khadi cap,a dark complexioned,wiry man.An older student ,Pradyumna Dave,retired professor of fine arts at the M.S.University in Baroda,said Somabhai was always like this. He remembered the days in Bhavnagar when his students would learn more from his talking-while-walking in the evening than from anywhere else.
Said Natu Parikh,another student,retired professor of the fine arts college in Ahmedabad: "One could not dream of having a bet-ter teacher in art than Somakaka.He had an innate kindliness and would never run down anyone,whether an abstract painter or a novice doing badly in his class." Somabhai's eldest son, Suresh Shah, an engineer by profession,remembers this trait of his father from early childhood.Innumerable number of noted and not-so-noted artists of today ,trained by Somabhai,say in unison that had it not been for the grand old man,they would never have become what they did.
Honours came to Somabhai early in life,along with recognition but these never left any burden on him.He would be till the last breath the same restless individualist,whose only regret in the past few months had been that because of bad eyesight he could not paint any longer.He was given the Rs.one lakh Ravishankar Raval state award for arts by the Gujarat government in 1990 on his 85th birthday.The Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation gave him a civic reception in 1988,and he got an award from the Gujarat Lalit Kala Akadami.Much before that,in 1949, he was given the Ranjitram gold medal.
He was born on February 14,1905, in the family of Chunilal Shah,who had a grocery store (income Rs.120 a year in those days,according to Somabhai's son Suresh).There was no tradition of arts in the family where there always was a shortage of every-thing.Mother Jekorben had to bring up her son and three daughters in a household that could not buy more than 125 grammes of milk a day. Quoting his father,Suresh says:" They had to make do with-out even vegetables on many occasions;rotla and pickle being the staple."
The young boy,Somalal,was fond of drawing a lotus in his exer-cise book from his earliest days.Nobody could say where he got his inspiration or who guided him. "It seemed a sort of inborn talent to paint in him", says Madhav Ramanuj,poet and a professor of finer arts in Ahmedabad.Though without much guidance,the young man was a determined soul; he would merrily go on doing drawings even while evening duty at his father's store,unmindful of the pos-sibility that some buyer may cheat him by not paying the full amount for provisions purchased.
After passing the matriculation,he came to Ahmedabad to join a college for a degree in arts (not art),but hid heart was not in the books; it was in the water colours and palette.A sympathiser,Harilal M.Desai,sent the shy,hard-working youth of few words to the school of arts in Bombay.By that time,he had met Ravishankar Ra-val and had impressed him with his paintings,especially because these had been done without any formal training. The first recogni-tion of his talent had come a little before that in the early 1910s when a silver medal was given to a work of his at a students arts exhibition in Umreth.His output impressed the authorities in the Bombay school so much that he was admitted to the second year directly.
By this time, he was fixed on following Bengal's wash method of painting.After a year in Bombay, Somalal shifted to Kala Bhavan in Baroda,in 1927,where a noted painter, Pramod Kumar Chatterjee really initiated him in the work of his life-time.To further hone his skills,Soomalal later went to Calcutta to study for eight months at Oriental Art Society,set up by Avanindranath Tagore,living in a godown;he would sleep with his shoes on so that the rats infesting the godown would not bite him.He learnt a lot about the wash method,and eventually earned high praise from Avanindranath for his painting,Bride.The painting today is in the collection of the Bhavnagar maharaja.After seeing the work,Tagore told Somabhai:" You need not go to any institution to learn any more.Learn from Nature and life because while life is an ocean,an institution is only comparable to a pot." It was in 1929.Nanabhai Bhatt was on the look-out for an ideal art teacher for his innovating educational insti-tution,Dakshina Moorti Vidyarthi Bhavan in Bhavnagar. He stayed on in the princely town for thirty long years, later teaching the princes ,and then joining Alfred High School.He was an ideal teacher,recalls Khodidas Parmar,pursuing nothing but paintings in all his waking hours. He had a keen and observant eye,registering minutiae of the daily life around him in Gohilwad and Saurash-tra.The colours of their attire as also also of the landscape made a deep impression on Somabhai,further refining his wash method,adding bright colours,giving a symmetrical proportion to his compositions,teaching him a great deal about the importance of a camera-like registering of details of anatomy. Said Natu Parikh,"He would carefully study and imbibe the details,the colours and the proportions of everything around him before doing anything."
Said Khodidas;" He began putting on paper what he considered to be thelife-force in the things,people,animals, birds and even landscape around him." The result was masterpieces like Chhaiyo, Govalan, Mindhalbandho, Saarika, Vanjara,among others of his hundreds of works over the years. Ms Urmi Parikh,quoted Somab-hai himself about how these came about."He would say, 'In the evening,I would be on the terrace,with the sun about to set.The rays of a dying strobe would be trying to ward off the oncoming dusk,as cows came home,kicking up clouds of dust.This would in-terest me immensely. Then, in the mornings and evenings, my mind would go on photographing sub-consciously the Bharwad and Mer women,walking in a musical gait,with shining brass pitchers balanced on the head,their colourful odhni flying in the wake.All these colours and compositions would later get into my paintings."
His students agreed that his eyes would see the beauty of soul even in most commonplace of subjects and objects.This ,they felt, was not just the result of innate intuition; it also was a mental disci-pline that could empty his mind of all other things to enable it to be filled forever with indelible pictures of a grazing goat,or a running buffalo.He also had the ability to retrieve these images and bring-ing them on to the paper,put in appropriate colours so that one will feel the life-force in the painting even if one had never felt in the original scene.
Pradyumna Dave said that Sombhai pursued his profession like a yogi,detached but fully immersed in it. He would sometimes take as much as two months over a painting if it did not satisfy his own critical judgement.Natu Parikh has seen him washing off colours even if others had found the work to be fine."He was never outward oriented,or do anything to make a buyer happy or complete a work in a deadline," added Dave.
Said Urmi Parikh:"Somakaka had an uncanny ability to bring to life ordinary scenes and characters,be they birds,animals,human beings or even a balcony of an old house.He would also do a lot of paintings on historical and mythological characters such as Karna and Kunti. Nothing was alien to him." His son,Suresh ,recalled the old man had done superb ink drawing to illustrate history text books for children.
He liked soft contrast in his paintings,even though he was a master of bright colours.Till the colours and tone meshed, he would go on working. He would say:"I believe the picture frame should stand out on a wall, and the picture should stand out in a frame.In the paintings,in the same manner,the characters should stand out from the rest of the background.Then only can it become an out-standing work." Most of his were.
He insisted on making a painting that would be pleasing to look at not only from a distance,but also from close proximity.A stickler for perfection,he also knew where and how to leave things unfin-ished at places in a picture so that the painting would have a cer-tain raw and fresh quality about it.His sense of colour was so sharp that he,according to Suresh Sheth,art critic and professor of fine arts,could perceive difference in tone in the different hues of even white.
His studio on the first of his house at Diwakar society in Paldi area of Ahmedabad had a deserted look after his death.There were a couple of wooden beds,and nothing else,although in the storing space under the beds were caches of his works-- paint-ing,sketches,some finished,many unfinished. He had the facility to work on several projects simultaneously and could switch from one painting to another.In later years,Somabhai had taken to start working around 2 p m after a cup of teach; he would sit on the floor in a lotus position and on a low stool in front would be the board with a paper on it. Around him would be cakes of water col-our,tubes,a big palette,a flower pot full of brushes of different sizes and two bowls of water to wash out the used brushes.He would get lost in work.Sometimes he would start working in the morning too.That was at the age past 85. His eyesight had failed him,leaving him with a lasting regret, said Dr. Dinesh Parikh, a medical scientist who knew him well, that he could not paint as much as he wished to.
Quite early in his life, painting had ceased to be work, a chore; it had become a hobby,then a profession and then an obsession. The magnificent obsession survives in the form of hundreds of paintings, sketches, illustrations, and will keep his memory green for a long time now that he is gone.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

A musical togetherness


Tushar Bhatt

    Is Mrs Vibha Desai there,he whispers up the telephone wire in a sonorous voice,glancing at his watch which shows nearly 5.30 in the evening."This is Mr Vibha Desai this side," he says equally af-fably to the inevitable query at the other end.

    That is quintessential Rasbihari Desai,renowned Gujarati singer, composer and music-maker,whose contribution to popularisation of sugam sangit,people’s own music, is unmatched.

Evening shadows have already begun to lengthen outside his third floor ,modest flat as Rasbihari turns to the amused visitors."You see, it is her work-place, the Income Tax office and obviously she is better known there.So what is the harm in identifying myself by her name.Do not wives identify themselves by the name of their husbands? It is the same thing." This was a routine scene till Vib-haben retired sometime ago.
    Actually,no such explanation has ever been necessary in the case of the Desai couple,musical people both, whose marital life of more than three decades began on a musical note and has been forever an ever deepening creative relationship.
    Minutes later,Vibhaben,clad in China silk sari,and sporting an apologetic smile for being late by a few minutes,enters the drawing room.She and Rasbihari,dressed in khadi pyjama and a kurta,exchange mere glances, before settling down on the sofa.There is a harmonium too.Although she knows the visitors are there to talk to her about her husband's musical journey through life,the first thing both of them do is not to talk,weaving flights of fancy words,or faked emotions, or counterfeit mod-esty.Instinctively,he starts playing the harmonium,its notes filling the evening air of the semi-darkened room,escaping through the open windows and doors to reverberate and vanish into the open sky.She knows intuitively what is about to be sung and as if by a commonly operated switch,Rasbihari and Vibha launch into a de-voitonal piece,"Maadi Taro Divado Jale...".
    The brief performance was not to please the visitors,nor to im-press anyone.It was more of a tribute to their own musical togeth-erness.Vibha Vaishnav was 19 when she first came into the life of physics professor at the Bhavan's College,Rasbihari.Already a man who had decided on his way of life,Rasbihari at first tried to ward her off but they were as if made for each other.If after three dec-ades a couple can spontaneously display the sweetness they seem to exude every moment of their togetherness,it does not need a thought-diviner to tell that the sweetness has become a hallmark of their existence.
    What has been the sweetest memory of their life ? A smiling Rasbihari keeps quiet for a long moment,but his sweeter half even-tually bursts out with a reply that would in in print come across like a reply written by a public relations officer for public consumption." I cannot recall any specific moment for all moments of our togeth-erness have been equally sweet." Discerning incredulousness on the face of her guests,she adds"our philosophy of life is to take every moment as it comes.My thinking about the world has been chiefly moulded by him and both of us have learnt to find a centre within ourselves as a validation point,rather than to rely on the out-side reference points."
    But,is it not too much of self-effacement of her own personality ? "Where is the self-effacement? He is a staunch believe in khadi and wears nothing but khadi.But he has never imposed ,or even sought to suggest,I should emulate him. I merrily go on with what-ever I like ,man-made fibres, China silk,cotton,whatever."
    A former assistant commissioner of Income Tax,Vibha is an indi-vidual in her own right,a singer of top quality."She has more self-confidence and consistency in her singing",says her hus-band,unabashed,and rather proudly.On her part,she says"I am only a singer.I need direction.I depend on him to show the direction, even to identify a sur,correct it.I can sing,but that is all.He is much more than a singer. He is a composer too. He creates, I only fol-low."
    In their musical passage through life ,what are the moments of performance they cherish the most ? Rasbihari quickly recalls two occasions, once in India and and the other abroad,years apart when Vibha's rendering of a spiritual piece brought tears to the eyes of the audience.Now that is self-effacement.He does not re-member any of his own, though his admirers can tick off any num-ber of occasions when they remember Rasbihari having excelled. But, he does not. It is a typical modesty,and it is totally genuine.As for Vibha,she just cannot place her fingers on any such memory of a single occasion.
    This again is no false modesty;it is a reflection of her husband's attitude towards life and self.Rasbihari comes across as a man de-tached even from his own self,often referring to himself as Rasbi-hai, as if he were talking to a third person.The gaze from behind the clack-framed glasses is so piercing that for a moment or two one feels,the man is not looking at,but through his visitor.Actually,it may not even be that.He is there,in body and mind,but spiritually he may not be there even as chats animatedly with his guests.This is no hypocritical mask Rasbihari is wearing;strangers,long time friends and his family,all sense this,and respect it.
    Both have rich voices,and yet have resisted all temptations to turn professionals.As amateurs too,they have not been artists of the mass variety.They have,many feel,been rather niggardly in giv-ing out the music they possess.Personally,in the form of cas-settes,that is. Both have a legendary following of people who have trained in singing with them in the Shruti organisation over the years. They have been generous with the new com-ers,understanding to a fault and helpful a lot.Both are neither of the show-biz world nor in it.Rasbihari has a first rate voice, a superb kharaj,and Vibha has a deeply melodious one,and both sing with their heart and being.To them,music is neither a career nor a hobby."It is a spiritual activity,sadhna.Says Rasbhihari:"To me,music is not something that comes from your vocal chords,or hands or any instrument that you play. It comes from the heart,is channelised through the body ,kept in the trim through arduous "ri-yaz".Both of us treat ourselves as students of music forever."
    His spiritual bend of mind came from his aunt, Mrs Nirmalaben V.Desai who not only set him on path of spiritualism but also incul-cated in him a love for literature,language,and the much-noticed self-effacement of his own self.
    Says Rasbihari: "We -- that is Rasbhai and Vibha -- believe that it not I - the ego of I in the capital letter form -- but some un-known,divine element that sings through us.It is such a deep-rooted belief that every public performance of his always begins with a prayer to that element in a being.The initial seeds of spiritu-alism planted by Nirmalaben were given a further help by Rasbi-hari's acquaintance with Madhusudan Maharaj, a yogi in the early sixties.
    He was initially reluctant to have his 60th birth day celebra-tions,but was literally pestered into it by his fans.The result is that it being celebrated as completion of 60 years.Yet, he would not go for pomp and public adulation.Instead,he and Vibha and a few other friends like Kshemoo Divetia,Gaurang Vyas,and Ashit and Hema Desai,have gone in for making two cassettes of songs and bhajans,serving as landmarks in Rasbihari's musical pro-gress.Since,it can never be a solo effort for him,it is is inevitably with Vibha and ,not stopping at that roping in others too.The out-come is a pair of audio-cassettes,Sayujya I and II; sayuyja means togetherness.For 28 years,the couple have helped train hundreds of enthusiasts in what is called Gujarati sugam sangeet,light mu-sic.Though light,it is not a musical pursuit of light-heartedness. It is damn serious in its rigourous training, rendering,and even re-cording,and it is with a purpose. So,here in Sayujya is a bhajan Rasbihari had heard in his childhood,wayback in 1941,"Chyam ra-hiye guru vana,finding a place in the collection. There also is the first composition that brought him into sugam sangeet in 1952-54-- "Madhav tun betho deva",composed by late Suryakant Dave of Visnagar.So is in it, the song sung by Vibha,"Najarunna kanatani bhool",that was eventually to bring him and her togther.There is a rustic bhajan,"Ramranankar vage",composed by Rasbihari's grand-mother Mrs Mahalaxmi Desai,herself an unlttered person but highly musical.There also are modern compositions of poets ranging form Narsinh Mehta to late Sundaram,late Harindra Dave,late Avinash Vyas , Anil Joshi, Suresh Dalal, Mariz, Vinod Joshi,Adil Man-suri,Rajendra Shah,Manoj Khandheria,Amar Palanpuri to Bhag-watikumar Sharma,spanning the period between 1941 and 1995.
    The fete is not intended to get money for the Desais."We will love to divert everything to organising music camps every year in order to nurture and give philip to the new talent in different cities in Gujarat."
    Rasbihari recently underwent a heart bypass surgery in the US,but has lost none of his verve and vigour.His voice is as firm,deep and sonorous as ever.Money-making had not been among the goals he set for life.One could say he has achieved it;he has not made much money.He does not seem to seek any-thing,and accepts whatever life brings him.His wife too shares his values .They are a value-based couple,above prices and pricing.
   
 

A Barber spells out what haunts the Indian Nation

-Tushar Bhatt


His prematurely old face showed no signs of hostility. It did not betray any emotions at all. His voice also disclosed   nothing. He spoke as if he was reading news on the Door Darshan.

The village barber had diffidently asked the visitor if he could take two minutes. He needed no permission because he and the visiting journalist sat on the same bench for three years in the village primary school before the barber dropped out.

But, the income divide creates a wide chasm in society and many people deny friends marooned on the have-not side. The journalist could not but acknowledge the friendship for more than one reason.

The barber’s father was horse-carriage man of a buggy owned by his doctor father. The barber’s mother was the Dai (a class of women who assist pregnant women at the time of delivery and then for days to come look after the infant) who was present at the visitor’s birth.


The village barber, wearing a shirt with a torn collar and pyjama displaying loose endings of his customers cut hair, began his quizzing in a matter-of-fact tone.

Was it true that the visitor had done well in his life? The visitor mumbled non-commitally: “Cannot complain.”

The villager riposted rather quickly: ” Well, at least better than me.” The scribe essayed an affirmative, puzzled about the drift of the chat.

There came a query like a good length ball that often makes a batsman lose his wicked.

Was it because the barber had dropped out of the school and the visitor had gone ahead?  The newsman again nodded yes.

Now a googly came. Was it not because the barber’s father was poor and needed his son to add to the family earnings quickly while the visitor had no such compulsions as his father was a middle class man?  The scribe could not but say: “Yes.”

The barber:” Why were the poor parents blamed when poverty was responsible for school drop outs?” 

He followed up smartly: “ Do the middle and upper class babus and politicians really know poverty? How can one formulate policies to combat poverty if one didn’t know what it means to be a poor?”

Reading the journalist’s mind, the barber said:” you are wondering about my questions.”  Even though he had only a smattering of education, poverty made him think, he said.  Better education would have helped him think and understand better.

The poverty in the barber’s house had been a hereditary reality, an empty virasat. The veranda of the mud house had now for three generations served as hair-cutting shop, sometimes half-mockingly called a saloon or still worse men’s beauty parlour. There was a single chair for hair-cut. One of its four legs was broken and had been kept in place by wrapping round pieces of a thin rope. In front of the wobbly chair, the mud wall was adorned with a mirror cracked in several spots. When a customer looked at himself in the mirror, he would see multiple images of his face. The razor and a pair of scissors dating back to the barber’s grandfather were still on active duty.

The razor was used to shave both men and buffaloes.


The journalist  felt  uneasy now, but his barber friend went ahead mercilessly. He could not renovate his shop, buy new razors and scissors, acquire new furniture, and install new mirrors because that needed money. His grandfather, father and he himself had been unable to borrow from any source.

Everybody asked for money, something called margin money. Some banks were said to be giving the full amount but you needed touts to get and touts demanded a cut. In fact, everyone in the world was asking for money.

He asked the scribe if there was a way out. Nobody gave money to poor to make them earn more. Again, in the past decade another threat for the poor had come up. Everybody said the government was getting out of education and health, allowing private money to make more money through hefty fees.

The village barber said now it appeared impossible for his grandchildren to make good in life because their parents would not be able to find money. The same situation prevailed in medicine. Even for traveling on some roads one has to pay toll.

Then came a rocket. How and where would the poor find money for all these facilities? His own reading was that the life of the poor had already become more difficult with the recent years’ so-called pro-poor policies.

The barber did not know but he  was echoing a question raised many a moon ago by the economist and at one time finance minister of West Bengal, Dr Ashoke Mitra who  said that market economy was fine but what about those poor who were  not in the market ?

A missile attack followed. If all the politicians proclaimed from rooftops that they are for the poor, how come the prices of foodgrains, pulses, vegetables and other day-to-day things were not going down and the authorities keep saying: mahengai kam ho rahi hay?

The barber now fired the mother of all the questions. Are the political parties saying something and doing something else?
Or, to put differently, are they using the poor as election winning pawns and after getting into power misusing their mandate to further worsen their plight? Sometimes he wondered if men and women in positions of power were working to eradicate poverty or to eliminate the poor.

The visiting scribe began to feel the burden of guilt and started perspiring.

Then came a nuclear-head charge. The village barber quietly put in:” Are you, the better-off people, in a majority or are we,the poor, larger in numbers? “  The hapless newsman murmured: “The poor are more in number. “

Now it was the turn of the barber to be bewildered. His voice trembling, he croaked. So far the haves were reaping the fruits of Independence.  If the have-nots are more in numbers, why do they allow this topsy-turvy governance of our Republic?

Why, why, why?

What is the remedy?

The visitor was speechless.

Instead of going on with the chat, he did the only thing he knew to escape from the reality.

He ran away.

[ The village barber’s conundrum was passed on to many specialists and generalists, politicians and their followers. No
Sanjivani type cure has been prescribed  by anyone so far.]

A Celestial Encounter with Swami Chidananda, God's Own Man

 Tushar Bhatt

    He sits on the ground,atop an ochre-coloured clothpiece,the back supported by a board.The lean bespectacled ascetic,Swami Chindanada,head of the Divine Life Society,who turns 80 on Sun-day,looks completely at ease,as if he has been there all his life.Around him are some books and booklets,his constant com-panions in his ceaseless wandering throughout the world.
    The serene face is no stranger to Ahmedabad,but this time his three-day visit coincided with his birthday,a day being observed as no different from other days.But,he is a monk with a difference, somebody who is in the world,but not of the world, a man totally without ego.His huge following would do almost anything that he might care to ask;and he never asks for anything.
    He treats even a sceptic with great affection,as if the visitor is a dear disciple,launching into a discussion with a gusto,neither age nor fraility standing in the way.
    What is the necessity and relevance of spiritual life,the sceptic asks,echoing a sentiment often heard in the modern,technological world,where space has shrunk,distances spanned.The Swami's eyes lit up,a smile flickers on his lips.He ticks off what man has achieved through centuries of scientific development: "Jungles have been converted into cities,and night has been converted into day.We have conquered time,distance and air.We go under the water faster than the fastest sabmarine animal created by God; we are able to fly in the faster than any bird created by the Creator.We have outdistanced the fleetest animal upon the surface of the earn and vast knowledge has been accumulated.There are thousands of libraries with millions of books, universities agalore,and education has spread."
    He pauses for a flickering moment,silence underlining the extent of progress mankind has made."And, in spit of all this ,is it not ironical that today human society lives in a fear psycho-sis.Sedatives and tranquilisers are needed by many.Why? The modern man is an anxiety-laden creature.The world is fulled with problems, complexities and there is a great state of worry,fear and uncertainty."
    Some may even be tempted to ask: Has man a future? Is he on the brink of a global destruction?
    Swami Chindananda says: "The problem that faced our pre-historic,stone-age ancestors-- the problem of survival -- has now come back to confront the modern man,after so much of progress and accumulation of knowledge."
    What is the reason for this,why is not man better off than those bygone days. "Yes, we are better off in certain ways.We have more comforts.We can live life with great ease,less exertion,and if that is taken as a better state of life then we are vastly better off than our ancestors."
    But is it globally so,is everyone,in that state ? Why are there dis-trust,hostility,hatred,cut-throat competition,conflict,restlessness,all around,whether in the developed West or,the less developed coun-tries ?
    The Swami reasons:"We cannot say that the scientific knowl-edge,technology,advancement,discoveries by themselves have brought mankind to the situation that prevails today.We cannot say so because knowledge is only accumulation of information and facts,The forces that man has learnt to harness are amoral,neither good nor bad.They are just there and they are neutral since by themselves,they do not possess the ability to cause any experi-ence to man.They cannot destroy because they are inert and so we cannot say that by themselves they constitute the present prob-lem of mankind.It is the way in which these forces are applied,the way in which they are used that decides whether they are a men-ace to mankind or a boon."
    Swami Chindanand continues to speak in an even tenor,his words are almost like a whisper, a secret being shared with a close friend. "If man has been civilised,he has progressed,should be-come better and better ? Should he not create a world where there is peace,happiness,where man lives without fear,there is amity,co-operation,harmony,a feeling of unity and brotherhood? Should not this characterise real civil civilisation, the true progress ?"
    The evening shadows are lenghthening in the garden outside. The Swami says:"This has not happened because man has totally ignored the nature of the human being,neglected the spiritual di-mension of a human being's personality,and ignored the cultivation of the spiritual aspect of life."
    He becomes a bit descriptive,as if to put it across in a more ru-dimentary fashion." Man has brought about a wonderful transfor-mation in his outer environment,but never paid much attention to his own cultivation.So many fields of knowledge were brought about,cultivated and evolved,but human culture was totally ne-glected."
    Swami Chindanad comes to the moot point: "The great blunder which man committed was to take a purely materialistic view of the human being.They looked upon a human being as a physical and psychological creature, a bilogical being endowed with a faculty of thinking,feeling and reasoning,and they said if you cater to the needs of the body and mind of man, that is all there is to it. You have done your duty."
    He goes on:"This materialistic view of the human being led peo-ple to evolve social theories and political philosophies which were oriented towards bringing about a state of well-being of the physi-cal man and the psychological man."
    In India,says Swami Chindananda,it has been known that man is endowed with a third,and higher factor that ,in fact, is his true iden-tity.The physical and psychological aspects of the human beings are to be provided for,but not at the neglect of man's true Self." Spiritualism is needed to help man cultivate the third level of his being.He says that the power of thought,feeling and reasoning make the human beings different from animals,but not necessarily superior."Unless man cultivates his true self,the very intellect may cause his downfall,may become a curse."
    The Swami says:Man should become aware of his inner divin-ity.Divinity withim himself each human being is potentially divine.". He once wrote:" Man is part of God.There is, as the Quakers say in the West,that of God in man.This concept is one of the basic and fundamental concepts in all religions.The essence of education is to try to bring about in the psychological man nobility.The essence of living true life is the awakening of the sleeping and slumbering divinity."
    What is it that distinguishes man,asks Swami Chidan-anda,himself providing the answer. "It is the ability to be compas-sionate, the ability to feel for the joys and sufferings of others, the ability to wish to ameliorate the sorrows and troubles of others.Man is the only unique creature in the entire creation who can think of others,who can try to live for others."
    The clock is ticking by.A young disciple,mindful of the time as also the stress continuous talking is imposing on Swami Chidan-anda,silently pushes an alarm clock in fron him.But the monk ig-nores his imploring glances.Later,Swami Adhyatmanand recalls:" Swami Chindanand would never shrink from making his point ,no matter how much pain it might cause to his body."
    Born on September 24,1916,as Sridhar in an orthodox family at Mangalore,Swami Chidananda graduated from the Loyola College in Madras in 1938,and joined the Himalayan Ashram of Swami Sivananda in 1943.He was later put in charge of the dispensary and served patients,some afflicted by leprosy with great compas-sion.He took sanyas in 1949,and a decade later,went to the West for two years on a lecture trip.He succeeded Swami Sivananda as president of the Divine Life Society in 1963 and has been on the move ,giving discourses and lectures throughout the world.
    The neglect of spiritual aspect of life because of the focussing of attention of the materialistic view of the human personality has been a costly error,he says.The only solution to the present crisis gripping the world is to rectify this error.Identify yourself with oth-ers,feel their sufferings, try to alleviate their sufferings." That, of course,would only be a beginning to awakening the spiritual nature of the human beings.Service of man is worship of God."
    A shining example of this near at home in Gujarat;the 80-plus-year old Dr Shivanand Adhvaryoo of Virnagar.For nearly four dec-ades he has been working for combating eye ailments and blind-ness from that small village in Saurashtra.One Dr Adhvaryoo has made so much difference. It is an unspoken thought: What a cu-mulative change would there is if there were many more such peo-ple in different walks of life.
    Swami Chidanand attained freedom from the burdens of this world in 2009.
   
   

A melodious life, a soothing voice: Rasbihari Desai


Tushar Bhatt

Even if he were to keep utterly silent the man sitting in a chair in the third floor flat at Chandra Ratna in Ellisbridge area of Ahmeda-bad appears to have an unmistakable presence --not that of an in-timidating personality who dazzles his surrounding but that of someone like the full moon in a night sky, soothing and allowing other stars also to shine.
    The man, Rasbihari R. Desai, noted Gujarati singer,composer and music-maker, nevertheless, also gives an impression of being detached from even his own self; he often refers to himself as Rasbhai,as if he were talking about a third person. The gaze from behind the black-framed spectacles is so piercing that for a mo-ment or two you feel the man is not looking at but looking through you.The biggish glasses rest on a rather large nose and seem to separate the rest of his face from the large forehead topped by wavy hair.Unconsciously,he tries to pat down the waves from rising into a mesh antenna at the top of the head.
    The visual image could be dismissed as an effect created by the first impression were it to undergo a change in subsequently. In Rasbihari's case,even those who have known him for years would easily vouchsafe that the air of curious detachment around his be-ing is indeed a permanent feature.
    That also perhaps explains the low profile he projects in Guja-rat's cultural life,in spite of having a rich voice,considerable musical talent that he has nursed through rigorous self-training over four to five decades and the yeoman's service that he has done in helping others to make a name in the sugam sangeet,light music.
    He insists on continuing as an amateur artist instead of becom-ing a commercial or professional artiste; for he sincerely believes that he is neither of the showbiz nor in it.He has been in the lime-light,but would not move a little finger to keep the spotlight on him-self.
    Says Kshemoo Divetia, a noted Gujarati music composer: "Rasbhai has a first rate voice, a superb kharaj, and sings with all his heart and being."  Madhav Ramanuj, a noted poet,says: "Rasbhai is a unique music-maker in more ways than one.For one, he does not pursue music either as a career or hobby; he does it as a kind of sadhna ,spiritual activity. For another, besides being a music-maker par excellence, he is also a human being of the same grade."
    Rasbhai,as Rasbihari is generally known,approaches music with a sense of reverence,combined with a scientific attitude of a life-long professor of physics. He says: " To me,music is not something that comes from your vocal chords,or hands or any instrument that you have.It mainly comes from the heart,is channelised through your body kept in trim through arduous 'riyaz'. I always treat myself as a perpetual student of music."
    Born on June 23, 1935, at Patan in north Gujarat,Rasbhai lost his mother,Durgaba,when he was hardly 4 years old.His fa-ther,Ramanlal,who died in 1983,had a melodious voice.He used to sing patriotic songs with great fervour and sweetness at the meet-ings and processions during the fight for the country's free-dom,earning the nickname of being Meghani of Patan.(The late Mr Zaverchand Meghani,poet who also had a rich voice, has long be-ing hailed as Gujarat's poet-laureate of the Independence move-ment.) Rasbhai's grandmother, Mahalaxmiben,too had a very sweet voice and had a vast repertoire of bhajans,kathas and folk songs. She could recite the entire Ramcharitmanas from mem-ory.Thus, although Rasbihari had no formal exposure or training in music,the talent ran in his blood.
    Even as he grew up as an average boy,Rasbihari,thanks to his aunt,Nirmalaben V.Desai,developed a spiritual bend of mind.In a commemorative volume,brought out after her death,Rasbihari re-calls how the foundations for his future life were laid during the eight years he spent at her aunt's place till he reached the age of 12.Her influence was to exert a great deal in his life,shaping his dreams,tempering his ambitions,providing him courage and sol-ace,and always there as a guiding star.It was she who in addition to the love for music inculcated in Rasbihari a great respect for lit-erature,taught him spiritualself-effacement and introspection.She herself was a good singer,wrote a lot and worked ceaselessly as a social reformer and teacher.
    Says Rasbihari: "Music,simply put,is the language of emo-tion,language of the heart.Every human has some music in his or her being.There really can be no true enemy of music-- not even Aurangzeb,the moghul emperor." But why some people can sing or play music and why others could ,perhaps,enjoy it all only is some-thing that defies explanation. "Our ignorance about such things is limitless. There are machines that can synthesize and produce something very akin to a human voice. But, no, you cannot repli-cate a Lata Mangeshkar through such a machine." This was be-cause music was not only a product of vocal chords or hands play-ing tunes and rhythms; it also was a product of the heart,of the in-volvement of the self of the person doing it.
    Rasbihari firmly believes that when he sings, " it is not I -- the ego of I in a capital letter - but some unknown,divine element that sings." This was so everywhere,but some recognised it and others did not. In truth, every public performance of Rasbihari and his singer wife, Vibha,begins with a prayer to that element in a be-ing.Since he sings with all his heart,his lack of formal training in music never posed a big impediment to him.He has a natural gift of a rich,resonating voice; he enhanced this gift by a systematic self-training that included even pranayam. His enchanting kharaj (lower octave) is the result of his regular pranayam that needs deep breathing. Lower octave, say music critics, is a sound produced from the depth of the navel (nabhi) and deeper and more pro-longed the breath is richer it would be.How enchanting it all could be can be sampled from a duet the couple has sung: Maadi tarun kanku kharyun ne suraj ugyo (written by Avinash Vyas) or Ame komal komal (written by Madhav Ramanuj).The couple has sung poems and ghazals written by many noted Gujarati poets such as Anil Joshi,Sheikhadam Abuwala,Harindra Dave,Bhagwatikumar Sharma and Ramesh Parekh.
    Rasbhai began singing quite early in his life,but the real turning point in his life came when in 1964 he got married to Vibha Vaishnav,herself a top-notch singer.Says Rasbihari: " She has been a source of constance inspiration and encouragement.She is the first critical listener of anything that I sing or compose." The husband frankly says about his wife, who is an assistant income tax commissioner, that she is a superior artist as compared to him as far as self-confidence and consistency are concerned.They have given musical performances at hundreds of places in Guja-rat,India and abroad,and bagged honours. Rasbihari and Vibha have also some long play rcords and cassettes to their credit.
    But,Rasbihari's most significant contribution has been to go be-yond self-development. On the Dushera day in 1961,he was in-strumental in the formation of a voluntary grouo,called Shruti,devoted to music. "Some friends met at my house on that day and we decided to sing together,experimenting with different styles and innovations in light music." The group, which had initially 22 members,has helped put on the high road of music a number of budding young people.Today there are 28 members in Shruti,but ,says Rasbhai, times have changed. "The pace of life all around us has quickened.Thirty years ago,it was not difficult to find three hours twice a week for the group activity.Today,it has become a tough thing to do. Yet, whenever programmes are to be organised, we do get together."
    Rasbhai had taken to music as a mission only.Quite early in his youth,he decided to become a teacher,resisting family pressure to go for engineering which was the in thing then. He took up teaching of physics in a government college in Ahmedabad,later shifting to the Bhavan's college,and in his spare time at the Bhavan's started twice a week classes in light music,another activity that has given philip to young aspirants.Even today the class is conducted.He has also been at a number of youth camps ,run by the state govern-ment for ten days in the summer vacation,for moulding talents in music. Recalls Mr Kshemoo Divetia: " I would go for two or three days. But Rasbhai has a knack for these things.He is very comfort-able with students and can devise ways to keep them occupied throughout the day even as they learnt a lot about music." In 1980, Rasbihar got the best playback singer's award in Gujarati for his song,Maari Ankhen Kankuna Suraj (written by the late Ravji Patel) for the path-breaking film, Kashino Dikro.He and Vibha have also toured the U.S.A. extensively,and recalls fondly how very well-responsive the crowds there were. In Cleveland,says the singer,the audience gave them a standing ovation for as long a period as a song would last. At another place,they gifted them more money impromptu than the amount they were to get as honorarium.All through these years, Rasbhai has resisted playing to the gallery.He says that his amateur status,backed by his ability to eke out a living as a teacher,enabled him to stand up against making "compro-mises" that would have meant playing second fiddle to commercial interests.Essentially,the Desais sing for themselves, for their own artistic fulfilment and believe that if do it with hearty involvement,it makes an impact on the audiences too.
    Rasbhai has no regrets;he has got no ambitions either. He is content that he remained a teacher for more than three dec-ades,which enabled him to remain an amateur in music as he de-sired.Then,he took premature retirement ,giving up teaching some five years sooner than the age bar would require to devote more time to music. Vibha continues working.He does some writing on music as well as on physics since " I like writing ".He puts much store by the yoga in music and feels that music is a kind of yoga only.He calls his devotion to music a process of mind purification (chittashudhdhikaran),and he keeps harbouring a restiveness that he should be able to be more and more creative in music-- "till this body lasts".He thinks that as his pursuit -- or devotion,as he would put it-- intensifies,he would be able to bring out more music from his being.All around him,Rasbhai does not find reason for despair on the music front in Gujarat."There are a lot of talented young people who will shine soon."
    He stands aloof,singing mainly for what is called nijan-and,unimpressed by the rat race around him to hit the top of the chart. He is popular,but he is not a populist.The spiritual balance of mind that he has achieved enables him to follow his own motto: Surilo kanth,surilun jeevan ( melodious voice,melodious life).That he has entered the sixtieth year of his life is a little known fact.And,Rasbhai is not bothered about it.
  

A Wounded Soul of Gujarati Ghazals: Amrut Ghayal

Numerous scrolls of honour, mementos and photographs adorn the walls of a rather Spartan-looking room at Dev Ami.Near the window opening into a modest foreground of the house is a bed on which till some years ago a visitor would have found Ghayal, grand-daddy of Gujarati ghazal, whose only ambition was to be remembered as a martyr to the ghazal-- shaheed-e-ghazal.
    He not only brought the ghazal form as authentic poetry into Gujarati, insisting on using the words of his mother tongue, but also elevated its status to a spiritual level, to a level reflecting the trials and tribulations of the masses, rather than remaining a vehicle of the love-lorn.
    Ghayal - a wounded soul - was his pen-name, but even the poet himself had given up using his surname, Bhatt, and signed as Amrut Ghayal.Why did he take this particular pen-name? With a toothless, hearty laughter, he said: “It is not a pen-name taken in the aftermath of a broken love-affair. In a way, all human beings are wounded souls. I sing their songs."
    There was not a trace of bitterness in Ghayal,although he yearned to be thought of a martyr;. in truth, he came across as a man who had lived a full life, had no complaints ,and more importantly,who,unlike so many of his age, was  never tired of life. There was a peculiar zest for life, which made Ghayal an unusual ghazalkar, who had seen many ups and downs in his long innings. Teeth had taken leave rather early, and so had hair on his head, deep lines furrowed his largish forehead and veins stood out prominently on his shrivelled hands. But the mind was alert, registering as truthfully as ever. Though his throat parched easily, he spoke fluently, and coherently, never lost for either words or thought. The memory served the master efficiently, and Ghayal wrote incessantly. "You see, I cannot sleep much, and am much too restless to give up living."
    The old world courtesy, long association with royalty and a modesty of soul, all made the man, bent with age. He would get up when visitors came, and see them off at the gate of the house when they depart, even though he had to walk with a stick.
    Modest he was, but Ghayal was no servile a soul. He had seen a lot of ups and downs in life, but had not allowed them either to dent his spirit or to be cowed down by the worldly-wise, powerful. His modesty went hand in hand with an outspokenness that had struck many as unabashed arrogance.Yet; he was full of self-deprecating wit, a caring parent and affectionate individual, who would not overlook the ways of the world. In the middle of making a profound remark on ghazals, he would suddenly stop, switch gears and would call out:"Listen, bring some tea or coffee for our guests", and then pick up the thread of what he was saying effortlessly.
    His literary journey of life had a journey of a single-minded devotion to  the word .He had  written nearly 1000 ghazals,brought out seven volumes of poetry, taken part in hundreds of mushairas.Still,he was as joyfully into it all as he was in his younger days. "I get involved in writing, once the imagination is triggered, often by a single word, a single phrase or sentence, uttered in utterly normal affairs of the day to day life. Words have such an effect on me that my thinking process gets started by them suddenly and I go into a trance like situation.Then,I would not get any sleep, would not remember the time of the day, or even to eat.” Some call it ras samadhi.
    He went on: “I have an inner voice, ordering me about. It just does not get drowned by any external noise, distraction or difficulties." But, that did not mean he was an escapist, a romantic living in a make-believe world. Another poet, Makarand Dave, has noted that his spiritual bend of mind, made Ghayal a poet in this world, but not of this world. He did not run away from pain, but digested the pain so well that it led to a rare sensitivity and high-grade poetry. He took life at a high flood, unafraid of the intensity of the turbulence, and neither having the slightest doubt that he shall overcome.
    Ghayal himself summed it up all in one of the ghazals:
   
    Valan hun eak sarkhun rakhun chhun asha-nirashaman,
    Barabar bhag laun chhun zindagina sau tamashaman
    Sada jitun chhun evun kain nathi,harun chhun bahudha pan -
    Nathi hun harne palatva deto hatashaman.
   
    (I maintain the same frame of mind in hope and in despair,
    I partake fully in the drama of life without allowing it to impair,
    Not that I always win ; many a time I do get trounced,
    But,not allowing it to drown me, I get back into it bounced)
   
    Past eight decades into life,this man could still talk as if he was a mere 20-year-old, so full of ideas,joys,setbacks,life itself.He had a life-long habit of keeping a pencil and paper,handy,whether he was at dinner table or in prayer.But, that does not mean that Ghayal depended on the Muse to transmit him a signal and do all the work. He had mastered both Sanskrit and Urdu,although he wrote in Gujarati. He had studied the classics in ghazals,learnt techniques of word-play,meter,and  to care of every word that he may care to use. "I do not depend on certificates from others; I must get a certificate from myself before I finish writing, re-writing and re-writing." That often meant the writing stretched over many days for a single composition.He,of course, was not in a hurry,nor was he bent upon mass-production,partly because he did not write to order, -- that is, any external order.
    For all this, Ghayal was a simple person,not given to any showmanship or snobbery, two hallmarks of creative writers these days.

    Born on August 19,1916, at Sardhar in Rajkot taluka,he remembered the prediction his father, Laljibhai ,had made about his son. Laljibhai was a chef in the royal household of Lakhajiraj of Rajkot, and since Amrut was born on the day of Randhan Chhath (which fell on August 19 that year),when people cook delicacies,he forecast:"The boy will spend a life getting heat, getting boiled." Like noted painter Vasudeo Smart,young Amurt's early days were also spent watching the colourful rites at the Vaishnav Haveli in the village.He would play the role of Krishna in the Krishna Lila stage in the haveli,go to a Sanskfit pathshala in the morning, and to the village primary school in the afternoon."On way back from school, I would go to the fields,catch-hold of the family mare,and bring her home,picking up vegetables for the kitchen.I would occasionally go to the tiny village library, read books and poems by Kalapi and Jhaverchand Meghani.Under the spell of Kalapi's poetry in Kekarav,I had imagined to pen poems,sitting on the bank of the village pond.But nothing got written. Upto the seventh standard,this more or less was my childhood."
    He recalled: "I came to Rajkot for the eighth standard, and began learning English.Prabhudas,our teacher ,would patiently explain everything,but I just would not understand anything,would get fed up and jump classes.Most of my evenings were spent playing cricket,volley ball and wrestling.I was the school cricket team's opening batsman as well as bowler and had played against a Jamnagar team in which famous cricketer,Vinoo Mankad, was one of the players.Because of him, we got beaten. Another famous cricketer of the old time, Amarsinh, was also known to me,and thanks to him I played for a year in the Morvi team,after three years in Alfred high school in Rajkot.In 1936,after Mankad left the Jamnagar team,we managed to wrest the shield from his home team."
    But all this,plus reading of literature and poetry,took a toll on his routine studies. He failed four times in his matriculation,and in 1938,wrote to the ruler of Pajod princely state, Pajod Darbar,Khan Imamuddinkhan, who later assumed the pen name of Ruswa Mazlumi,for a job,becoming his confidential secretary,in 1939. He held that job till 1948, during which he systematically learnt Urdu,getting his first ghazal published in Beghadi Mauj journal.Ghayal also happened to meet a lot of leading Urdu writers,such as Jigar Moradabadi,Josh Malihabadi,Bharat Vyas,Krishan Chander and Shoonya Palanpuri in those years.
    Ghayal spoke with great warmth of his association with Pajod Darbar.He was the first person to recognise the potential in Ghayal's pen.An athlete and a player,Ghayal had been hobnobbing with writing.A sports contact with the grandson of Kalapi,Prahladsinhji,invited him in 1938 to go to the Kalapi festival at Lathi.Kalapi's son,Joravarsinhji too was there and so was the noted poet, Lalit. Joravarsinhji was a great fan of Kalapi and would recite poems of sorrow from Kekarav,Kalapi's collection of poems,every night with deep passion and anguish,tears rolling down his cheeks even as he sang."This made a deep impact on me",said Ghayal. In the mornings there would a visit to the samadhi of Kalapi.
    Said Ghayal:"One day, while at the samadhi, I started feeling an unbearable,unrecognisable pang of mental anguish.Pajod Darbar had asked me to bring something for myself from Lathi. I started thinking about what I should receive from the precincts so poetic.I could not fathom my unease,nor could I decide what was it that was bothering me.I started crying and Joravarsinhji, who was known as Kakasaheb, consoled me."
    Ghayal recalled:" I told Kakasaheb that I felt I had found what I was looking for. I was looking for the ghazal,and the ghazal itself has apparently found me. I do not think I will have peace with myself till I devoted my life to the ghazal.But how to do that was beyond me."
    In the drawing room of the palace, Prahladsinhji asked the same question as was posed by Kakasaheb."I repeated the answer,but then suddenly my eyes caught the fish whirling in the aquarium in the room.I wrote a few lines comparing the slave Indians with the fish in the glass vessel. In the evening,Lalitji blessed me.He wrote the blessings in a poem,which unfortunately I later lost."
    On return to Pajod from Lathi,Ghayal was as if in another world.The  uneasiness lasted for sometime during which he went on inquiring about ghazal with every literary figure who visited the state.He had noted that the ghazal writers of those years used a lot of Persian and Urdu words and determined to write ghazals in Sorathi dialect in Gujarati.The editor of a journal, Karavan,from Rander,Vahesi,recommended to Ghayal a study of a two-part volume ,Shayari. He also asked Asar Saleri,to take him as a disciple.Asar told him to send him his ghazals.When Ghayal sent one,Asar wrote an advice that Ghayal followed all his life. "You do not have to show any ghazals of yours to anyone." He started depending on his own judgement,his own conscience.All his life,Ghayal never  permitted any of his works to go into print till he had satisfied himself. "It requires writing and re-writing, but I am not a poet in haste and would not make compromise about my inner satisfaction.If conscience certified it,then only a ghazal of mine would be worthy of being called ghazal." He had implacably followed this golden rule,and maintained a total self-honesty.
    In 1947,Ghayal's first wife, Taramati,died, but in the same year he managed to pass his matriculation.For a brief while,he went to college in Rajkot but gave it up. Soon thereafter when princely states were merged into Indian union, left Pajod too,to become a clerk in the public works department in Rajkot,and rose to senior clerk's position. In 1950,he married for the second time. He gave a lot of credit for his literary work to the wife, Bhanumati. In 1951,he got promoted as an accountant.His first collection of ghazals,Shul Ane Shamna,was published in 1954,when he got transferred to Junagadh.After serving the government iin Sunrendranagar,Bhuj and Nakhtrana,he settled for good in Rajkot in 1973,upon retirement. In 1978,Ghayal went to the Soviet Union and by 1982 four more publications were to his credit. In 1984, he got affected by TB,but recovered.Since 1985,he had been devoting time to writing only.A thousand-page compendium of his collected works was published  as part of the celebrations of his 80 years of life.
    He  never stopped,however. "I write every day",Ghayal said, patting a black colour briefcase,lying next to him on the bed on which he was sitting when I went to see him once,never realising it was our last meeting.He planned to complete at least 1,001 ghazals in his life time; some 900 had already been written. "I plan to bring out one more book ,my ninth,coinciding with the philosophy of nine rasas",he said without any boasting.Modest he always was,but he was also proud to be an original poet.Once he was asked if he could be called Gujarat's Ghalib.With humility,he submitted: I do not believe in copying,and I would only say this much:
    Anadi chhun matlab adal man adal chhun,
    Nathi nakal hun dar asal hun asal chhun.
    Nathi samrat athva rushi hun;
    Kharun jo kahun to shaheed-e-ghazal chhun.
   

    (Am with neither a root nor a top. I am I am,
    Am not a copy. Originally I am an original.
    I am not an emperor ,nor am I a saint,
    I am just a martyr to the ghazal,if must it be said.)
   

    His ghazals talk a lot about life and death."I want to tell you I have not been a soft,cry-baby type. I would rather say this:
         Tane kone kahi didhun maranni baad mukti chhe?
        Rahe chhe ked eani ea fakt diwal badale chhe.
   
    (Who told you there is salvation after death?
    Prison remains the same,only the walls change.)
   
    Once,when he was down with hepatitis-B,there was dim hope of his survival. But Ghayal was not one of those pessimists."I told my children I am not going to die . I am going to live for 89 years.Even thereafter,it would be like changing clothes. I will come back.There is nothing like death; it is only a change of clothes."
    His advice to the young writers was equally frank,and fearless."Study the ghazal first. Read everything you can. Respect the word,its finer nuances,exact meaning,proper usage.The word is a very pious thing. Use it with devotion.Do not soil it. Only such a devotion to the word will bring in the real element of poetry into your writing."
    People still remember how Ghayal recited a Gujarati composition to Jawaharlal Nehru when the first prime minister of India was on a visit to Rajkot during the days of the erstwhile Saurashtra state,some five decades ago. Another tall poet,Shaikh Adam Abuwala,recorded the encounter evocatively.
    Ghayal told Nehru that he would present something in Gujarati only,seeking the prime minister's indulgence if he could not follow it. A game Nehru said : "Go on. I have been with Bapu for many years and can understand Gujarati, and if need be can even speak a smattering of it too."
    Then, Ghayal sang out something that must have left Nehru, who wore a red rose in the lapel of his coat, red also in face, especially the part where the poet talks of giving the people at least a stale rose,:
     Melun ghelu makan to aapo,
    Dhul jevun ye dhan to aapo.
    Saav juthun shun kam bolo chho ?
    Kok saachi jaban to aapo.
    Bagman chhe bhag amaro pan,
    Eak vasi Gulab to aapo.
    Sukhna be char shwas to aapo|
    Zindganino bhas to aapo|
    Mukt vatavaran na swamio,
    Kain hawa kain ujas to aapo|
    Muktinu ene saaj to aapo.
    Adamino avaj to aapo|
    Mai na put manvine pratham,
    Manvino mijaj to aapo"

    (Give us,the people, at least a dirty,squalid hovel,
    Give at least grains like dust.
    Should not someone tell the truth?
    Is telling lies always a must?
    Give us an account,
    Maybe wrong, but some count.
    Forget not we too partly own this flower bed,
    If not much,give us at least a stale rose.
    Give us a few fresh breaths of life,
    Or, at least give us an illusion of life.
    O you Gods of freedom,
    Let us have some air,some light in all this darkness.
    Give us an instrument of freedom,
    Give our vocal chords some rhythm.
    O you,darlings of the mother India,
    Give Man first of all the temper of a free man.)
   

    A stunned Nehru asked Ghayal when he completed,why was he saying those things? “Give us time.”

    Ghayal replied:"A poet is a mouthpiece of the people and the mouthpiece should pass on the pains of the people." The prime minister said: "Certainly. But do you feel the country has not made any progress at all?" Ghayal riposted:"Nearly two decades of Independence would be over soon.The underground drainage is still to come into my street."

    Today,after six decades of Independence,an underground drainage is still to come in many streets of many cities.
    There,however, was a paradox. If Ghayal could be brutally frank,he could be charming also. A freeze frame from the past has remained itched in memory. When this writer first  went to meet Ghayal, he was in his pooja of the deity. As the visitors sat quietly for nearly half-an-hour,he went on unhurriedly, but not unmindful of our respectful waiting. Prior to getting up, he opened his eyes and softly called me and my wife Hansa and made us offer  homage to the deity.He began reciting in Sanskrit. I believe in God but not in the rituals. But I did not utter a word.When the chanting ended I looked quizzically at Ghayal. He read my mind and said” I was praying to Goddess Saraswati to make home in your inner being to give power to your words.” I kept mum for want of words.
   
   Nearly three free-wheelling hours of talking passed in which everybody present joined. Brushing aside the pleadings not to bother,he got up,picked up a stick and walked,firmly,chattering away in a firm voice,wheedling out a promise to come back soon.A spiritually erect man,bent with age; a rebelliously young mind,refusing to grow senile, stood as we left..

    Ghayal is gone now. I have no idea  if the goddess of letters has paid heed to his commendation. I do not think that she has but hope one day she will. What a daydream!

(END)    ----