Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Religion is Love

I was the chief guest at a CD release function some time back. Dr. Shashank Inamdar, a music loving doctor from Goregaon composed music for an album based on the Ganapati Atharvashirsha. The songs were sung by veteran music composer Shridhar Phadke and sung by the supremely talented Sadhana Sargam. The function was held in Keshav Gore hall in Goregaon.

As the chief guest, I was asked to speak on the CD that was to be inaugurated. A strange fact struck me as I stood up to speak. I said that there are certain peculiar things that happen only in India. This was one such incident. That a doctor of medicine should produce music based on the Atharvashirsha and then it should be released in a hall named after a socialist leader at the hands of an agnostic - this can happen only in India! 

After the inauguration Dr. Inamdar hosted a small dinner for us at his residence. It was a small gathering. Shreedharji, Sadhana Sargam and Dr. Inamdar's close friends were present. The conversation shifted to a lot of different topics from politics to religion to music and to spirituality and psychology. The conversation also hovered around Narendra Modi and the Zubin Mehta concert. Shreedharji like his father Sudhir Phadkeji is unabashedly an RSS man. As he talked about his art and also his political convictions, conversation moved to his father, Sudhir Phadke and his music. 


I could not help but observe how art catalyses and lubricates the handling of multiplicity of identities in this wonderful country of ours. 

We all know how Sudhir Phadke and G. D. Madgulkar were from diametrically opposite political backgrounds. Sudhir Phadke was a Jan Sangh person while Madgulkar was a hardcore Congressman. We are told of a lot of incidents when these two stalwarts would not see eye to eye on their political philosophy. One particular incident that I vaguely remember having heard was when the Madgulkar, Phadke and Raja Paranjape got together for a music sitting during the film Lakhachi Gosht. The conversation travelled to politics and soon turned into a heated debate. 
Raja Paranjape told the songwriters - "In your political quarrel it is my film that is suffering." 
Madgulkar picked up the pen and paper and said, "Is that all? Tell me the situation."
Raja Paranjape narrated the situation of the song. Within 10 minutes, Madgulkar had already penned the song. He put down the paper and said in a huff- "Okay. Here is the song. I am leaving."

As he turned and reached the door, Babuji (as Sudhir Phadke is popularly known), called after him - "Won't you like to hear the tune before you leave? It's ready!"

The song was Dolyat Vaach Maajhya Tu Geet Bhavananche!

I have an old DD recording with me on VHS of a concert of the Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali singing Chupke Chupke. And sitting in the audience - on the floor - next to each other are Kalyanji, Naushad and Sudhir Phadke. The excitement and bliss on Babuji's face is unmistakable when Ghulam Ali breaks into a taan and then arrives flawlessly on the sam. (The first beat of the rhythm cycle). Art fuses all identities and creates a bond that is beyond boundaries.


I have always been and continue to be a diehard fan of the Pakistani Ghazal maestro Ghulam Ali. Some years back, while I was still in college, Ghulam Ali came to India for a private concert in Belgaum. As I knew the hostess of the programme well, I persuaded her to let me pick up Khansaheb at the airport. 
So along with my father and our driver, Rafique, both of whom were, like me, hardcore Ghulam Ali fans proceeded to the airport. The flight was delayed by 15 minutes. When Khansaheb appeared I told him that I had come to pick him up. His manager said that one of the musicians had yet to get his baggage. The expression in Ghulam Ali's eyes was that of utter contempt when he said, "what else do you expect in a country like India!"
I was a little shocked to see this artiste displaying open contempt for a country that has always welcomed him with open arms and has been a major source of his income. To tell you the truth, I was pretty miffed at this. But whatever the case, Ghulam Ali was, at this moment, a guest in this country and my culture (even as a 20 year old) did not permit me to be rude to him.

Then, Ghulam Ali sat in the car and as he rolled down the window, a cool breeze was felt entering the car. Almost as a reflex action Ghulam Ali hummed under his breath - "Ik zara si hawa ke chalte hi!" (As a gentle breeze blows)
I immediately caught on to the phrase and said, "Khansaheb, will you sing this ghazal tonight?"
He looked at me, amused.
"You know the ghazal?"

"Yes." I said. "Aa gayi yaad Shaam Dhalte hi."

Ghulam Ali looked at me with interest and appreciation and could not hide even the amusement in his eyes. He had a slight smile when he said:

"Dekhenge, bete, Dekhenge!" (We'll see, son!)

The rest of the journey from the airport to Hotel Sanman in the heart of Belgaum was pleasant conversation mostly dominated by my father and Ghulam Ali's manager-cum-friend, Badal (I don't remember his second name). Finally, when we arrived at the hotel, I accompanied Ghulam Ali to his room along with his luggage. He smiled at me kindly and said:

"Rehearsal dekhna pasand karoge?" (Would you like to watch us rehearse?)

I don't have to tell you that I jumped at the opportunity. In the evening all the musicians gathered in Ghulam Ali's room for rehearsal of the concert. The tabla player was a resident of Mumbai and he seemed nervous as he was playing with Ghulam Ali for the first time. One by one the musicians had a quick look at the songs that they would be singing in the night. I was like a small child in a toy shop! At the end of the rehearsal, Ghulam Ali looked at me with a smile and asked if I enjoyed. I was so full of joy that I just nodded enthusiastically.

That night as the concert began, Ghulam Ali opened with a thumri. The gathering was private and intimate, and I found myself a seat in the third row, quite close to the stage. After the thumri he sang his first ghazal, "Aa Gayi Yaad Shaam Dhalte Hi". This was the same ghazal which he had hummed while sitting in my car this morning!

The concert progressed like a dream. I couldn't believe that I was watching my favourite composer - singer LIVE! Ghulam Ali had his ghazals written in a book that was kept in front of him. It was a windy December night and the pages ruffled as the wind blew hard. Ghulam Ali was singing the ghazal - Para Para Hua Pairahan-e-Jaan (The clothing of the soul is torn to pieces). As he began singing his first she'r (couplet of a ghazal), koi aahat, na ishaara, na saraab (there is no presentiment, nor an indication , nor any mirage), the pages of his notebook ruffled again and he lost the pertinent page. He sang the first line of the she'r again and by now it was evident that he had forgotten the next line of that she'r. Being a die-hard fan of the singer, I had almost all his ghazals by heart. I quickly got up to my feet and prompted the next line of the she'r which was -

Kaisa veeran hai yeh dasht-e-imkaan (what a lonely place this desert in the heaven is!)

The highly appreciative Ghulam Ali raised his hand in an aadaab towards me and gave his trademark charming smile. The concert then cruised along. He was at his best and so was the audience which contained a lot of luminaries. The late Shashank Lalchand (veteran sound engineer), Bharati Acharekar, Vandana Gupte and Rani Verma and a lot of other celebrities were in the audience.

Khansaheb sang till 2AM and then said: "I'll take one last farmaish (a suggestion to the liking of the audience) as I am quite tired and have a long journey ahead tomorrow. So one last song of your choice!"

I jumped to my feet and called out for my favourite ghazal - Dil mein ik leher si uthi hai abhi. At the same time from the first row, Bharati Acharekar, Vandana Gupte and Rani Verma also gave a farmaish of a Punjabi song - Pata laga hundi ki judaai. It was three voices against one and Ghulam Ali started to sing the Punjabi number.

When he was done with the song, he shut the bellows of his harmonium and thanked the audience for their wonderful participation. It was 2:15 in the morning. Then all of a sudden he looked at me and opened the bellows once again.

"Yeh baccha mujhse aur meri mausiki se bahut pyaar karata hai aur sangeet ke chahnewale ka dil dukhana munasib nahin!" he said smiling in my direction. (This boy loves me and my music a lot and it is not right to hurt a music lover).

For the next 45 minutes he enthralled the audience with his amazing rendition of Dil mein ik leher si uthi hai abhi! I think that was his best rendition that day. Time and again he kept looking at me. It was from a musician to a music lover - As Dnyaneshwar says, from one heart to the other! All the boundaries between us seemed to have evaporated. There was no India - Pakistan, No Marathi - Urdu, No Hindu - Muslim divide as only the singer and the listener remained. The most sublime of all feelings!

As I sign off, I would like you to know that Sudhir Phadke, the RSS man you saw sitting on the floor, alongside Naushadji, listening to Ghulam Ali - yes the same RSS man! Do you know who sang the mangalashtakas (auspicious hymns sung in some Hindu marriages) in his marriage in 1949? Yes - you wouldn't have guessed - It was Mohammed Rafi!

© Kaushal S. Inamdar, 2014