Sadly, unwonted talents live away from Delhi


1Last week as I heard Pandit Rajeshwar Acharya in New Delhi at a Dhrupad concert held to pay homage to the late Ustad Nasir Zahiruddin Dagar, I was left amazed by the man’s musical genius and that overpowering personality he possesses.

Why didn’t I get to hear or meet him before? Because this was for the first time that the 75-year-old was performing in the Capital! He was here at the invitation of Ustad Wasifuddin Dagar.

We have actual talent living far away from New Delhi. And with that, the spotlight is rarely on them. Yes, this is one of those ruthless realities of the times we are living in, where it has become almost essential to be at the right place together with those right connections!

In fact, in March at a literary meet held in Kerala’s Tirur I’d noticed that the literary giants of that State sat rather too humbly and quietly. These writers seemed least bothered whether they or their works were getting media coverage or not. For them all that mattered was their writings; several of them starting and ending their day with the written word…And as I’d interacted with them I’d realised they seemed at ease living amidst their basic surroundings and not in concrete jungles, where the synthetic surmounts, where publicity machinery is not meant for the talented geniuses but for those who manage grab attention and are in total control of the gaudy bandobast to get-set-going! If you are one of those shy or introvert sorts you’ve had it!

At times I sit and wonder what would have been Munshi Premchand or even Sadat Hasan’s Manto’s fate if they were living in these times. Of course, they wouldn’t have given a damn about any of the publicity gimmicks to hog headlines. They would have been sitting smug in their nondescript shells. Maybe Manto would have scribbled letters to American President Donald Trump for the bombardments he’s been up to …down to! But, then, not too sure whether any of those letters would have reached the White House ; after all coming from videsh and that too from a Musalmaan Asian!

Getting you back to this day and age, as I sat talking to Pandit Rajeshwar Acharya who hails from Varanasi,it was indeed an eye-opener to hear those various aspects to Varanasi and also to the very world of classical strains. Known not just for his dhrupad rendering but also for hosting Dhrupad melas, he seemed to know each little aspect
to his city and its inhabitants. A pity…a real pity that those of us who are surviving in this concrete jungle called New Delhi sit so far away from the real India …

I’m reminded of what Mulk Raj Anand had once told me: that he could only become a full- fledged writer after touring the countryside in a train and travelling far and wide to the varying locales. To quote him, ‘I’ve always and always been provoked by all that is happening around me…after Mahatma Gandhi told me I undertook train journeys and met the ‘real’ inhabitants of the country.’ Perhaps, few of us would know that Mulk had spent some time living in the Sabarmati Ashram …he’d lived there till the day he had supposedly violated one of the ashram rules and was asked by Mahatma Gandhi to leave the Ashram. To quote him, ‘And though I had just recovered from my first nervous breakdown, which I had suffered in the UK, I had travelled back to India and went to the meet Gandhiji at the Sabarmati Ashram …

requested him if I could stay there. After much thought he did finally allow me to stay there but only after I had agreed on three basic issues. In fact, I had taken three vows — to clean toilets, never to drink alcohol and never to look at women with desire …In the beginning it went off okay but, then, somebody had told him that I was flirting with the typist also staying in the ashram. She was an American divorcee and staying there with her young son and though there was just no truth is that allegation but I had to leave the ashram …But even that short stay in the ashram and my interactions with Mahatma Gandhi left an impact on not just my lifestyle but on my perceptions and on my very bonding with the masses .

He had asked me to tour the country and interact with the villagers and see the realities for myself!’

And there was that blissful period in our very recent history where poets of the likes Ali Sardar Jafri and Sahir Ludhianvi wrote verse after verse in solidarity with leaders from far — away lands: these lines of Ali Sardar Jafri written in 1960s relay much bonding between Indians and Africans — ‘This African , my brother /Picks flowers , in forest after forest / My brother ,whose feet are red /Red as roses.’ Or these lines of Sahir Ludhianvi written when Patrice Lumumba, the first prime minister of Congo and who also a staunch anti — imperialist, was deposed from office and then murdered — ‘Tyranny has no caste, no community, no status nor dignity /Tyranny is simply tyranny, from its beginning to its end /Blood however is blood , it becomes a hundred things /Shapes that cannot be obliterated /Flames that can never be extinguished /Chants that can never be suppressed.’

Look where we stand reduced to. In these developed times we seem to have lost the very norm of interacting with each other. My dilemma: is this what we call developed times!