Adieu Pandit Bhimsen Joshi

I hate writing obituaries & especially of my favourite persons. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi was unwell for months & he passed away today. May his soul rest in peace. Pandit Bhimsen Joshi is my abso favourite classical music singer. I grew up in a house listening to him, i’ve got a collection of some of Panditji’s unreleased recordings. In addition, a municipal school adjacent to our kitchen played Ptji’s songs, abhangs & bhajans every morning before their bell rang. Pt Bhimsenji was like part of our daily living & household.

“Vithala tu veda Kumbhar…Vithala, Vithala,” Vithal Umap & Pt Bhimsen Joshi 2 sterling voices that will be missed..the true voice of nation we lost today as I heard the news. While personally i do feel he is a relieved man, at least he won’t have to suffer the way he did, respiratory failure, old age illnesses. i also will miss seeing his programmes, attending his baithaks. But he has left a strong legacy of Kirana gharana. His khayals, alaaps held me in rapture. Somehow he made his listeners feel he was part of their lives.

How? because he was simple. I was lucky to have heard Panditji’s music since childhood. I have patience & good ear to listen to classical music,i love classical music so i enjoy it. Raag Malhar, Bhoopali of Panditji, his Khyals especially when he held onto a note for long would sooth me. His natyasnageet recordings were nice and so were the innumerable bhajans.

May be many will get upset that i write this. However, when i was growing up i also remember hearing stories of Pandiji’s love for the drink. Sadly but true. There were reports of him missing concerts & his true supporters, the audiences began airing concerns of his future. It takes courage to accept one’s own fault & failure, keep it behind and go ahead in life. Panditji overcame this low phase in his life and how. He came out of this depression. He had sponsors & people who believed in his talent. But mostly his faith in himself was renewed. Sadly it took toll on his eldest son. Who interestingly has a lovely voice, but lived in the shadows of his father. He took to the bottle too. There were occasions when his son was a public embarrassment but that too Panditji took in his stride. I was a witness to one such incident in my college days. Panditji’s second wife was rock solid. She is one woman who really stood through his ups and downs. She pulled him out of doom & there he was back to his first love -Singing classical songs.

His performances were fantastic. His fans who never left his side and always had faith in him were there thronging his concerts. When i was in my last year of college i got an opprtunity to take photographs of leading maestros for IMG Jan Fest. They included Pandit Bhimsen Joshi & few other maestros. The most supporting were Panditji, Zakir Hussain who floored me with compliments & Pandit Mallikarjun Mansur -he was sooo adorable & lastly Ustaad Allah Rakha. He was thrilled i recognised him as a young student & requested if I could take his photo. I made one friend then, who sadly passed away before the other 2. Panditji was very encouraging.

Indian Music Group sponsored by Britannia company held the annual IMG nights at St. Xavier’s college. The society’s who”s who would attend. Not many understood, many didn’t even claim to hide their ignorance, but many would come so that they were seen. Panditji could read people. He understood. But he also knew the truth that they were the ones who had  the money. However he would not let it bother him. He had a smart wife who tackled them well. He did what he knew the best, “Sang.”

Though let me highlight one thing here. He encouraged the youngsters, students. He told me i could whatever photographs i needed. He only made it clear, “Don’t use that flash child, it disturbs us.” I told Panditji, “It is 1600 asa role, high speed ahe, muleech flash vapanar nahi.” can you believe to what level this conversation had taken me? Up in the sky i was high. Imagine talking to THE maestro! swapnat  pan khara vatla nasta.

Thereafter i followed Panditji like a shadow. He sat let me click him in his most candid moments. He loved chewing tobacco, i asked and he smiled, ‘ghe’ is all he said. The above picture was taken when he was doing his riyaz inside the IMG music room. Being with panditji made me a lesser skeptic of a spirit, god, something inexplicable. Panditji is one person who i saw closely being connected to ‘god.’

He always got the prime slot, night time just pre-midnight. Panditji and rest of maestros had 2 hours time. max 4. Panditji saw NO time when he’d begin singing. He would simply sing. What dedication, what passion, what immense love for his art -music. I’d see that and say to myself, even if one tenth of that if i could achieve i’d consider myself lucky. I feel frustrated with my job, often with the bosses, especially when discrimination i feel really down, music uplifts me & at that time Hindustani classical music & i simply remember Panditji’s dedication.

What’s my pain in comparison to theirs, nothing. These maestros have achieved all this due to immense sacrifices, discipline, hard work & it also means struggle & pain. Ptji ha to run away to pursue his dream. Why is struggle only romanticised by Bollywood, which rakes in tons of money…Kumarji, Panditji, their devotion to their art is simply inspiring. In addition, Panditji was immensely simple & that came so naturally to him. He did NOT have to take efforts to be simple. He was. Panditji was humble but had such high thoughts, he was a great visionary & believed in the youngsters. He would come sit in a corner at Sawai Gandharva festival that he started as tribute to his guru. He would talk to public, it is us who feel shy of keeping away from such persons, but he was a model for us ordinary persons.

Panditji also had fantastic wit. He loved fast cars. He knew his cars in & out & the others too. He knew the gears, pick up, run calculations, Engine, parts, spare parts, he would go on fast drives down the Khandala ghats. In fact he told in his interviews if he weren’t a classical music singer, he would have become a car racer. He loved driving. I can imagine a stress buster is required for those who lead hectic lives & driving was for him. In fact once at NCPA all the rich aunties thronged around him, “Panditji panditji…” he looked at 2 of his friends & equated these ladies with ancient car, Bentley. They had a hearty laugh & he didn’t get upset even after NCPA organisers showered him with a mogra flower shawl. The mogra shwal one puts on a idol, dead person’s kabrasthan. Someone else in his place would’ve created a ruckus, thrown a tantrum. He cracked jokes with his friends & pardoned these elite clueless humans. This is the crowd that recognised Panditji only to “Miley sur mera tumhara…” they should Thank Arti & Kaislash Surendranath to realise this maestro’s worth….Panditji wouldn’t get offended because he acknowledged it as their lack of knowledge. Immense insight & understanding of life that is.

Panditji unlike few playback singers & contemporaries never counted his monies. And may be that was the reason he could remain so simple, humble, connected to people & enjoy such warmth. Not that he didn’t command a high fee. But the difference was, he didn’t only weigh his art in terms of money. He threw NO tantrums like few others. He didn’t make his disciples dominate his shows & just add some sur, well many classical musicians did so. We’d bitch saying, “Shikavnya chalu ahet!” lol!. Panditji would sing his songs cough or fever. He was someone special. He took the song to another level & one actually felt he was in another world when he sang the bhajans. Which god would have ignored him.

I’m his huge fan, like i said I don’t like orbits. He will live on always in my life, ears, in this world…always..thank you Pt Bhimsen Joshi…you meant a lot to me…

Dr Binayak Sen -fighting charges of sedition

The medical practice is the only profession in our country (atleast i know India) that has to take an oath. The docs are not supposed to be profit oriented and more so, since diligent tax payers like me file returns & pay taxes, their medical education is highly subsidised. So they are supposed to take an oath of serving 1 yr in rural villages & be committed to public. That is the main reason for subsidisation of this otherwise expensive studies.

One such diligent medical professional & gold medallist is the man in the picture above. Dr Binayak Sen. Who has a wife, Ilina & 2 daughters. Today the family is scattered thanks to Govt of Jharkhand, GOI & High Court that has ordered him to life imprisonment.

Dr Sen went on to Chattisgarh which was once part of Bihar before. Sen dedicated his life to the poor, mostly those who can’t afford to eat even rice twice a day, forget 3 times. And they are totally deprived from absolute basics like food, opportunity to earn living, basic education & will to survive. Most of us will never be able to identify with that. So let’s be honest about this fact.

Sen gives them medication, helps them to live, ensures the women don’t die while pregnant, at the time of delivery, lack of nutrition,  don’t die after delivery due to lack of iron or blood. He ensures the children in that region don’t die due to malnutrition & starvation. This i am sure is of most significance. He also treats them for diarrhoea, cholera, malaria & they get medicines free of cost.

People in cities may never know the importance of these things. It is so vital to have healthy, normal citizens who are not a burden on our economy. Ill, disabled deprived population adds burden to the economy, Which the governments should be reducing, but play politics with it. This most valuable difference is so vital. Even more when we realise he’s made a difference in an area where govt has never bothered to reach or never will.

In the interim period. The Communist Party of India (Maoist) reached in these remote, tribal areas of India. The cadre & workers mostly educated, rich, who left their comforts & warm environments came to dedicate their lives to the betterment of these poor tribals. Well they never will get medals for sure. Yet someone was acknowledging them, someone valued & cared for them. The fact that the tribals would never forget. Soon many felt frustrated, the lack of governmental intervention has its limits too. The cadre also began feeling it. They realised things & systems are not changing & soon we saw the rise of extreme Maoist, Naxal activities of their cadres resorting to violence.

Killings took place -till now mostly of the officials, administration of those who were key players of our corrupt systems. Till then most felt, “Its ok, the govt calls for trouble if they don’t change & get to the grassroots.” the govt never has done it & will never do. So then anger, frustration drove many to guerilla war fare. The naxals began attacking civilians. However the tribals never diminished their support to the naxals. For the reason that they survived indifferent death.

Dr Sen meanwhile dedicated his life to serving these poor tribals. His wife & children lived in Wardha & would frequently visit him in Raipur too. their lives took a change for sudden. Dr Sen was arrested. The last 7 years he is fighting all sorts of charges put on him forcibly, for which there is NO evidence at all.

OK, tell me when you go to visit your personal doctor how do you like your dr to be? Detached, Impersonal, straight up, come to the point Ms/Mrs/Mr so & so. Or at least i like my dr to smile, laugh, relax, be warm welcoming & i want to tell him something personal -my illness.

May be its an Indian trait or what i don’t know, we don’t stop here. We patients know about the doc’s life, more so he knows lots more about ours. We feel nice if our doc enquired about our spouse, gf/bf, children, their progress, our personal problems, etc. The usual appointments of docs go on for a while.

We tend to consult the doc see him as a guide & in a country like India, Doc is equated with GOD. Whoever, whatever there may be. Many of us want our parents or kids to listen, follow certain course of medication, diet we ask our doc to do so. We request him to have a talk with our family members, because we are confident they will listen to the doc. Its understood. The doc doesn’t simply ‘passes on our message’ goes beyond & convinces the individual. So we want the doc to be our advisor, counsellor or communicator, to get some work done.

Imagine this situation a tribal area. It’s far more intensified. The families who may know nothing about medication, treatments & illness in the first place. Besides imagine the activists who lived here, leaving behind their families in cities while they lived in remotest corners. Now take this further. Some of these got arrested. Not all have worked in arms training or imparted arms training or even picked up arms. Some really went there to teach -educate the children/adults.

The informal non-religious, non-formal and absolute socialist form of education. So what. At least they informed poor, illiterate tribals of their rights, schemes, funds available that they can use. As a result, many who got arrested and have been sent on rotation from 1 jail to another do have families. Some have multiple families. Some have really tiny kids. In fact one alleged Naxal saw his kid last when he was just born! They feel lonely. They too are human concenred of their families & more so the academic progress of their kids. They are given crap food, with worms, stones, etc. Most have been beaten. You can make out after their releases interim ones though.

These Dr Sen types have been languishing in jail for like 7 years plus. So while they are in jail they also would to reassure their wife, kids, daughters especially how to cope with these circumstances. They want to tell their children to not fall for loose talk, taunts NOT to get emotionally vulnerable. Also words of caution, ask them to be careful.

This is NORMAL. I’d have done or communicated lot more. Remember the arrested naxals are denied all rights. NOT even allowed to write letters to their families. What if they have sent encoded messages you know!

So the Chattisgarh govt of BJP stepped up its anti-naxal activities. & while they wanted to arrest the violent Naxals, whom they couldn’t zero down upon, they simply arrested Dr Sen. He got bail after 7 years and trial began. Unfortunately during the trial most media IGNORED the issue. in this interim period i happened to write a piece on children of few naxal leaders. I spoke to Pranhita.

“When rumours of Binayak’s Sen’s arrest were doing the rounds in Raipur, where he lived and worked, his family was on edge. Pranhita was at the time studying in a college in Kharnagar, a few hours from Raipur. Her life changed after Sen was arrested on May 14, 2007. She started getting threats.  Leaflets would be slipped under my door, saying ‘they’ knew I lived alone she says. I am now scared to talk to people. Even when you messaged me for this interview, I felt nervous. Free Binayak Sen campaign, and is the cinematographer for a documentary the People’s Union for Civil Liberties is making on the case. Working for the campaign has also helped Pranhita appreciate her father’s work. ” At the same time, she says she holds no grudge against the neighbours who shut their doors and windows when a posse of nearly a hundred policemen arrived to take her father away. “They called my father a terrorist and shut us out. But calling him names does not make it true.”

The daughter & other children have to live with these tags like “terrorists”. The Chattisgarh court has charged Dr Sen with ‘sedition;’ The definition – “actions or speech urging rebellion against the authority of a state  or ruler.” So to treat the poor, live among them. To pass on messages if the cops are to be believed, is this a crime? More over to prevent illnesses, death of women & premature babies, immunise them is going against the country.

Do we not always communicate, send messages to one another? what’s social networking i wonder? Now if Dr sen has sent messages of these arrested in Jail to their family members, it becomes sedition? This is maths gone wrong. Bcoz the police aren’t doing thorough investigations, they have failed to catch real culprits. They can’t put an end to Moaism so they catch the person doing some good work there. Sure some good work this is.

Instead of calling for other NGOs, calling CPI (M) cadre to talk, taking schemes to the poor in those remote areas, ensuring even if there’s 1 child he gets to study, instead the govts send para military troops, naxal combat teams to finish the activists, people? the real problems remain unsolved.

But the truth is those who know less about the movement, about Maoism, Communism in this country, will draw their own conclusions. Worse still, since most do not have family doctors who take the extra effort, charging pittance & helps to prevent disease, we will never believe Dr Sen is only pracitising medicine. Dr Sen has at no time propounded, promoted or supported violence & killing in the name of maosim. To call him naxal in itself is wrong. Actually they are driving nice people towards it. Worse still they’ve called Dr Sen as terrorist? Who exactly has given us the right to call this med doc such names?

People also say, “what’s the truth, he was a naxal na?” He helped the naxals, maoists, so he is anti-national . On what basis are these allegations being made? Read what i’ve written. Ask ourselves the basic questions we have read. Draw your conclusions based on it. Else find a better family doctor yourselves.