'To match his passion for his craft is impossible.'
'I don't know of any Kathak dancer who can equal his passion.'
Manoj Bajpayee was grappling with a sense of great loss on January 17.
"I've been shooting the entire day. I got to know of Pandit Birju Maharaj's death on the set. I have not had an opportunity to let myself feel the full impact of the tragedy," the actor tells Subhash K Jha.
"Now, when I've packed up, I wonder: Who will carry his legacy forward? In my humble opinion, there is no other Kathak dancer close to Panditji's stature to carry his legacy forward.
"This was not the case when we lost a national treasure like Pandit Ravi Shankar. He had some notable disciples to carry forward his legacy."
Manoj feels Pandit Birju Maharaj's legacy will soon be lost in the mists of history.
"You know, to match his passion for his craft is impossible. I don't know of any Kathak dancer who can equal his passion for the dance form.
"I have known Panditji closely. And I love Kathak; several Kathak dancers are my friends.
"When I was at the National School Of Drama in Delhi, the Kathak institute was very close to our building. I would often see the dancers on their way in and out."
Manoj knew Pandit Birju Maharaj first-hand.
"We have met on several occasions. When he was in Mumbai on a visit, he would call me. To meet him, to know him, to touch his spirit and passion was very inspiring for me.
"I know I'm fully devoted to my acting. That is why I've survived in the business for so long. But I don't know if I can ever equal his passion for his craft.
"You have to be fully honest to your calling. Neither Panditji nor I came into our craft for money or any other extraneous consideration. We are in it because we love what we do. And it shows in our performance.
"Not that I am comparing myself to him. He was a class apart. A masterclass in discipline and dedication. And also very inspiring for his humility and passion."
Manoj feels the classical arts in India are dying.
"Where are the patrons of the arts? And without patrons, how can artistes flourish?
"Panditji's death signals a wider tragedy -- that of losing our cultural heritage.
"After Ustad Bismillah Khan, where are the shehnai players of stature?
"After Pandit Birju Maharaj, I see a similar vacuum."