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Pandit Jasraj has gone, but his music lives on

By Sunita Budhiraja
August 30, 2020 09:48 IST
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All his disciples across the globe feel he was closest to them.
All his friends believe he loved them the most.
Just like every gopi in Brijbhoomi felt Krishna was closest to her. Pandit Jasraj didn't have acquaintances; he had friends, recalls his biographer Sunita Budhiraja.

Pandit Jasraj at the Saptak classical music festival in Ahmedabad

IMAGE: Pandit Jasraj performS at the Saptak classical music festival in Ahmedabad, January 3, 2020. Photograph: PTI Photo
 

He called me on Janmashtami from New Jersey while having breakfast. It was a video call. "How is Maa?" he asked. Ever since my parents have been unwell, whenever Pandit Jasraj would meet or call me, he would ask about their welfare.

All his disciples across the globe feel he was closest to them. All his friends believe he loved them the most. Just like every gopi in Brijbhoomi felt Krishna was closest to her. He didn't have acquaintances; he had friends.

Pt Jasraj is not just a name; he is an ehsaas (a feeling, a sensation). In one of my poems in Prashna Panchali (a collection published in 2006), Draupadi tells Krishna: “I now know, dear, you ask for complete surrender, I surrender to thee, now come and save my honour.”

In this case, it is the other way round: Krishna has asked Pandit Jasraj to come and sing closer to him. Jasrajji would often say: "When I sing, he comes. I see him here, and there in that corner. He plays with me and at times I forget to sing. So mesmerised I am looking at Bal Gopal."

It was an emotional moment for me when he agreed to come for the launch of my book, his biography, Rasraj: Pandit Jasraj.

Sitting on the stage with him, I recalled an incident. At a concert in Lahore in 1945, as an accompanying artiste to his brother, who was the lead vocalist, Jasrajji asked the stage manager where he should sit.

The man curtly responded: 'Othe, khudd vicch (In that well -- where photographers and sound recordists were seated).'

When Pandit Jasraj, only 15 then, protested, the stage manager turned around and said, 'Tabley wale di majaal ki oh gaan wale de naal behwe? (What standing does a tabla player have that he should sit on the stage with the vocalist?).' That was the turning point.

Classical Vocalist Pandit Jasraj performs at the 62nd Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav in Pune

IMAGE: Pandit Jasraj performs at the 62nd Sawai Gandharva Bhimsen Mahotsav in Pune, December 12, 2014. Photograph: PTI Photo

Jasrajji stopped playing the tabla and dedicated himself to singing. He also pledged that no accompanying artiste would receive the kind of treatment he had.

Every artiste -- young, old, whether on tabla, harmonium, violin or mridangam -- who accompanied him received respect and affection.

My association with him lasted 38 years. He would call me Buddhi ki Rani, Deviji or Mem Sahab.

But on stage, no matter how close a friend, he would address everyone with utmost respect: Pandit. Ustad. Vidushi. Pandita. I learnt these stage etiquettes from him.

Prashna Panchali was the trigger for Madhuraji (his wife) to ask Pandit Jasraj to have his life story authored by me.

Madhuraji's consent mattered a lot to him. I started working on the biography nine years ago.

Thereon, he would call me any time of the day or night from anywhere in the world, regardless of the time zones. I would record all (the conversations).

He narrated umpteen anecdotes about his life, spoke about people who mattered to him, his relationships and emotions...

Then on my birthday two years ago, he sent a recorded message from the US: /I am so grateful to God that he sent you to this Earth. Had you not been there, no one would have written my biography. I would have been deprived of this blessed feeling." He knew how to make you feel important.

IMAGE: Pandit Jasraj performs at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopal. Photograph: Kind courtesy Suyash.dwivedi/Wikimedia Commons

Rewind to 1960. Pandit Jasraj was travelling by general compartment in a local train with his best friend, Mukund Lath.

A blind, old, man with a small child was singing and begging for alms. The train was crowded and the man fell down, as did all the money he had collected. Pandit Jasraj asked his fellow passengers to give the beggar some money.

To his dismay, they said they would, but only if Pandit Jasraj himself sang! And sing he did. Then he collected four annas from each passenger and gave them to the beggar.

Lath, who was Jasrajji's childhood friend, died recently. They would practise together, travel together, and, if a need arose, beg together to help a person in distress.

Another train journey comes to mind. In 1966, Pandit Jasraj was travelling to Nagpur. He was on the upper berth.

At Pune, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi boarded the train and occupied the lower berth. On seeing him, Jasrajji came down and paid his respects.

Bhimsenji was delighted to see him. 'I was wondering how I would make this long journey alone,' he exclaimed. They spent it discussing music.

Amidst the things Bhimsenji said to Pandit Jasraj was this: 'Jasraj, at times I am worried about the future of our Hindustani sangeet. But when I look back, I see you. And I am relieved.'

Pandit Jasraj is gone. But as I hum Om Namo Bhagwate Vasudevay, his calming voice lingers on.

Sunita Budhiraja has authored Pandit Jasraj's biography, Rasraj: Pandit Jasraj.

Feature Presentation: Rajesh Alva/Rediff.com

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