On Teachers' Day, Kala Ramnath remembers Pandit Jasraj: 'Even if he was sick, he would fulfil his commitments'
'A celebrity of his stature would even remember someone whom he had met for a very brief period...He also had a great sense of humour. More than being his students, he treated us like his children,' says violinist Kala Ramnath on her guru, Pandit Jasraj
My earliest memories of Pandit Jasraj ji was when I would hear him on the radio program Anuranjani, on returning home from school in the afternoon. I would love his renditions of 'Shudh Sarang', 'Bhimpalasi', 'Bilaskhani Todi' and 'Gorakh Kalyan', and thought to myself that if music was indeed this beautiful, then this is what I would want to do in life. All I remember from my childhood is this, and not much else about the intricacies of his singing.
I had the good fortune of meeting him in my early teens when my aunt introduced me to him in the first concert of my life, along with my cousin in Mumbai. That’s when I started addressing him as Mama ji. He was very loving and affectionate. He would pamper me with sweets and I would tag along with him everywhere. Immediately after this, within a few months, I lost my dad, and Mama ji took my father’s place in my life as a father figure, advising me on everything. I especially sought his advice with regard to my career. I relocated to Mumbai and mustered the courage to ask Mama ji if he would teach me. Luckily, he agreed, and thus became my guru too.
Since I was already performing, lessons started right on stage by accompanying him on the violin. Besides, he would always be immersed in music, so much so that he would teach us while we travelled with him, while we were sitting for lunch at the dining table, or before he retired to rest for the day. For him, it was all about music. Because of my strong memory, he would also sometimes call me from wherever he was to teach me a composition, and refer to me as his 'computer'. I used to call him 'the supercomputer'. Some of my best memories have been the camps he conducted, where he would teach us for 6-10 hours a day, intensively, for as long as two weeks. Today, if I am known for what I do, it is because of him. He took me with him everywhere to accompany him in concerts, and presented me in the right way.
His dedication to the art of music, his sincerity and honesty, his poignant expressions, are things to learn. These qualities made him firm in his commitments. I remember, once I was in Hyderabad at his festival (Pandit Motiram Pandit Maniram Sangeet Samaroh) where I was asked to perform. On the day of my performance, I was sick and had a 104-degree fever. Guru ma told Guru ji that I was not in the condition to perform. Guru ji dismissed Guru ma’s plea instantly, and said that I would play. He told me, “If you put in the effort, lord will carry you through. You tell yourself that I have given a commitment and come what may, I am going to fulfil it." I played there and I got a standing ovation. It was a life lesson for me.
Guru ji himself practised this with utmost sincerity. Even if he was sick, or had a cough and cold, he would never cancel his concerts or leave his commitments unfulfilled. You can imagine what a cough and cold feels like to a vocalist, but that was my Guru ji...
I remember, there was a concert in Namibia, to which we were sent by the Government of India for the first time. I was there with him. Unfortunately, there were a lot of problems in the presentation by the organisers, and in the end, we only got 10 to 15 minutes for our performance. Guru ji was not happy. He finished his short performance and told the audience, “I am going to my room. Anybody interested can come there and listen to me." He asked me to take my violin, and asked Vijay Ghate ji to take his tabla, and did a two-hour-long concert at the home where we were staying, to a packed audience. This shows his dedication and sincerity to his art.
Masters like Guru ji had a strong connection with nature, and nature is the almighty. I remember an instance when he performed in Delhi outside, amid nature, on the day of Buddha Purnima. It was a clear beautiful evening with the full moon and stars in sight, and not a speck of cloud visible. Guru ji asked his daughter Durga ji to announce that he wished to sing 'Dhulia Malhar', and if a dust-storm were to happen (which apparently does when this raga is sung), he should not be held responsible. And lo and behold, as he started singing, dark clouds appeared, strong winds blew, and there was a thunderstorm. The concert had to be shifted indoors from outdoors. That was the power of his music and his connection with nature. He touched the hearts of many listeners and gave them a divine experience almost every time he sang.
Guru ji had a tremendous amount of self-control. He would never touch oily food or sweets, or anything that is not good for his voice. He taught us discipline. These are the things you need if you want to be a good musician.
There is not much to say, which will do justice to his humility. A celebrity of his stature would even remember someone whom he had met for a very brief period. He treated everyone with respect, and made each one of them feel special. That in itself is great art, which made him a people’s person. He also had a great sense of humour. More than being his students, he treated us like his children.
With his demise, it feels like I have lost my father again. I will, throughout my life, cherish the moments I have spent with him, treasure the things I have learnt from him, and pass on to the next generation whatever I have imbibed from my association with him.
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