Kalpana Palkhiwala’s project brings together verses about Gandhi

It was 1958. Six-year old Kalpana was given strict instructions by her grand-mother to lie to visitors that her teacher-father was not in, because he was busy correcting papers. Since he was also a municipal councillor, there were always visitors coming with grievances. That day, he wanted to be left alone. But Kalpana let the cat out of the bag. Her grandmother was furious but her father said: “She spoke the truth. How can you scold her when she was walking on the path of Gandhi?”

This incident left a mark on the little girl. Kalpana Palkhiwala is now a retired employee of Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and her love and admiration for the Mahatma is strong as ever. The 62-year-old has created a project called BapuGeetika: Songs for the Mahatma, a musical featuring 108 poems on Mahatma Gandhi, written by 104 poets from across the country. These include poems of Rabindranath Tagore, Subramanya Bharathi, Subhadra Kumari Chauhan and Amrita Pritam.

The idea was to get the world to listen to relatively unknown songs on the father of the nation. “I was tired of the same old songs played on October 2 and January 30, every year,” says Kalpana.

The album features seven composers, including Uma Shankar Chandola, who had created the famous jingle ‘Chehre Ki Sundarta Ko Nikharta Hamam’. “He has also worked in Bollywood films and productions of National School of Drama. He is our chief guide,” says Kalpana.

The project has poems written in 14 Indian languages, including Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Urdu. It features even a 15th Century poem that was a favourite of Gandhi. “I chose poetry over songs because poets carry the mark of time in which they lived. They tell us about our roots and guide us in our march towards the future,” says Kalpana.

The poems are set to lilting, catchy melodies. “You need not be a trained singer to hum them,” assures Kalpana. “They are composed in sugam sangeet style, based on Hindustani, Carnatic and folk music traditions.”

Kalpana, who began her career as a newsreader in All India Radio, later moved into the publication division in the Ministry. It was here that she stumbled upon a book of poetry on Gandhi. That is when she got her idea about the compilation.

Kalpana took almost two decades to complete the project. She had to get permission from the families of the poet to use their poems. “It was a chance for me to explore different facets of the Mahatma. Some of the stories deply moved me .”

Kalpana wants to rescue Gandhi from tokenism. “We remember him only on national holidays. There is enough and more reason for us to celebrate him every day of the year. From getting pushed from a train in South Africa to the Salt Satyagraha march, every incident in his life is a lesson. ” Though Kalpana has found no sponsors for her project, she is undaunted.

“I plan to popularise the songs by taking them to schools and organising concerts. I hope to create little Gandhis across the country. The project is an effort to create leaders who will become agents of change tomorrow.”