MEET Songs of balladeers Ganesh Jogi and wife Tejuben Jogi complement and contrast with their paintings

Their voices rise strong and clear. The open setting of the Kalakshetra is appropriate for these traditional folk singers whose forefathers wandered through the villages of Rajasthan rendering devotional songs. But Ganesh Jogi and his wife Tejuben Jogi are much more than itinerant singers. The couple has reinvented itself brilliantly to suit changing times and the demands of an urban sensibility. Theirs is a unique combination, of expertise in full-throated singing and intricately-executed painting.

Composed and serene

The balladeers sit on the grounds of the Kalakshetra as composed and serene as they would under the banyan tree in their village — he in his bright turban and she in her sunflower yellow ghagra, bringing a colourful note of Western India to the visitors of the Datskari Haat. The crafts fair was held recently by the Dastkari Haat, in collaboration with Kalakshetra Foundation.

Their songs are in full-hearted praise of Ram and Krishna, of local saints and deities, bhajans of Kabir and Meera — songs ranging from five minutes to one hour. Resounding through the balmy air, they tug at the senses. The paintings in neat piles beside them complement and contrast with their songs. Wonderful pen-and-ink drawings, modern visual poems in black and white. City scenes — traffic and high-rise buildings; jungle scenes — stylised leopards and foxes; village scenes — huts clustered close, and men and women doing agricultural work; and fine autobiographical scenes — Ganesh with his friends in the village, distributing sweets when his son was born; foreigners taking pictures of him as he sings in the city.

“These are dot paintings. Haku Shah taught me to paint,” says Ganesh. He narrates the story of the meeting with the artist, writer and anthropologist in a few short sentences and scenes.

“My village Magriwala on the Rajasthan-Gujarat border was affected by drought. So, I went to Mount Abu, and then to Ahmedabad in search of work. I wandered through the streets singing. I happened to go to Haku Saab's office. I was singing outside the building when he called me. He later taught me to paint. I taught my wife to paint and sing, though singing is not traditionally practised by women in our caste.” “All our six children sing and paint,” adds Tejuben.

So is this their means of livelihood too? “They paint and sing, but not as much as we do,” she replies. Why not? “Because it did not bring them the same recognition,” she says with endearing honesty. Her maternal instinct takes over. She pulls out a piece and says with pride: “This is by my 19-year-old daughter, and this by my second son.” It can take 15 days to a month to complete a painting.

“In our village, we traditionally do paintings on the walls of houses. During weddings and Deepavali, we paint afresh — trees, flowers, birds, Nature in all her fertility.”

Life's good

Ganesh now teaches art in schools in Maharshtra and Gujarat. “I met Jaya Jaitly memsaab,and she invited me to Dastkari Haat in Delhi,” he says. “Now I participate in melas, and sales are good.”

Art is addictive. “We paint and sing all day long. We no longer want to do kheti bari (agricultural work),” smiles Tejuben. He picks up the sarangi (“we call it Ravana hattha”), and begins to sing. She joins in, and they are lost to the world.

(The couple and Aruna Sairam gave a delightful performance at the Kalakshetra — in contrasting styles.)

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