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Jai ho! Jasraj

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Ragas, his life Pandit Jasraj
Ragas, his life Pandit Jasraj

Pandit Jasraj reveals fascinating but little-known facts about himself in a freewheeling chat with PRIYADERSHINI S.

‘Jai ho’ is how Pandit Jasraj greets everybody he meets. It is the spiritual in the music that suffuses him now. His Krishna, he claims, is seen even by his listeners, as Shahryar Khan, former manager of the Pakistan Cricket Board once told him. “When I sang in front of the differently-abled children of Raksha school in Kochi, the restless group grew calm. After the song, somebody caught my shoulders from behind and said, “I saw your Krishna while you sang.” That was Shahryar Khan.” Though he is now a spiritual musician, Panditji was once a man of the world, an aspiring musician, an ardent husband and a young father.

Here are excerpts from an interview that reveal interesting but little-known aspects of his life.

On his marriage to film doyen V. Shantaram’s daughter

I wanted to be a musician in V. Shantaram’s company. I wanted to work with him. Madhura, his daughter, was introduced to me during the making of Jhanak Jhanak Payal Baje. She said she had not heard me sing, but had heard of me. Then she offered to drop me back every night after an ongoing concert. But it was in 1960 that we grew close. I needed a ‘dholak’ for a song session I phoned her and she arrived with the ‘dholak’. That was when the idea of marriage occurred. When Madhura told her father about it, he said he wanted to hear me sing. He liked what he heard but was not satisfied; so he sent his secretary to talk to me.

The secretary asked me about my salary which was Rs.250. I was a freelance artiste with AIR, getting Rs.75 for a performance. The secretary asked me whether the pay would increase. ‘It can also go down,’ I told him.

Shantaram seemed impressed with my honesty but still a person was sent to Kolkata to check my background out thoroughly. He was satisfied and we got married in 1962.

On father-in-law

We lived in a small, dilapidated house in Kolkata; so when I learnt that Shantaramji was coming to Kolkata for the release of a film with his friend, I asked his daughter (my wife) what her father would think of our home and whether he would visit us for a meal. She said all this was immaterial to her father. They came home and during lunch which was very good, he told his friend, ‘Do you remember the days when we passed through such times?’ That said it all. Shantaram had put me at ease for, in that one sentence he made it known that even he had struggled to make it big. On being a parent

The kids were raised by my wife. I was busy establishing my career. My son Shaarang Dev is an established music director and my daughter Durga is very versatile. She sings very well.

On music therapy

Music has great power to change human emotions. If a musician knows that you are in a sorrowful mood, he can take you out of it. But he can do so only if you are someone who enjoys music. There was a great tabla player, a nawab. But he never liked Raag Malkaus. It used to give him a headache. This is what we call chemistry. Sing Raag Durbari and it will calm you and relieve your pain. We have done this at a Pune hospital with great success. Raag Natt Narayan can calm even a violent person.

On the guru-sishya tradition in the present times

In the olden days, there was the ashram pranali. A guru would take on a student who would work in his household, sweep, swab and do the dishes. Then one fine day the guru would notice that the lad was enjoying his riyaaz and would ask him to join him and sit beside him. Nowadays, students are already half musicians with so much exposure to music thanks to television and radio. There is no decline in the guru-sishya system. My students wash my feet. How can I say that guru puja is not practised?

On new music

It exists and does not in any way trouble our music. Bollywood has been there for a long time. Before Bollywood, there was drama and before that ‘nautanki’. All this is for the common man. TV is a very good medium. There is recognition for all musicians.

On reality shows

They lack strength.

Indian Idol

No, it’s not good because the result is determined by SMSes. Contestants who are not so talented may win because of this. If they have such a system then they should give the judges veto power so that only the talented win and not those who are popularly voted through SMS. Sonu Nigam’s ‘Sa re ga ma’ was really good.

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