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Friday, August 19, 2022

What Pandit Jasraj taught us about becoming one with the divine

The iconic vocalist made his music a prayer to the god that resides in all life

Suvir Saran, Slice of Life, Pandit Jasraj, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express newsRace, religion, gender, caste and colour did not matter to the legendary maestro.

Marina Ahmad, one of the seven students of Pandit Jasraj whom he considered his fondest and closest of chelas (disciples), is a proud New Yorker. She also maintains homes in Mumbai and Dhaka. A nomad at heart, she travels the world without fear and at the drop of a hat. She brings India, Pandit Jasraj and his peerless, soul-stirring music with her wherever she lands. Music so pure and rich, it heals and inspires most deeply.

Marina was born to Faqueer Shahabuddin Ahmad and Ayesha Akhtar of Dhaka. Ahmad was the first attorney general of Bangladesh. Ayesha was his wife and mother of their seven children. Music was in their blood, but law was the ancestral vocation followed with pride. Even so, Marina was encouraged from a young age to explore and professionalise her singing.

After learning from the best exponents of Hindustani classical music in Bangladesh, Marina was in need of richer tutelage. Barely 17, she found herself in Delhi at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, adopted by the most generous and talented Bhaiji, aka Vinay Chandra Maudgalya, as his Bengali daughter. With Bhaiji as her guardian and teacher, Marina became more proficient with the layered sophistication needed in the understanding and rendition of North Indian classical music.

At 22, Marina became mother to Hamza Khan, and, with him, she moved with indomitable aspirations to Mumbai. After a performance where he had left all in the audience spellbound, Pandit Jasraj happened to meet Bhaiji and Marina in the elevator. Bhaiji was quick to see in Marina’s eyes and body language a hunger to become a shagird (disciple) of the great maestro. Arrangements were made and the new mother moved to India’s financial capital and set up house close to Panditji’s home.

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Marina’s apartment was only an address anchoring her to Mumbai. It was at the Jasraj residence, alongside six other fulltime and other visiting students, serving the guru and following his lead on life and living, that mother and son found comfort. In cooking, cleaning and providing for the guru, Marina and her fellow students found tutelage as ancient and pure as India itself. Hours and days would pass and the guru would teach through his example of reacting to the daily motions of life. Music wasn’t merely taught through notes but revealed in the behaviour and choices that the master made.

Suvir Saran, Slice of Life, Pandit Jasraj, eye 2020, sunday eye, indian express, indian express news Hinduism was what Pandit Jasraj was born into. But the faith of his birth did not cage his mind, body and spirit. His songs sung in praise of Allah were as popularly received as those in praise of Krishna.

Hinduism was what Pandit Jasraj was born into. But the faith of his birth did not cage his mind, body and spirit. His songs sung in praise of Allah were as popularly received as those in praise of Krishna. On his neck he wore pendants of rudraksha beads, Krishna, Om, Ayatul Kursi and many more. He teased Marina often that Krishna was giving comforting cover to Allah or vice-versa, and, with that imagery taught her and the others the oneness of the divine. Race, religion, gender, caste and colour didn’t matter to the legendary maestro. He chased passion and perseverance in his students. He valued their hunger for knowledge and growth. He respected their desire to be one with the world and their surroundings, training them to be one with the times also, so as to keep their art relevant. As he became grandpa again to Rishabh, Marina’s second son, he showed curiosity, youth and vigour that was boundless in its generosity. He showed through example that supreme talent is a result of emptying oneself of ego and performing with the sole desire of becoming one with the divine.

Men are mortal, but those with grace, talent and a large heart like Panditji, become immortal through their actions and legacy. How lucky for us that every corner of the world was blessed with his music. He ensured a warm welcome for them in the most remote parts.

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When I heard of Panditji’s passing, I was shaken to my core. My mind and heart were most concerned for Marina, even as I made peace with the fact that the fraternity of Indian musicians had lost one of their most iconic vocalists. A man who, through his music and way of thinking and living had brought, for many of us, divinity right in our midst. Having had the privilege of seeing him perform at Marina’s home in New York often, I observed scores of people reluctant to end the night. Everyone wanted encore after encore, each person feeling as if god had somehow magically arrived in Marina’s living room, performing for us mortals, and, in doing so, blessed our lives with energy and hope. Every time I heard Panditji perform, I would find my soul thanking me for having fed it food it was yearning.

Panditji leaves a vacuum that will never be filled. The notes he reached and touched, the way he caressed the divinity of his voice, and how he made his music a prayer to the god that resides in all life — make him a man who will continue to live even as his body leaves us. As I bid him farewell, I salute his disciple Marina, my guru, and bow to her for having risen beyond mortal materialism. For having turned her good luck in being his student into greater good luck for the rest of us who call her our teacher; who can now hear Pandit Jasraj in her soulful singing and inspiring presence.

(Suvir Saran is a chef, author, educator and world traveller)

First published on: 23-08-2020 at 06:55:07 am
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