Music of Jo Chaho Ujiyaar: Magic of Bhakti and Music

November 8, 2009

JCU Cover

Goswami Tulsidas has largely shaped the Hindu sensibilities of North India, if not of all Hindus. He was neither a guru, nor a sant, not even a preacher. He mingled with the masses. He wrote for the masses distilling the essence of Vedas and Upanishads in simple, common man’s language. His most popular work is Ramcharitmanas, the story of Ram. His other works are compiled in several books e.g. Vinay Patrika, Geetavali, Kavitavali. A copy of Ramcharitmanas is almost mandatory in a Hindi-speaking household. Tulsi’s writings are meant to be sung and they have indeed been so through the last four centuries throughout India and wherever the North Indian diaspora is; Mauritius, West Indies, Fiji and so on. They have also been made into commercial recordings, the famous one being Mukesh’ 5 CD set of Ramcharitmanas. D.V Paluskar, Kumar Gandharv, Bhimsen joshi, MS Subbulakshmi, Pt Jasraj, to name just a few of the illustrious line of singers , have sung Tulsidas’ works.

Another illustrious name in this series- though much younger than them- is Sanjeev Abhyankar. An exponent of the Mewati gharana and a disciple of Pt Jasraj.  Abhyankar underscored his talent pretty early in his career when he got the best playback singer award for his very first film song (in the movie “Godmother”) when he was barely 30 years old. His soft, melodious voice sometimes emerging depths of deep meditation and sometimes floating in the air weaving the listener in silken strands of melody has been enthralling listeners for the past few decades.

So, when Tulsidas and Sanjeev come together, the expectations are sky high.

And add to this heady mix, the famous director, poet, lyricist, Gulzar. What would you expect?

The rest of this piece is about the ensuing magic. Tulsidas is meant to be sung, I have mentioned this earlier. But I had not realized before I heard this compilation how musical- and magical- can musical be.

This album is a collection of the poet’s works taken from Ramcharitmanas, Vinay Patrika, Geetwali, Kavitavali etc. These were recorded for the play Jo Chaho Ujiyaar based on Tulsidas’ life, which was premiered recently. The music album has just been released by Times Music.

Gulzar’s introduction to Tulsidas kicks-off the CD. What follows is sheer bliss for the entire 72 minutes recording. It is a deeply researched work with selections popular and not-so-popular. Sure there is the ever-popular “Hanuman Chalisa”, but its vigorous rendition has perhaps been attempted for the first time. “Sri Ramchandra Kripalu Bhajuman” is there as well, and I have never heard a version suffused with so much bhakti, such utter surrender to Lord Ram. That stuti to Shiv, “Namami Shameeshan” is there too, but none has ever heard it similar to the two versions in this album. The serene one by Abhyankar and the vigorous- near violent- by an upcoming Lucknow based singer, Shobhit. Then there are those perennial favourite bhajans: “Tu dayalu deen hon”, and “Aiso ko udaar jag mahin”. Or this poignant piece when Ram’s mother laments his departure for vanwaas, “Ram, hon koun jatan”. And this mother’s lament sung in a male voice! See the play for the context.

There are other lesser known ones, mostly pieces from Ramcharitmanas which have been integrated into this selection. The title song, if I may call it thus, “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar”, embedded in the middle of the CD, plucked from the depths of Ramcharitmanas. In one of the initial songs, Mangal Karni, kalimal harni” Tulsidas talks about the importance of  Ram Katha in the welfare of people. And the one which comes towards the end of the CD (also the last doha from Ramcharitmanas), “Mo sam deen”. And of course my favourite- if one can have a favourite in this rich collection- “Ram Vivaah”. That magic of Abhyankar coupled with the shehnai pieces of the Lucknow-based Sahibe Aalam. I press the replay button over and over again to listen to this. And Sahibe Aalam’s  mesmeric shehnai comes back later too in “Sriram Chandra Kripalu Bhajuman”.

Hem Singh, a music director from Lucknow, probably makes his national debut with this album. Take a bow, Hem Singh ji. I am sure we will see a lot more from you in the coming years.

I am a lay reader and a lay music person. So do not expect any pithy comments on the nuances of music. I love listening to multiple genres of music. And Jo Chaho Ujiyaar is one of the best I have heard in recent years.

Go ahead, enjoy this classic album. You will love it.

And finally, a few personal disclosures.

  1. I have been privy to the making of this album, I have heard all the versions of the CD of this album- all the scratches.
  2. I have been privileged to have a copy of this album for the past 4-5 months, and have been listening it to it at least twice a day. Once while driving to work, and other while returning.
  3. The producer and the man behind this CD, Anshu Tandon, is a close friend of mine. And I have written about this play in multiple posts of mine. Here are the lnks: On the making of the music, my take on the play.
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Tulsidas and I

July 15, 2009

This is what the picture of Tulsidas at home somewhat looked like

My introduction to Tulsidas when I was a kid was rather unusual. It was not by his written word, but by a painting of his! This portrait of Tuslidas occupied a prominent place in our drawing room on a bookshelf teetering with a load of books. It showed Tulsidas sitting cross-legged on a round platform under a tree, writing away. It was a copybook portrait of any writer-saint. This would have otherwise been unnoticeable save for the fact that it would disappear once in while. It would get borrowed by others in our town to decorate the stage for their functions on Tulsi jayanti. Or other such activities. Apparently this old, black-framed painting of Tulsidas was the only one existing in town and was in much demand during the “season”. I discovered later that this portrait of Tulsidas was presented to Pitaji, my father, after one of his talks on the relevance of the poet in the modern context. The talk was given years ago. Pitaji, now long retired, was a professor of Hindi.

When I grew up a little more I noticed a fat book in Pitaji’s collection written by the subject of this portrait. A thick brown-cloth covered tome: Ramcharitmanas. The fonts used in this book were unusually large, alternating from very large to large. The big fonts had the original text in Avadhi while the smaller fonts explained the text in Hindi. The sub-head for this book was “Sachitra, sateek- mota type”, or illustrated, annotated and with large fonts. On occasions this book was taken out, opened reverentially, and parts of it read out aloud. I was told that this book was the fount of all wisdom.

As a kid I used to amuse myself with its unique “Shri Ramshalaka Prashnavali”. This was right in the beginning of the book. A grid of letters, like a pre-filled crossword. You were required to close you eyes, meditate on Lord Ram, think of the problem bugging you, and place you finger “blindly” on the alphabet grid. Then you open your eyes and trace your path ahead on the grid based on a particular “formula”. The combination of words you finally traced would spell out a choupai from Manas and this choupai would reveal your future! That was so much fun for us, kids!

I discovered later that this big fat large book also had a much smaller-sized version. While this version had the entire text of Ramcharitmanas, it was bereft of annotations and was in much smaller font. This version, called the “gutka” did not have the “Shalaka” grid. And, I think, there was an intermediate-sized version as well.

Little did I know that this “Book” would dominate much of what the North Indian Hindu society believed in. And for virtually every occasion there was a quote from Ramcharitmanas. Which was recited four times for ease of understanding! My father, for example, would recite an appropriate choupai from Ramcharitmanas in its original. Then he would repeat it this time breaking it up into small pieces, explaining the meaning of each piece. The third iteration was the full Hindi translation. And the closing version was the original one, the entire choupai all over again to round off this pithy lesson in human behaviour, or a salve to the sufferings or a solution to one’s problems in life. Like take this one:

“Jo vichar karihun man mahin

Prabhu pratap kachhu durlabh nahin.”

Round one would be a verbatim repeat of the choupai.

Then Round 2, the broken-up choupai with Hindi translation:

Jo vicharjaisa tum soch rahey ho, chahte ho, Pitaji would elaborate and also check whther I had understood or not. “Samjhey beta?

Karihum man mahin- jo tumhare mann mein hai. Pitaji would recheck,” theek hai na?”

Prabhu pratap- bhagwan ke parakram se.

Kachhu durlabh nahinsab kuchh mil jayeega; Pitaji would conclude. “To yeh hua matlab iska.”

“Phir suno”, he would say. Round 3 now:

“Jaisa tum chahate ho,jo  tumharey man mein hai, Bhagwan tumhein awashya dilayengey.” Pitaji would translate the full choupai together In Hindi.

“To yeh kaha hai Goswami Tulsidas ji ne, ab phir sey suno, beta“. And then he would repeat the original.

Round 4, to round up this homily.

“Jo vichar karihun man mahin

Prabhu pratap kachu durlabh nahin.”

And so on and so forth it went. Every elder in the large circle of family and friends had some choupai or the other to narrate, whatever be the issue involved. And we  kids would be agape with astonishment (and part due to our inability to absorb such a gem) with all this wisdom flowing in!

Sometimes I wonder if this four-time repetition is why this was called a choupai! I am joking, of course!!

*****

Like most traditional Hindu families, as I have mentioned earlier, ours too had the fat edition of Shri Ramcharitmanas in our pooja room. My mother, who hardly read any other printed matter would pull out the Book and read parts of it in her halting manner. Apparently, the ability to read Ramcharitmanas was a major qualification for a bride in the old days. As in the following example. The eligible bachelor’s mother would see a see a prospective bride in a temple or at a relative’s place. She would then convince her husband or her son (the eligible bachelor), “This girl is well-mannered (sushil), she can handle all household work (ghar key saarey kaam mein nipun hai), she can stitch and embroider (silayi-kadhai kar leti hai). And as a clincher, the propective mother-in-law would add, “Manas bhi baanch leti hai” (she can read ‘Manas- Ramcharitmanas- too). That would be the clincher. The ultimate sign those days of culture and literacy!

Hanuman Chalisa, that forty line ode to the power of Lord Hanuman is what any North Indian Hindu kid learns early, I was no exception. Pitaji taught each one of the words of this. He also added an interesting “historical” background to Hanuman Chalisa. He said that Tusidas had two kids (baalak) staying with him in his ashram. They were scared of darkness and ghosts. Tulsidas specially wrote Hanuman Chalisa for the benefit of these two kids and told them that regular recitation of this would keep evil spirits and harm away from them. (Bhoot-pishaach nikat nahin aawein, Mahavir jab naam sunawein). We kids were asked to follow the same advice. And indeed most of the Hindu populace across the globe still does.

My wife has placed a copy of Hanuman Chalisa in her pooja room, and she carries a copy in her purse when we are traveling. I am not a great believer in ritualized religion (I do not “pray” in the classical sense) but I do make it a point to listen to Hanuman Chalisa the first thing when I board my car to travel to work. A bonus is that I teach my kids whatever little I know of the story or Hanuman, and Ram and indeed Hinduism to my kids when I drop them in the mornings to their school on my way to work. Which also gives me an opportunity to teach them some advanced Hindi: like meaning of words like “Ram doot”, atulit, “sookhsham” and ‘roop” etc. My kids are habituated to it enough to ask the driver to play Hanuman Chalisa on their way to school even when I am traveling they. Though I am sure they would have also loved some rap or heavy metal music! (On my travels I play it on my laptop early mornings.)

There is something in Hanuman Chalisa which makes me a “believer”, so to speak. Hanuman I have faith in. Lord Ram has said that it suffices if one to think of (sumiran) Hanuman. The very thought of Hanuman is enough to propitiate Lord Ram himself. Hanuman, the all powerful, and the very epitome of devotion to Ram Himself!  And I think of Hanuman as someone who is with you in vanquishing all problems: “Sankat kate mitey har peera, japat nirantar Hanumat veera.”  No wonder then, that whenever I board my car driving to work in the morning I have Hanuman Chalisa playing in the car audio system. I could do with some divine intervention in the rough- and-tumble of my life!!

Besides Hanuman Chalisa, we were taught some more bhajans when we were kids. Meera, Surdas, Kabir and Tulsidas. But my most favourite was,“Shri Ramchandra Kripalu Bhajuman” fromVinay Patrika by Tulsidas. This was also the first bhajan all of us siblings got to learn. We would recite this in the evenings before we got to sleep. And sometimes as a demo of our singing skills to some important guests. I was considered to especially good at this. I would clasp my hands, close my eyes, and sing the bhajan at the top of my voice. Voice still a child’s, not broken yet. Some others bhajans we learnt were “Tu dayaalu deen hon, tu daani hon bhikhari”, “Koi Udaar Jag mahin” etc. “Tu dayaalu” was also a handy piece for cracking the elocution competitions at school!

*****

Here I am, decades later, sitting in Kamani theatre, Delhi, 6th July 2009, awaiting the screen to open for a play on Tulsidas. This is closest to the flesh and blood of Gosawmi Tulsidas I can come to. I see vividly his trials and tribulation, the struggles he had to go through. And what all he stood for. Tulsidas suddenly was not the writer of a famous book, but as someone who took on the dogma prevailing in his time and stood his ground. Never confronting, always reasoning. And always full of bhakti towards Ram.

I shall not tell more about it, I have said my piece in an earlier post just after I saw the play.

Anshu Tandon has done an immense service to those like me who thought they knew it all given their north Indian background. Now I do know what the idea of Tulsidas was!

(This post was inspired by a reader’s comment on an earlier post of mine, my take on Anshu’s play, “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar”. Thank you so much, dear reader. You were so perceptive and generous with your comments  too. And I do not even know you! Thanks you so much!)

PS: You will discover a lot more about Goswami Tulsidas and Anshu’s play on the play’s website: www.jcu.co.in


Jo Chaho Ujiyaar: A Triumph of Bhakti… and Reason

July 11, 2009
Tulsidas reasoning with the mahants

Tulsidas reasoning with the mahants

The lights dim, a hush falls over the audience and the distinctive voice of Gulzar comes on the auditorium loudspeakers. Starting with a quotation from anachronistically- in a play about the 16th century Tulsidas- the great Russian writer Maxim Gorky. “There are very few good things on earth. What is good is to think about doing good things.” Or something to the effect.

When the curtain opens to “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar” I am struck by the elegance of the stage design. A large and deep stage split into three parts, the area on the left a hut, mostly Tulsidas’ residence, the section on the right a raised platform under the shade of a tree which alternately serves as a public meeting place in  a village; a chaupal, a dalaan, a worship place even as we discover through the course of the play. And the central portion, steps leading on to a large platform representing alternately Varanasi town or the famed ghats of Varanasi. Clean and dramatic, that set design.

One would have expected Tulsidas to enter early in the play, but all we see in the beginning are villagers and their struggles and vicissitudes in life. This quickly establishes the status of the exploited common villager. Very critical to the development of the idea that was Tulsidas. More about that later. The entry of Tulsidas happens a little later, so well conceived. The stage dark, a glow of golden-yellow spot on Tulsidas standing on the central platform. With the song “Bar dant ki pangati” playing in the background. The young Tulsidas ready to unleash his magic on the world.

What follows are the conflicts he has to face. The mahants of Kashi thunder as to how he could do the blasphemous act of narrating the story of Shri Ram in the commoners’ language! The hidden sub-text is that Tulsidas is taking away their command over the populace by narrating the scriptures not in Sanskrit but in Avadhi, the common village householders’ language. And there is also a sub-sub text to the clash between the Kashi mahants, who are traditionally Shaivites (Shiv Bhakts) with the Vaishnavites, the Ram bhakt followers of Tulsidas.

Multiple intrigues and sub-plots later, the denoument is reached with the arrival of then Delhi emperor’s- Akbar’s- emissary who congratulates Tulsidas for spreading religiosity among the people. He also presents him a boxful of “Ram-Siya” coins which Akbar has specially minted to express his solidarity with Tulsidas’ mission.

What some may miss out on in this intricately woven story is the relationship which Tulsidas shares with the two most influential persons in his life- both women- one his mother and the other his wife. The mother appears on stage only in flashbacks. The relationship between the mother and the son is tender and loving. The background score of “Ram, haun kaun jatan ghar rahihon” when Tulsidas is conversing with his -now deceased- mother is so poignant that can not help but cry. And the beauty is that the roles of the son and the mother are reversed when the scene is being enacted. The son become the mother and vice versa.

Ratna counselling Tulsidas

Ratna counselling Tulsidas

That Ratna, Tulsidas’ wife, was a strong influence in the poet’s life is very strongly established. In a quirk of fate, the young Ratna is her husband’s soulmate only for a few years. Her demise is fleetingly indicated in a touching scene when Tulsidas is told that she may have drowned while trying to cross the river in a stormy monsoon flood. Ratna was on her way to her maika, to celebrate the saawan month. But even in this relatively short period she has had a telling influence on the course of Tulsidas’ life. Ratna’s ghost appears some thirty years or so later, to reassure the reformer Tulsidas’ that his chosen path in life is correct. The parting of Tulsidas and the ghost of Ratna is very touching. Very inspirational for Tulsidas as she exhorts him to carry on his mission of taking the scriptures, and indeed the Hindu way of life, to the masses. To the grihasth, the common householder.

And all this grand action is highlighted by the most wonderful Tulsi sangeet you would ever hear. Some of the best pieces of Tulsidas have been selected, right from the “title song”, “Ram naam mani deep dharoon…… jo chaahas ujiyaar” from Ramcharitmanas, to stanzas from his other celebrated works like Vinay Patrika, Geetavali, Kavitavali. Tulsi “pads” like “Tu dayalu deen haun”, “Kou udaar jag mahin”. Hanuman chalisa is there of course. And his famous stuti to Shiv, “Namami Shamishaan”. Namami has been composed to a pulsating, nearly war-like beat which I had never heard before. In fact I have even heard a version in a recent film called “Dharm” which is sung as a lullaby! But in the context in which this is used (the confrontation between the mahants and Tulsidas) in the play, it seems to be most apt. . Ditto with Hanuman Chalisa. Very different compared with the various versions I have heard. And many, many more songs. Folk songs, mantras, even an old recorded piece of Kumar Gandharv. And yet another recorded dhrupad of Gundecha brothers.

The songs are sung by none other than the celebrated Pune-based Hindustani classical vocalist Sanjeev Abhyankar, the one who received the national award for the best playback singer for his very first Hindi film song way back in 1998. A voice of someone who is in complete control of the octaves, a voice suffused with supreme devotion. And guess what this great singer told in the press conference! He said that all the credit for the success of this music should go to Anshu (the man behind this project), as it is his passion which shows up in the final music. What humility on part of this great singer!

This music is superbly composed by the music director, Hem Singh, who is little known outside the Lucknow circles. But this gentleman has done a wonderful job. I met him before the play and complemented him on his work. I told him what I felt, “kaljayi kriti”, a work which transcends time.

And the celebrated sound designer, K.J. Singh? I have no competence to judge, or even figure out, what he has done. But I do know that he has put together one of the best musical compositions ever. And this jolly sardar from Mumbai, the guy who too is a national award winner for his sound engineering for Omkaraa a few years ago, was confabulating with the auditorium sound guy till the last minute before the play started. Giving them appropriate suggestions, I suppose. And KJ also took Anshu’s family, and me as a hanger-on, for a late, late dinner that evening. Chatting with Anshu all the while as to what all he needs to do before the next staging.

Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha

Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha

And in this thing about great music it would be naive to forget about the performances given by the actors. That the actor who plays Tuslidas, Varun Tamta, has entered the soul of his character is undoubted. The effortless ease with which he straddles the stage playing a 30-year old Tulsidas in act one and then in act two, Tulsidas at 60 years and beyond is enthralling. Tulsidas narrating Ramkatha to the common men in one scene, reasoning with his detractors in the other, a husband in the third and a son in another. The pains and struggles of Tulsidas, and his innate humanness, all reflects so clearly on the actor’s face and movements. The strong counterfoil to Tulsidas is his young wife, Ratna, played by Manisha. A simple village girl with a mind of her own. And an ability to engage someone of the stature of Tulsidas as an equal. Strong, yet loving. The tenderness of the relationship is well brought out by the director.

The director duo of Parijat Nagar and Suresh Lahri have put this large cast together to weave an altogether enthralling story. A story which seems very relevant even today. The story of reason versus religious bigotry. A story of the voice of sanity among the cacophony of maniacal cries.

What about the man behind the show, Anshu Tandon himself? Well, he was seated between his wife and I, and “enjoying” the show. He was hoping I would not notice his tears, as I hoped he would not notice mine. We both kept our hankies ready, but at strategic distances from our respective eyes.

And Mr M Gorky? Well, his words were prophetic. True, there are indeed very few things good on earth. At the risk of sounding dramatic, I must say Jo Chaho Ujiyaar is one such. And Anshu is one guy, who keeps thinking about good things, and sometimes doing some great things.

Take a bow Anshu!

PS: 21st Jan 2010.

Anshu has posted a “trailer” on You Tube. Here is the link:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BcEpmkLZXLw


Passion Play

June 21, 2009
Jo Chaho Ujiyaar!

Jo Chaho Ujiyaar!

This is a story of how sheer passion can do something seemingly impossible. Passion backed by a lot of hard work and some luck too. This is the story of how a germ of an idea nurtured over years- dormant but never inactive- is about to bloom very shortly in a manner and style not originally conceived. This is the story of my dear friend, Anshu Tandon’s dream.

Anshu- my engineering college batchmate- and I, go back a long way, 28 years to be precise. He was always known to be a sensitive thinker. Quiet and deeply reflective in nature and given to long bouts of distant silences. And this was packaged in a startling contradictory body, the body of a tough football stopper! Which he was for his football team.  Anshu and I had some common interests, including Hindi literature and dramatics. He was associated with the plays I directed in the campus, he had even acted in two of them. A man with eclectic interests (Renaissance man?), he could discuss any topic under the sun with authority and an original point of view. Talk football, US politics, Hindu caste system, quantum physics, whatever. He even wrote a commentary on one of the Upanishads which he sent to my father and had discussions with him on that. (My father, a scholar, was impressed)

A Lucknowi by birth and residence, Anshu qualified as a chemical engineer and went back to his family business of Lucknow chikan. He, over time, has dabbled in fields as diverse as software (he even bought a software company once) and Islam! His wife once complained to me that he would stay up nights reading Islamic literature and watching “Q TV”. That is Anshu, picking up esoteric ideas, toying with them and then discarding them once he was bored and something new came along. Rarely getting something to fruition. Intellectual curiosity satisfied, he would move on to his next hobby horse. This trait of Anshu’s would bug me no end, but our friendship grew over time and Anshu is one of the rare engineering classmates of mine whom I am in regular touch with.

One day, a few years ago, he called me up and mentioned his new area of interest, Tulsidas. He discussed his obsession about this saint-poet of the 16th century and discussed with me his view-point on the influence of Tulsidas on the Hindu society of North India. And how, if Tulsidas was not there, Hanuman would not have been as popular known and worshipped as He is now. “Another hobby horse”, I thought to myself, “this too shall pass”. In any case Tulsidas is not something I am awfully informed about though I do listen to CDs of Ramcharitmanas and other works of the poet. And “Hanuman Chalisa” is my regular listening choice. I heard Anshu out.

Another call, a few weeks later.

“Santosh, I want to do a play on Tulsidas”

“Umm… Uhhh..!”

“I am serious!”

“Sure, you must, go ahead”, I indulged him.

“But I do not have a script.”

“That is an issue”, I agreed.

“So why don’t you ask Mr So-and-so to write one for me”.

Mr so-and-so is a renowned expert on the Indian epics and a very popular Hindi novelist. His fictionalized versions of Ramayan and Mahabharat published years ago are still best-sellers. I know him because he was my father’s student in Jamshedpur in his under-graduation days. He is one person I have tremendous respect and regards for. And I stay in regular touch with him. He is the one who helped me out at various points when I was getting my father’s works published.

I sheepishly called him one evening and true to my suspicion he politely refused this request.

Anshu’s dream project did not get derailed. He got a local Lucknow dramatist onto the project. The story and idea were Anshu’s, the dramatist wrote the script. This went on for several months. Once, when I was on a business trip to Lucknow , Anshu invited the dramatist to meet me. Pandey ji, the dramatist, narrated the entire script to me which I patiently listened to. I was no expert on matters-Tulsidas. They- Anshu and Pandey ji– drifted off to some complicated discussions on the nuances of daily life of the rustic folks of the Tulsidas era. Till I donned my manager’s hat and popped the question, “When is this play being staged?”

Ah, they had never thought of that before! Actually staging the play! I gave them a “target” 8 weeks hence. And that was September 2008.

Of course, this “deadline” was not met!

Another one of Anshu’s ideas lost in the “intellectual pursuit” rigmarole, I thought to myself.

Another call one evening:

Anshu:” A play on Tulsidas has to have some songs.”

“Sure”, I agreed.

“In fact a play on Tulsidas without songs is no play at all.”

“Sure”, I could not agree more.

“And Tulsidas deserves nothing but the best.”

“Sure”, I continued like a broken record.

“I have Sanjeev Abhyankar’s voice as Tulsi’s voice in my mind.”

“Ah”, Anshu’s grandiose plans, I thought to myself.

“And some songs from Chhannulal Mishra too, for the Eastern UP touch.” Anshu continued with his wish list.

This guy is again going nuts, I was sure.

A few days later:

“I may get hold of great vocalists, but the sound engineering has to be great.”

“Sure”

“The album has to sound professional, world class!”

“Sure”

“I can’t think of any one better than the guy who does the job for A. R. Rahman.”

My jaws dropped, “Anshu, have you figured out how you will get even the contact phone numbers of Sanjeev A. and Chhannulal M.? Maybe you can locate Mishra ji as he is based in Varanasi, but Sanjeev Abhyankar in Pune?ARR’s sound engineer is a bit too far away”

“No idea, but that’s what I want.”, said Anshu, “And AR Rahman’s man is the man for me!” Anshu’s voice had a finality.

“OK, all the best. Let me know when you get hold of these luminaries.” I was getting more and more sceptical. And irritated by this grand planning. Foolish waste of time, I thought to myself.

A series of calls over the next few weeks.

“Chhannulal ji has agreed to sing for my play.”

“But how did you manage that?”

Bas aise hi, zara saa, mulaqat ho gayi

Aisey hi”, “zara saa”. Anshu’s Lucknow-ese always bugs me no end.

“What “aisey hi”, what “zara saa”?”

I was chatting with Mahantji of Sankatmochan Mandir in Varanasi and Chhannulal ji dropped by. You see, he teaches Mahantji music.”

“Who Mahantji?” I was irked.

“Mishra ji is the Mahant of Sankatmochan Mandir”, Anshu was unruffled.

The penny dropped. The Pandit Veerbhadra Mishra ji. The Mahant of Sankatmochan Mandir, the founder of the world famous “Swachh Ganga Abhiyaan”. And, incidentally, the head of the Civil Engineering department IT-BHU when I was a student there.

“Ah, Mishra ji! That’s a great stroke of luck!” I conceded.

Bilkul”, Anshu’s voice sounded excited, very unlike Anshu!

A few days later:

“Mishra ji will not sing for my play.”

“Why?”

He thinks it is beneath his dignity to sing for a novice’s play.”

“Oh, then?”

“Never mind, we shall find someone else. And anyway, my star singer is Sanjeev Abhyankar. Sanjeev is my voice of Tulsidas. Vaani Tulsi.” Anshu sounded matter-of-fact.

“Anshu, forget about this project. Maybe you should publish the script in a book form and do away with this idea of staging the play, and the music .”

Ab dekhengey.”, a typical Anshu response!

“ Santosh, I have just spoken with Sanjeev. He has agreed.”

“Sanjeev, who? I asked.

“Sanjeev, Sanjeev Abhyankar.” Anshu intoned.

It took a while for the penny to drop. The great Sanjeev A.!  I had always been a fan of his.

Then a progression of calls over the following weeks:

“K. J. Singh is on board.”

“Who K. J. Singh?”

Arey, wohi. K.J.

Kaun saa K.J.?

“K.J., woh jo, AR Rahman ka sangeet karta hai.”

Goodness, this was becoming serious now. The KJ Singh whose name you would see on the AR Rahman’s music CDs. Think Rang de Basanti, Guru, Jaane Tu…, Ghajini, etc. He has also done Omkaara for which he got the Filmfare award.

Naseer ko mail kiya tha, he should reply by tomorrow.”

“Naseer who?”

Wohi woh, Naseer, Naseeruddin Shah.”

The Shah himself!

“Naseer, why? What for? He does not sing!”

“I know that. He does not sing. But I do need a voice-over to introduce the play. A voice-over from a credible, serious, nationally-known personality.”

Made sense to me, to have a voice-over.

“Naseer ka jawaab nahin aaya.”

“Anshu, forget about him. Anyway, you have two big names. Sanjeev and K.J.”

“No, no! I do need someone special to introduce the play and the CD.”

“All the best.”

“Santosh, Gulzar ko mail kiya hai. His secretary called, asking me for the amount I can pay. I have quoted a price and let us wait and watch. My project is good, maybe he will say yes. But the honorarium could be an issue.”

“Let us keep our fingers crossed.” I tried to sound encouraging. The sum quoted to Gulzar by Anshu was ludicrously low. Man! No Gulzar at this price. The Gulzar sahab!! The multiple award winning poet, film editor, director. Think Koshish, Aandhi, Kinara, Kitaab and Maachis. No way!

“Santosh, price was an issue with Gulzar sahab.” Anshu’s deadpan voice on the phone as I was returning home late in the evening after a long- and difficult- day at work.

“Now Anshu, forget about celebrities like Gulzar and get on with the project.” I snapped back at him.

Nahin.”

“What nahin?”  I was big-time irritated by now.

“ Money was the issue. Gulzar sahab just spoke with me and said that for this project, he does not want any fee. He will do it gratis!” Anshu was as dead-pan as ever!

“Uh.. uh…” was my incredulous- and downright silly- response.

The next few weeks were in a blur for Anshu. Recording the “scratch” of the album in Lucknow with the locally famous music director Hem Singh. Sending the scratch to Sanjeev A.  in Pune. Travelling to Pune for S. A.’s recording. Then to Mumbai for recording strains of instrumentals to go with the songs. Back to Lucknow to get some more strains done, sitar, shehnai etc. Then again to Mumbai to get this all pieced together by KJ Singh. Lucknow again for some more sounds then back again to Mumbai for recording Gulzar’s voice-over. In between Anshu traveled to Bangalore too. For more mundane stuff like getting his son admitted to a course in Christ College, Bangalore. And he then gave me the first-cut of the album. Complete with Sanjeev Abhyankar’s supple and entrancing vocals., Gulzar’s baritone, and KJ’s wizardry.

Theek aaya hai, zara sun lo.” Typical understatement from Anshu. In his Lucknow drawl, “theek” and “hai” stretched longer than what is usual.

Suno, I did. For the next 5 hours on my Jamo home theatre system.

My teenaged kids would term this as getting “blown over”. I was blown, big-time blown!

As I confessed earlier, I am a die-hard fan of Sanjeev Abhyankar, specially his bhajans and shlokas. And I have Tulsidas poetry in multiple CDs sung by multiple singers. Right from Kumar Gandharv, to Jagjit Singh to the popular Mukesh’ version of Ramcharitmanas. I even have Tulsidas’ works in my book collection; Geeta Press, Gorakhpur’s imprints of Ramcharitmanas, Vinay Patrika, Geetavali etc.

I had tears rolling down all over my cheeks by the time I was done with the CD. The fusion of Sanjeev Abhyankar’s voice and Tulsidas poetry never sounded this sublime!

PS 1: This was my take on the preparation for this musical project of Anshu’s. And it has dwelt primarily on the musical component. My next piece will be my- a layman’s- view of the album. And the third piece will be on the preparations for the play itself.

PS 2: This Play, called “Jo Chaho Ujiyaar”, is getting premiered on 6th July 2009 at Kamani Auditorium, Delhi. Those of you who wish to attend this may mail me for invitation cards.

santoshojha@gmail.com