PANDIT JASRAJ : 1930 - 2020

Classical Indian vocalist of the Mewati gharana passed away on August 17. His career spanned some 80 years and his voice brought a touch of divinity to mortal ears.

In 1974, my father pulled a surprise and took the family to our first concert. Stages in those days had few lights.

But in the middle sat Jasraj, affable and jocular, conversing freely with the audience as if they were his friends. I remember him as iridescent. I was just learning Raag Yaaman, and in a coincidence that children are prone to consider magical, Jasrag sang it too on that day.

Even for vocalist of such renown, a word that must be repeated to describe Jasraj's unique voice is  ''sweet.'' His renditions were pleasing to the ear, that was the simple truth.

I went on to study Hindustani classical with a singular passion, picking up the flute along the way.

By the time I watched Jasrag live again, it was 1983. A lot had changed.

My father had lost his wife, my mother. i was 18 and the concert was at the Netaji Indoor Stadium in Kolkata. Back then, the Bengali government would organize four day music festivals that would continue till midnight. Jasraj was the main draw of the day and performed last.

This would be my first brush with an artist's temperament. Usually, musicians make a brief announcement of what they would sing. He didn't and instead stared fixedly at a point on stage while the musicians checked the sound.

It was quite late and I had been meaning to leave. Then, suddenly, he broke into song. First was Raag Bhim Palashree. But he ended it soon and without a single word, began chanting the ancient syllable, 'Om,'  I stood near the door thinking, ''Let me hear this for five more minutes, and then I will leave.''

For the next hour, with just one syllable, Jasraj travelled at maddening pace through a maze of influences, fusing styles, merging elements and making no bones of the fact that little mattered to him that night other than his own artistic satisfaction.

Yet for all the vocal fireworks, the chant retained its sublime essence throughout , reviewing itself for the audience each time, yet smoothly travelling through the whole range of all that the Mewati gharana held sacred. I stood near the door the whole hour, transfixed and unable to make any real attempt to exit.

But I did know that I witnessed the work of a singular devotee. White hair billowing around him, with no attention to give to a gaping audience, Jasraj on stage that day took the form of the saint that he is.

His voice was enormous, so enormous that it filled spaces as small as my childhood home with hope. And now the saint has returned to his ashram.

The World Students Society thanks author Debasree Sarkar, a gold medallist of the Bengali Music College.


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