Kamani auditorium is perhaps the only ‘temple’ I visited in Delhi during my five-year long stay in the city as a student. Temple, because that was the place where my head bowed down almost effortlessly.
It was October 2016, a time of the year when the internal assessment schedule hovers over every Delhi University student. I took an arduous Political Philosophy test till 5 pm, escaped the post-test reflections outside the classroom and took a metro from the nearby Vishwavidyalaya station to Mandi House.
I was on my way to see the eminent Indian classical musician Pandit Jasraj perform live. The Delhi government had organised its annual Delhi Classical Music Festival at Kamini auditorium. Luckily, I had a friend equally interested in exploring classical music who had already reserved a spot for me well before the concert was to start.
During the 20-minute metro journey, I was reminded of my early encounters, if I may say so, with Pandit Jasraj. I was probably in Class 6 in Indore, where my parents had taken me to listen to him perform in a huge open stadium. Till then, the only thing I enjoyed about classical music, like any other child that age, was to see the hand and bodily gestures of the performer, coupled with their expressions.
However, over the course of the performance, boredom crept in, and I started taking rounds of the venue and eventually forced my parents to leave the concert mid-way.
Ten years down the lane, here I was, ready to dive into a concert I had once left mid-way. Certainly, my world had changed. As I entered the venue, I saw a packed auditorium. The organisers were kind enough to accommodate the audience even on the stage, leaving vacant only an elevated area from where the magic would unfold in a short bit.
The stage was so full that the performers had to manoeuvre their way towards the platform. Once all the accompanying artists had taken their places, Pandit Jasraj entered, struggling to make his way towards the stage. Soon, he stood well at the centre of it, both his arms raised towards the sky, blessing everyone in the audience with his trademark, “Jai Ho”. The crowd could not resist giving him an applause and a standing ovation.
Even before he began his performance, the crowd had surrendered to him.
Pandit Jasraj began his performance with ‘Raga Jaijaiwanti’ that evening, a Raga I was listening to for the first time. The line that spoke the most to me was “Bipada hai moh pe ati bhari”, which was followed by an elongated “Sargam” – a string of musical notes. It pierced my heart like a searing arrow, and at the very next moment it provided me with much-needed solace.
Within seconds, he took me on a deeply emotional journey to the unknown, to a place I never know existed if not for him. As he finished his rendition of ‘Raga Jaijaiwanti’, I was back in my seat.
Because of age, it was evident that his voice was trying to match his musical imagination; he was cleaning his throat more often than he used to, and perhaps it took him more toil to reach the crescendo. But the “Bhava” (emotion), is what he conveyed effortlessly.
That evening, I walked with him through his struggles, only to realise that they were mine as well. But with the very next movement, his silken voice would take him to a place where he wanted to be, a smile would brighten his face, and he would look back at his students, indicating to them to take over from where he left off while he prepared himself for yet another challenge, yet another “taan” – a unique style of singing a string of musical notes at a faster pace in comparison to the original tempo.
Since then, Kamani auditorium has been a sacred place for an agnostic like me.
On my way back home that night, a gloomy thought hit me. Pandit Jasraj was already 86, so perhaps I would not get an opportunity to seem him perform live again. I knew the journey we embarked on together that evening would be with me forever, but unlike the ragas he immortalised, humans are mortal.
On August 17, 2020, Pandit Jasraj passed away.
Ajinkya Mujumdar is a Young India Fellow at Ashoka University, and a former employee of I-PAC.
Featured image credit: YouTube screengrab