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Power of Music


After a friendly table tennis match at Shambazar representing my club, I was just running to catch a moving tram bound for Deshapriya Park. Some of you must have correctly predicted that great city of India. To the benefit of others it is Calcutta now renamed as Kolkata).

It is the controversial city that was once called by a tasteless famous Indian as the dying city much to the rebuke of many, Bengalis in particular. It will be interesting to hear that a foreigner of repute praised it as a city of joy. I am sure most of the people who had the chance to live there will agree with that statement.

In every field they have produced men of caliber of global standard. It was a famous saying that what India thinks tomorrow Bengal will think today itself. To quote only a few Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay, Tara Shankar Bbandhopadhyay and Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay were great novelists from whom other languages had taken liberal helpings in their journals and movies.

Rabindranath Tagore, Amritya Sen and mother Teresa are Nobel laurite in their fields. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swamy Vivekananda made revolution in the recognition of Hindu religion. Sir Aurabindo started an ashram at Puducherry that has become the dwelling place of all nationals, religion and race. The paintings of Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy adore the museums of the globe and also priced collection of wealthy. We cannot afford to give the long list of freedom fighters in this limited space. It is the birth place of foot ball and any aspiring footballer

Of India takes it as a privilege to play for clubs like Mohan Bagan and east Bengal. Surya Sekhar Ganguly and Barua are the grandmasters of the mental game of chess. Last but not the least the great cricketer – fondly called as dada by name Sourav Ganguly is causing shivers to the Australians before our tour. Their contribution to film and music starts from the only Oscar award winner Satyajit Ray and spreads to all divisions.

Coming back to the story when I boarded the tram the time was already 9-30pm and there was every chance that I might miss my south Indian meals. I was already tired after a strenuous work out coupled with hunger. There came the enchanting music flown through the air from a distance. As the tram was closing on it the music was also more audible. I could easily recognize it as the song aaja re pardesi, rendered by the ever green melody queen Lata Mangeshkar in the film Madhumati, set to that lilting tune by the great music composer Salil Chowdhary of Bengal.


My appetite had vanished then and there and both of my legs guided me involuntarily to get off from the lazily moving tram aiming the source of the violin instrument. It was not very difficult to locate the slowly moving figure at the center of the road unmindful of the traffic holding his precious instrument. On a closer look I could get the glimpse of a man perhaps in his 60s shabbily dressed and holding the instrument, but with the full control of the bow over the strings. I had heard that song umpteen number of times and can go on hearing it again and again with out getting bored. But this time I found a new dimension in that song. The reason might be that it was not supported by back ground music and also some times the duplicates beat the original.

That unknown man’s head was slightly raised above with the eyes fixed blankly at the space. Initially I doubted that he was blind at least partially. His head was a fusion of Leo Tolstoy and Marxist leader Lenin with grey beard and bald head. In spite of his poor dress there was some dignity in his outlook with lot of confidence. I was just following him like the rats behind the piper in that famed story or bees to flowers. He played varieties of music from the long list starting from C. Ramachandra, Naushad Ali, Kalyanji Anandji, Laxmikant Pyarelal, O.P. Nayyar, R.D. Burman, S.D. Burman, Roshan, Shankar Jai Kishan etc ably rendered by the stalwarts, Mukesh, Mohammed Rafi, Manna Dey, Lata Mangeshkar, K.L. Saigal, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhonsle, Begum Akhtar, Hemant Kumar, Suraiya, Shamshad Begum, Talat Mahmood and so on. The time was already 5 minutes to 11pm. And the last tram was scheduled at 11 pm. Having had the entertainment upto the brim there was no sign of hunger. But if I were stranded I had to walk more than 6 km and as such rushed to drop some coins for which we might have gladly paid at least 50 rs if only it was in a music hall. I could dig out only a 5 rupee note from the pocket and dropped it in his slinging bag. That was the equal of at least 30 rupees of to day. But he never even noticed either me or the amount. Many like me who were enjoying, gladly paid a few coins for which the great artist never bothered even to glance or check the amount. I got the lost tram and mentally munching the music that was a great blend of classical and that is the very reason those tunes are still surviving against the competition from new composers. I was wondering at what time he would have finished his free entertainment.

Next day I made up my plan in such a manner that i would go back to Shambazar well in advance with food packet and enjoy the whole show. I got down from the tram and eagerly waited for the arrival of my admirer. Even after one hour there was no sign of that artist and decided to make enquiry at a near by pawn shop. That man at the shop made a studied glance at me and even before I made any queries claimed that he was aware of my probable question. He also questioned me to know wasn’t it me who was searching for the violinist. With a bit of shyness I confirmed my intentions. He consoled me by telling that there is nothing to be ashamed about it and my desire was genuine. He went on narrating that how i was following the musician on the previous day after getting off from the running tram and boarded the last tram reluctantly. I picked up courage to put more probing questions for which he answered sympathetically with patience. That violinist is not having fixed programme about the places of visit or even timings.

He changes it every day to different places like esplanade, Girish Park, Rash Behary avenue, Gol park, Triangular park, Park Circus Maidan, Shibpur and so on. Some times his show starts at the early morning hours also. A few dogs are following him wherever he goes and they are unpaid body guards for him and nobody can dare remove his collections or the precious instrument from him. The show finishes almost at midnight when he will purchase some biscuits or bread and also offer them to the dogs. Some times beggars used to wait until he finishes and accept edibles from him gladly offered. Some times he used to get good collection to spare for country liquor. But it is certain that he never saved for a tomorrow and invariably goes with empty pocket at the time of sleeping on a road side shop. I profusely thanked the shop keeper for supplying so much of information and returned disappointed on that day.

Every day I was eagerly waiting near Deshapriya Park of my locality craving for his appearance. After about 3 months it was about 10 pm when I was returning to my hotel at Lansdowne road when the song chaudhvin ka chand ko rendered by Mohammed Rafi and ably played by my guru filled the air. I was practically intoxicated and lost no time to be in his company. He never sings on demand of any body and one has to be lucky to get his own favorite pieces. I was lucky to hear oh! Sajna which was authored by Salil Chowdhary and aye mere watan ke logon – a patriotic song which moved our ex prime minister to such extent that he couldn’t control his tears. Both were by the great Lata. That was the last time that I ever heard of him. After about 6 months out of desperation I visited the pawn shop at Shambazar and just on seeing me the shop keeper understood the purpose of my visit and told with tears ‘Babu! Your admirer is no more! He has breathed his last about 2 months back! He over drank and died in his sleep! But the people of his locality recognised him and lot of floral tributes were given with very big rose garlands and fitting burial at the cemetery as they found he was a Christian. Out of 4 dogs 2 have already died. Babu! I got the information but couldn’t contact you with out your reference’.

I shamelessly cried openly for the unknown soul whose name and other details are still a mystery to me. I felt guilty that I owed him very much for which I could never repay it back. He was haunting me in my dreams for a considerable time. However I consoled myself that it was a greatest tribute to an artist. N.b. historically the story relates to more than 4 decades back-probably in the early 60s when the author was in his youth.  

Contributing Writer: J. PANCHAPAGESAN is a Chennai based DSP(RETD).  

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