By Shillpi A Singh
आज की ख़ास बातचीत अमरेंद्र शर्मा से जिन्हें आपने फिल्मों और टेलीविज़न में अभिनेता के रूप में देखा होगा पर क्या आप जानते हैं इन्होंने पिछले साल भोजपुरी गाने – चल रे बटोही – के गायक और निर्माता के रूप में एक नयी पहचान बना कर सब को चौंका दिया था। चलिए एक बटोही के साथ उसके सफर पर और जानिये इस अभिनेता, गायक और निर्माता के पीछे छुपे एक प्रवासी के दर्द को।
आप को हमनें फिल्मों और टेलीविज़न पर अभिनेता के रूप में देखा है। पिछले साल आपने दो म्यूजिक वीडियो में बतौर गायक और निर्माता के रूप में हम सब के सामने आये। इस सफर की शुरुआत कहाँ से और कैसे हुई ?
मैं बिहार के बेतिया जिले के शिकारपुर गाँव से मैट्रिक करने के बाद 1998 में पटना थिएटर करने आ गया। बिहार आर्ट थिएटर से एक्टिंग में दो साल का डिप्लोमा किया और उसी समय पंकज त्रिपाठी भईया से मिलना हुआ और उन्होंने मुझे नेशनल स्कूल ऑफ़ ड्रामा (एनएसडी) के विजय कुमार जी के मंच आर्ट ग्रुप से जोड़ लिया। फिर हमलोग कई सालों तक पूरे देश मे घूम घूम के बहुत सारे नाटक किया जिसमे फणीश्वरनाथ रेणु जी की कहानियां (पंच लाइट, रसप्रिया), हरीशंकर परसाई जी की कहानियां (ना जाने केंहि भेष में, हम बिहार में चुनाव लड़ रहे हैं) का कोलाज़ बना के, फिर रागदरबारी, जात ना पूछो साधु के, ऑफ माइस एंड मैन, बहुत सारे शोज़ किये। फिर कोलकाता में उषा गांगुली जी के रंगकर्मी रेपेट्री से जुड़ गया। वहाँ पर कोर्टमार्शल, शोभायात्रा, काशी के असी, मुक्ति, मातादीन चाँद पे, बहुत सारे शोज़ किये। उसके बाद दिल्ली साहित्य कला परिषद रेपेट्री से जुड़ गया। वँहा पर सतीश आनंद सर के साथ अन्वेषक, महानिर्वाण, चित्तरंजन त्रिपाठी जी के साथ लड़ी नज़रिया, दस दिन का अनसन (हरिशंकर परसाई जी की) सुमन कुमार जी के साथ कहानियों का मंचन किया।
दिल्ली में नाटक करते हुए मनोज बाजपेयी सर की फ़िल्म 1971 में काम करने का मौक़ा मिला, जिसमे मैं पाकिस्तानी सोल्जर की भूमिका में था। काम कुछ ख़ास नहीं था, पर मुझे मनोज जी को क़रीब से अभिनय करते देखना था, मैं उनको स्वाभिमान, दौड़, तमन्ना के समय से फॉलो करता था, जब सत्या आई तो मैं बिल्कुल बेचैन हो गया कि मुझे कैसे भी कर के एक्टर बनना है। मैंने उनकी सत्या देखी थी और शायद तभी से मुझे अभिनेता बनने की इच्छा जागी थी। स्कूल टाइम में अजय देवगन साहब का जबरदस्त फैन रहा हूँ। एक भी फ़िल्म नहीं छोड़ता था। फिर 2008 में मुम्बई आ गया। दूसरे मेरे पसन्दीदा एक्टर इरफान खान सर के साथ अपना आसमान किया। मणिरत्नम सर के साथ रावण किया। फिर मैंने फिल्मों से थोड़ी दूरी बना लिया, अच्छे काम नहीं मिल रहे थे सो मैंने टेलीविजन के तरफ़ रुख़ किया। क्राइम शोज़ में लीड रोल किये। कुछ विज्ञापनों में भी काम किया। 2018 में मुझे भोर फ़िल्म मिली, फिर 2019 में बाटला हाउस मिली। 2020 में मैंने बटोही म्यूजिक वीडियो बनाया। बटोही के बाद, छठ का गीत बनाया, उसे भी लोगों ने पसंद किया।
आप खुद को प्रवासी रचनात्मक मजदूर क्यों कहते हैं ? बटोही म्यूजिक वीडियो के पीछे क्या कहानी छुपी हुई है ?
सन 2000 में मैं पहली बार बिहार से बाहर, दिल्ली नाटक करने, अपने गाँव के कुछ लोगों के साथ पहुंचा था । वो लोग कापसहेड़ा में फैक्ट्री में काम करते थे और एक छोटे से कमरे में 7 से 8 लोग रहते थे। मैं भी उनलोगों के साथ रहने लगा, उन लोगों की स्थिति देख के मुझे बहुत बुरा लगा। मुझे बाहर इतनी बुरी स्थिति में रहना पड़ेगा, मैं कभी सपने में भी नही सोचा था, पर धीरे धीरे मैं भी उनमें ढल गया। कुछ समय बाद मैं वंहा से मंडी हाउस चला आया और अपने नाटक में मस्त हो गया। उसी समय NDTV पर रविश कुमार जी की रिपोर्ट देखी, जिसमे रविश जी मेरे ही ज़िले के प्रवासी मज़दूरों के साथ खाना खाते हुए रिपोर्टिंग कर रहे थे। उस दृश्य ने मुझे अंदर से झंझोर दिया। ख़ुद को पराजित महसूस करने लगा। पहली बार प्रवासी शब्द का अर्थ समझा, पहली बार अहसास हुआ कि मैं भी प्रवासी मज़दूर हूँ। मैं भी अपना परिवार, गाँव, समाज और जगह छोड़ कर मज़दूरी करने आया हूँ। उसके बाद मैं कलकत्ता गया, फिर मुम्बई आ गया, हर जगह उस दर्द को महसूस करता रहा।
चल रे बटोही अपन गाँव म्यूजिक वीडियो बनाने में कितना समय लगा ?
मुम्बई में संघर्ष करते वक़्त महसूस हुआ कि भोजपुरी में बहुत बुरा काम हो रहा है। भोजपुरी अश्लीलता का पर्याय बन चुका है। दूसरे राज्य के दोस्तों के बीच भोजपुरी मज़ाक की भाषा थी। बहुत बुरा लगता था। भोजपुरी में कुछ करना चाहता था पर कर नहीं पा रहा था, जिस तरह की भोजपुरी फ़िल्म बन रहीं थी कभी मन नही हुआ करने का। मैं गायक नही हूँ, पर नाटक में हमेशा गाता रहा हूँ, सो मेरा मन किया कि क्यूं न भोजपुरी में कुछ गाया जाय। प्रवासी होने का दर्द मैं मुम्बई में भी महसूस कर रहा था सो पलायन पर कुछ गाने का मन बनाया। सन 2018 की बात है, मैंने गीत लिखना शुरू किया पर पेपर पर उसको उतार नहीं पाया। फिर अपने गाँव के अभिजीत मिश्र को समझाया और कई महीनों के डिस्कस करने के बाद गीत तैयार हुआ। फिर भी मुझे गीत अधूरा लग रहा था; फिर मैं मुम्बई में राइटर डायरेक्ट आशुतोष तिवारी से मिला और बटोही का दूसरा अंतरा लिखवाया।
फिर दोस्त मनु वर्मा से डेमो म्यूजिक तैयार करवा के, फाइनेंस के लिए लोगों से मिलता रहा, पर कोई तैयार नहीं हुआ। फिर सोचा अब किसी से नही मिलूंगा, ख़ुद ही बनाऊंगा। ऐसे सोचते सोचते दो साल बीत गए। फिर लॉक डाउन में गाँव आ गया। प्रवासी मज़दूरों का संघर्ष देखा तो बहुत दुःख हुआ, ऐसा लगा बटोही इसी दिन के लिए बचा के रखा हूँ। कुछ समझ नही आ रहा था, गाँव में कोई सुविधा नहीं थी। क्या करूँ, सोचा फेसबुक पे लाइव गा देता हूँ, पर मन नहीं माना। फिर बेतिया में ही DOP चंदन से बात किया और वहीं पर लॉक डाउन में रेकॉर्डिंग कर के वीडियो भी शूट कर लिया। फिर मुम्बई एडिट के लिए फ़ाइल सेंड करने में तीन दिन लग गए, यहां पे इनटरनेट का बहुत प्रॉब्लम था। वीडियो शूट करने में टोटल चार लोग थे। ज़ीरो बज़ट में बटोही बन कर तैयार हुआ।
आपके बटोही गाने की बहुत तारीफ हुई है। क्या आपने ऐसा सोचा था ?
बटोही को जैसा मैंने सोचा था वैसे ही सबके सामने था, सभी का प्यार बहुत मिला।
मनोज बाजपेयी सर ने ट्विटर पे शेयर किया। पंकज त्रिपाठी भईया ने अपने पेज से शेयर किया।
रविश कुमार जी ने NDTV पे प्राइम टाइम में पूरा वीडियो चलाया।
निर्देशक अविनाश दास जी, अरविंद गौर जी … सब ने शेयर किया।
सबसे बड़ी बात मुझे ये लगी की दूसरे राज्य के लोगों ने भी इस भोजपुरी गीत को सराहा और पसंद किया।शायद इसलिए भी क्यूंकि इस देश में अगर बिहार का लड़का अगर महाराष्ट्र में काम करता और रहता है तो वह एक प्रवासी है। और इस तरह हम सभी प्रवासी ही हैं।
आप अभिनय और गायन के क्षेत्र में इस साल और क्या-क्या कर रहे हैं ?
दो फिल्मों – मछली और नरभक्षी – में काम किया है जिसका पोस्ट प्रोडक्शन चल रहा है। एक हॉट स्टार की वेब सीरीज कर रहा हूँ। कुछ भोजपुरी म्यूजिक वीडियो भी प्लान किया है, उसको करना है। अभी मैं किन्नर समुदाय के दुर्दशा और व्यथा पर भोजपुरी में म्यूजिक वीडियो बना रहा हूँ।
नई दिल्ली। 22 फरवरी: इंडिया इंटरनेशनल सेंटर, नई दिल्ली, में अंतरराष्ट्रीय मातृभाषा दिवस पर विचार गोष्ठी आयोजित की गई। यह भोजपुरी समाज दिल्ली एवं विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन संस्था की दिल्ली इकाई के संयुक्त तत्वावधान में ‘भोजपुरी-हमार माँ’-मनन मंथन और मंतव्य शीर्षक से आयोजित किया गया। इस विचार गोष्ठी में विशिष्ट अतिथि के रूप में शहरी विकास मंत्रालय के सचिव श्री दुर्गा शंकर मिश्र, पूर्व सैन्य उप प्रमुख ले. जनरल एस के सिंह, वरिष्ठ पत्रकार मनोज मिश्र जी उपस्थित रहें। इस विचार गोष्ठी में विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन संस्था के राष्ट्रीय अध्यक्ष अजीत दुबे ने बीज वक्तव्य दिया।
विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन दिल्ली इकाई के अध्यक्ष श्री विनय मणि त्रिपाठी ने आगंतुकों का शाब्दिक स्वागत किया। विश्व भोजपुरी सम्मेलन के राष्ट्रीय अध्यक्ष श्री अजीत दुबे ने अपने वक्तव्य के दौरान भोजपुरी की वास्तविक स्थिति प्रस्तुत करते हुए कहा कि “विगत कुछ समय में भोजपुरी के लिए ऐतिहासिक काम हुआ है। मॉरीशस के 250 सरकारी स्कूलों में भोजपुरी की पढ़ाई शुरू हो गई। मॉरीशस सरकार के अनुरोध पर यूनेस्को ने एक दिसंबर 2016 को कुछ भोजपुरी लोकगीतों को सांस्कृतिक धरोहर में सम्मिलित कर लिया, मगर 5 बार आश्वासन मिलने के बाद भी भोजपुरी को संविधान में स्थान नहीं मिला। यह सोचनीय और चिंतनीय है। ये सरकार, जो सबका साथ सबका विकास नारा दे रही है, वह अपने कर्म से बता रही है कि भोजपुरी का भी कल्याण होगा। इसके लिए सरकार को अपनी इच्छा शक्ति को बढ़ाना पड़ेगा और भोजपुरी को संविधान में सम्मिलित करना पड़ेगा। आज भोजपुरी गर्व का विषय है।”
वरिष्ठ पत्रकार मनोज मिश्र ने अपने संबोधन में कहा, “भोजपुरी को संवैधानिक मान्यता मिले, हम उसी हक में हैं। भोजपुरी अतिशीघ्र संविधान में सम्मिलित किया जाए।” अगले वक्ता के रूप में श्री दुर्गा शंकर मिश्र जी ने कहा कि “भोजपुरी के अगर आगे बढ़ावे के बा तो युवा लोग के आगे आने के पड़ी। अपनी भाषा को नहीं भूलना चाहिए। भोजपुरी की नींव बहुत मजबूत है, बस, अब महल बनाने की ही आवश्यकता है। ने कहा कि भोजपुरी के लिए विडंबना यह है कि देश से बाहर तो भोजपुरी को खूब मान मिल रहा है और अपने ही घर में संविधान में सम्मिलित होने के लिए तड़प रही है।”
पूरे कार्यक्रम का संचालन विजय बहादुर सिंह ने किया। इस आयोजन में भारतीय प्रशासनिक सेवा के वरिष्ठ अधिकारी श्री दुर्गा शंकर मिश्र, ले. जनरल श्रीकृष्ण सिंह, वरिष्ठ पत्रकार श्री मनोज मिश्र, लेखक श्री गौतम चौबे, संपादक श्री मनोज भावुक को भोजपुरी रत्न सम्मान से सम्मानित किया गया। आयोजन में भोजपुरी राष्ट्रीय गीत बटोहिया की प्रस्तुति लोक गायिका सीमा तिवारी एवं उनकी टीम द्वारा किया गया। खचाखच भरे-पूरे हॉल में इस गीत को सुनकर श्रोता भावविभोर हो गए। इस आयोजन में वरिष्ठ नाट्यकार, महेंद्र सिंह, लोक गायिका सीमा तिवारी, अरविंद दुबे, जलज मिश्र, सत्येंद्र त्रिपाठी सहित काफ़ी संख्या में गणमान्य लोग उपस्थित रहे।
Raj Mohan is a poet, singer, composer, songwriter in the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri language in The Netherlands and Suriname. He released his first pop album in Sarnámi-Bhojpuri lyrics, Hindi songs and poems in 2011, were he not only sang but also composed the music and wrote the lyrics. In his album ‘Kantráki‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-r5NfLzJ3M (2005), he invented the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri Geet in the Geet & Ghazal style, which was appreciated worldwide. He performed the Geet/Ghazalnuma songs in the traditional Ghazal setting as well as in jazz and pop in his album, Daayra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUFqPZYQfdE (2011).
He has so far released five music albums, including a bhajan album with Anup Jalota and authored two books with Sarnámi-Bhojpuri poems. His latest album ‘Dui Mutthi‘ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgBy07OcDUk (2013) was released to mark 140 years of Indian migration to Suriname.
In a freewheeling chat with Shillpi A Singh, he takes us through his last musical offering, Batohiya, released during the pandemic and everything else around Bhojpuri that is close to his heart, sould and being. Excerpts:
How did the Batohiya song happen?
I wanted to record this song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZFW92GR2bo) for a long time, but I couldn’t because of my other engagements. I discussed the idea with my manager and business partner in India, Devendra Singh. He loved it. He was responsible for online marketing and coordinating the audio and video recordings in India. He suggested doing it with various artists from different diaspora countries. It was a huge challenge, but still, I went ahead. My student and artist Ragga Menno was another important resource who helped me shape this project and realise this dream.
What were the challenges? What went behind the scenes?
The biggest challenge was the distance between all the artistes and me. The audio had to be recorded separately in studios. Devendra Singh and his team managed the recordings from India. He arranged for the performers in different cities in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to record the audio and video. I also coordinated this with my team from Suriname, South Africa, Guyana/Trinidad and The Netherlands.
Once all the material was collected, we started working on patching the audio and doing the video editing.
How long did all of this take, from start to finish?
We worked on this for two months with our team.
Who were the other collaborators in this musical project?
The song was producer by GFRecords (The Netherlands), and Devendra, Ragga and I were the co-producers.
I composed the music using the lyrics originally written by the legendary poet Babu Raghuvir Narayan. The spoken words were by Hemelbesem. The backend crew included Babak Rastagar from Austria (Programming & Mixing); Mailmen Studio from The Netherlands (Mastering) and FOX Media Productions from The Netherlands (Video). I directed the video while Ragga did the editing. Nityanand Tiwari from India did its translation, from English to Bhojpuri.
The vocalists included 11 artistes from seven countries — Munna Singh, Chhotu Bihari, Arya Nandini, and Vishwajeet Pratap Singh from India; Hemelbesem from South Africa; Terry Gajraj from Guyana/USA; Ilhaam Ahmadali from Suriname; Rukshana from The Netherlands; Angel ArunA, Ragga and myself from Suriname/The Netherlands.
Our partners in this project included GFRecords and FOX Media Productions from The Netherlands; Facebook groups from India — Anjora, Jogira, Bhojpuria, Khanti Bhojpuria, Magadhi Boys and Witty Froth Films; and radio channel Abee Chunes from New York.
There have been so many versions of the same song. Which one is your favourite?
Of course, mine. We are the Batohiyas (travellers) in the true sense. This song has been made by and with descendants of artistes and participants of the Indian diaspora. It is about us. It tells the story of our ancestors who couldn’t go back to their beloved homeland India. At the same time, this song was also for the families that stayed behind in India. It conveyed their pride, pain of separation, longing, belonging, and even ours. After all, those people never saw their ancestors or families again. Most of them didn’t know which country they were going to and how they would fare there. The cherry on the cake is that it has been written by one of the strugglers, Babu Raghuvir Narayan.
Bhojpuri is the third most spoken language of the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri community in The Netherlands. What is the other way to keep the language alive for the younger generation?
Music is a powerful way to connect with each other. Other ways could be to hold meetings, conferences involving the young people with interactive programs and hip, new music; songs that appeal to them like Bhojpuri pop, (hard) rock or rap, and spoken word. We must have a modern, contemporary approach. We must organise regular gatherings to preserve and spread the Bhojpuri language and culture in all its versatility and diversity.
What are the most striking endeavours that stood out for you as far as doing a great service to the language in 2020?
I have given many online concerts with songs sung mainly in Bhojpuri in both traditional (harmonium) and modern (guitar) styles. I released another song on Corona – Ham ka kari by Ragga Menno.
What is the scene like in your country? Do children read, write and speak Bhojpuri? What are the special measures being undertaken by the keepers of the language to keep it alive?
Activities are organised, presented or developed in various ways. There are very few radio programs and (online) TV report in Sarnámi-Bhojpuri. The new generation of lyricists should write songs in our language, but they instead copy Bollywood songs or write songs in Hindi.
Baithak gana (our folklore) is very popular, even with children who learn to sing the songs and play various instruments such as the dholak, harmonium and dhantaal (dandtaal). A major drawback is that the performers’ awareness (and of their parents) is not high enough to understand and/or speak the language they sing. The language is in danger of being lost here, just like in other Caribbean countries such as Guyana and Trinidad. In these countries, they don’t bother to learn the language or understand the words. Unfortunately, this also applies to most (almost all) professional artistes in Suriname, The Netherlands, Guyana and Trinidad. That is regrettable.
New Delhi, February 21, 2021: The third day of the Kumbh of literature was filled with a dance of history, memoir, pandemic, technology, the Booker 2020 winner and much more. There were sessions exploring conversations on Vincent Brown’s groundbreaking geopolitical thriller Tacky′s Revolt: The Story of an Atlantic Slave War, Phoolsunghi – the first Bhojpuri novel to be translated into English, India’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, an acute insight into the professional and personal relationship between the first Chief Information Commissioner of India, Wajahat Habibullah and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, the impact of liberalism and its place in an age of resurging autocracy, the concept of Dharma and many other sessions.
In conversation with journalist Sreenivasan Jain, celebrated American linguist, philosopher, cognitive scientist, historian, social critic and political activist Professor Noam Chomsky discussed the global “drift into authoritarianism”, post-Trump America, and the factors that made social reform possible. He spoke of the recent storming of the United States Capitol, and how it was a turning point for the country, sharing what it was like to wake up in America in the “aftermath” of Donald Trump. Professor Chomsky insisted that the American democracy had “serious problems” even before his presidency. Speaking about the rise of authoritarianism, Professor Chomsky delved into the “neoliberal assault” of the last few decades, explaining how inequality and authoritarianism appeared to be inextricably linked. Responding to Jain’s question on what can be done to resist the threats to democracy, Professor Chomsky said, “There’s no magic key! “You fight it the way you’ve always fought it, with educational programmes, with organisation, with activism.”
“Over time any political or social movement can work,” he said, pointing to the Independence Movement in India. Reflecting on some of the critical progressive movements like the labour movement, the civil rights movement and the women’s rights movement among others, he talked about the significance of coming together in solidarity and with constant dedicated struggle. “There is no point being optimistic or pessimistic. The point is to face the challenges, take the opportunities, get to work and overcome the problems. It can be done – and optimism says yes, let’s do it,” he said.
The “queer son of a single mother”. This is how Douglas Stuart, Scottish-American writer, who recently won the Booker Prize for his debut novel, Shuggie Bain, introduced himself in his session with writer and playwright Paul McVeigh on day 3 of the Festival. Stuart spoke about his mother, on whom the book’s central character Agnes was based. He delved deep into the character, drawing similarities with his mother – she too, like Agnes, had been an alcoholic and had eventually succumbed to her addiction when Stuart had been 16. He said that in her little working class Glasgow milieu, she had perhaps been ‘insignificant’ but she had been ‘very significant’ to him, and like the children of all addicts, he was always on the lookout for strategies to keep her safe.
Irish author Colum McCann, in conversation with Sri Lankan-born writer and activist Ru Freeman, discussed the inspirations behind his book Apeirogon, and the undying quality of hope. When asked about the research he had to do to capture the essence of Beit Jala, where the novel has been based, the first thing McCann was reminded of was the ‘Bird Ringing Centre’ there. He said he was quite fascinated about how the migrating birds were captured, tagged and freed and even compared them to readers who came to this place and went back with a part of it in them. In the five years that he wrote this book, McCann met Rami and Bassam, the protagonists of Apeirogon, and spent time with them and their families. A novelist’s job, as McCann candidly put it, was to ‘put us in the pulse of the moment’—to turn the book into a living, breathing medium, which was why he attempted and left most of the politics up to the reader’s imagination. The heart-rending stories of Rami and Bassam’s loss were painful for McCann to even contemplate but what kept him going was their own hurt and sorrow. The process, he said, was “difficult, but necessary” and an “extraordinary journey”.
In a captivating conversation, Professor Vincent Brown discussed his book ‘Tacky’s Revolt’, with Professor Maya Jasanoff. The focus of the book resides on a slave revolt which occurred in the middle of the 18th century in Jamaica, in the midst of the Seven Years War between Britain and its imperial enemies. Professor Brown said that this event had often been ignored and not considered as a battle that occurred during the Seven Years War; nor had it been wrestled with as a major event in the history of the empire. To shed light on this moment of history, Professor Brown wrote this book and it became the first long account of the revolt since Edward Long, the polemic defender of slavery who wrote his contemporary account of the events in 1774.
Liberalism has always been at the core of western culture as it puts individual freedom at the forefront. Journalist and author John Micklethwait summarised this succinctly by saying that “the starting point of liberals is a distrust of authority or power”, at a session titled “The Death of Liberalism”. During the conversation Micklethwait and co-panelist, American author Adam Gopnik, agreed that liberal democracy needed to take a hard look and reinvent itself to avoid authoritarianism. Micklethwait stressed the need for “social trust and social capital” before having free markets. Gopnik spoke of the degradation of public education in the last thirty years in the US, underscoring the need for liberals “to re-endow these problem areas with a lot more dignity and monetary support”. He also highlighted that a powerful social and democratic government can pose no danger to social or liberal freedom, strongly emphasising that “a high degree of statism, social intervention, and national health above all can co-exist with classic liberal freedoms – that is an empirical truth”.
The concept of Dharma is unique to Indian philosophy and difficult to translate as it implies different things in different contexts. Hindu narratives are ambiguous and avoid prescriptive moralities. The Dharma and duties of different individuals face conflicts of ethical and human dimensions. Distinguished economist, writer, scholar and translator Bibek Debroy spoke of these dilemmas and the ethical and karmic choices inherent in them. In a deep and engrossing session, he talked with Keerthik Sasidharan, author of the recently published novel The Dharma Foresto.
Protected by Reckitt Benckiser, the session titled “Till we win: India’s Fight Against the Covid-19 Pandemic”, with doctors Randeep Guleria, Chandrakant Lahariya and Gagandeep Kang, in conversation with journalist Maya Mirchandani, discussed the book of the same name, that these three medical virtuosos at the forefront of India’s fight against the global pandemic, have written on their experiences and lessons learnt so far.
Concluding the first weekend of the Festival was a debate on “All Power Corrupts” featuring authors Amish Tripathi and Pavan K. Varma, Dutch journalist Kim Ghattas, Indian politician Pinaki Misra, well-known lawyer Pinky Anand and columnist Suhel Seth. The speakers examined the different dimensions of the truth that power corrupts. Is there something inherent in power itself that makes all power corrupt, or is there something else that has to be looked at? Does power corrupt by itself or does power only corrupt when there are no checks and balances?
Speaking against the proposition, journalist, author and analyst Kim Ghattas shared, “I’ve lived through and covered some of the worst abuses of power. Power is wielded at all levels, by the bureaucrat, by the prison guard, by the dictator, but I have also seen power used for good – to help, to save. So, I want to believe that power can do good, and that good people can become powerful and remain true to their moral compass.”Kim Ghattas, Journalist, author and analyst | Against the motion | All Power Corrupts
“The key is to try and understand human nature in a competing world, especially illustrated by politics. If you acquire power, there is a tendency for you to believe that you, as that repository of power, can bend rules in accordance with those measures required to sustain your power.”Pavan K. Varma, Writer-diplomat and politician | For the Motion | All Power Corrupts
Amish Tripathi countered saying, “Lord Ram had tremendous power, but he wasn’t corrupt, so what power showed was who he really was.” Amish talked of power as an unveiling of human nature and a challenge to find out what you’re really made of. He also referenced The Dalai Lama as someone who currently wields tremendous power, but uses it for good.
Pinaki Misra, who spoke against the motion, reminded the audience of Abraham Lincoln’s quote “Nearly all men can withstand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Speaking from his experience of working in the public sector, he added that “power can be viewed, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, to transform the lives of the people”.
Speaking for the motion, Suhel Seth said “A lot of people do good, but it’s more political power unbridled that we are talking about, that is then used to abuse the system.” He argued that “compassionate benevolence” is much more the exception than the rule.
Pinky Anand who also spoke against the motion said, “I think we have shown with the test of time that institutional challenges, institutional controls, checks and balances have ensured that constitutions and democracies are able to function and of course ultimately, it’s the will of the people.”
Pavan K. Varma reinforced his stance emphatically, saying that if all power didn’t corrupt, “Why does democracy provide so many checks and balances? Unless they exist, power will corrupt.”
At the end, while the panelists seemed to be reluctantly coming more towards a mutual understanding, the audience poll boldly declared the winning argument to be in favour of the motion that “All Power Corrupts”.
The weekend was also filled with musical performances by Anirudh Varma Collective, Rehmat-e-Nusrat and ‘Belonging’ featuring Jason O’Rourke and Deepmoy Das.
The ongoing 14th edition of the iconic Festival will be held till 28th February on an exclusive virtual platform. The next in line for the upcoming weekend is a multifaceted conversation on climate change with Bill Gates, apart from sessions with John Zubrzyck discussing his book The House of Jaipur, authors Camilla Townsend and Peter Frankopan discussing the Aztec empire, Nobel Peace Prize winner and bestselling author Malala Yousafzai, artist Anish Kapoor in conversation with Homi K. Bhabha, Marina Wheeler on her exploration of her Indian ancestry. There will also be sessions on the Chipko movement with Ramachandra Guha, Shekhar Pathak and Manisha Chaudhry in conversation with Mukul Sharma, Boria Majumdar’s Sport and a Billion Dreams: 2021 with Pullela Gopichand and Mansi Joshi, Jeremy Seal on A Coup in Turkey: A Tale of Democracy, Despotism and Vengeance and several more important themes.
By Shillpi A Singh
New Delhi-based academician, columnist and translator Gautam Choubey has scripted history with his literary outing — Phoolsunghi — that happens to be the first-ever translation of a Bhojpuri novel into English. Apart from being the most representative work in Bhojpuri, Phoolsunghi also happens to be one of the most loved literary works by Pandey Kapil, who is hailed as the protagonist of Bhojpuri literary movement in the post-Independence India. Published in Hamish Hamilton by Penguin Random House, the book hit the shelves earlier last week.
The story from the soil of Bihar pans out in Chhapra where the magical, mystical, and mundane intertwine much like the lives of three characters — courtesan Gulzaribai who was popular in the region as Dhelabai; ageing zamindar Babu Haliwant Sahay, who worked as an official in the law court and had a stake in the flourishing opium trade; and Bhojpuri folk poet and singer Mahendra Misir. The timeless tale about these celebrated legends of Bihar has traversed centuries and fascinated litterateurs across ages. These dalliances resulted in three other literary jaunts of repute — Ramnath Pandey’s Mahendar Misir, Jauhar Safiyabad’s Poorvi Ke Dhah and Anamika’s Dus Dwareka Pinjara.
The historical novel spanning ninety years touches upon the early years of colonial rule in India without making any direct references to the fight for independence or any social conflict or instances of religious disharmony. The plot, story, and setting spread over 16 chapters together draw a reader into the enchanting world of the lifelike characters. Music serves as the perfect backdrop in Phoolsunghi, and there is a lot of drama, action, tragedy that unfolds in the lives of these people, to keep one hooked, from start to finish. The enthralling mehfils and mujras, high-pitched abduction drama, episodes of court cases and counterfeiting notes reveal author’s attempt to make it a wholesome entertainer. The author explores various shades of romantic love, making it an emotional roller coaster ride for a reader. It delves deep into the characters through the maze of the relationships that they share with each other, crossing paths at times, and flowing like the two banks of a river in a few instances.
The novel documents the lives and times, rise and fall, love and longing, trials and tribulations of these characters, who live in and around the banks of river Saryu in Chhapra and its adjoining villages of Mishrawaliya, Sheetalpur, Revelgunj and Muzaffarpur. Like a river that flows through these cities, the plot intermittently drifts to Banaras and Calcutta, and makes pit stops in Punjab and Delhi, before returning to Chhapra. The story also traces the advent of the railway line and how dhuwankas or trains play an important part in the narrative. Phoolsunghi offers a bird’s-eye view of how the characters co-existed in harmony without being bothered by religious, class or caste considerations, and in some measures, it is also a social commentary on the lives of migrant workers. It reveals how some of them seamlessly merged in the mainstream in their adopted land while a few others, bit by melancholia trace their way back to their roots, sooner than later. The migrant’s life in a metropolis is bound to resonate with the readers, and tug at their heartstrings, especially those who have either been a migrant themselves or have witnessed something more heart-wrenching pan out in the country not so long ago.
The Bhojpuri story is quite evocative and engrossing, and Choubey has done full justice to it. The translated work has a cinematic language to it with lively characterisation, and vivid imagery making it an endearing read. It will be no surprise to see the real characters, who inhabited Chhapra once upon a time, taking a reel avatar sometime soon and glossing the big screen, regaling the larger audience who live far, far away from this mofussil. The verses in Bhojpuri have been passionately and painstakingly translated into English by Choubey, but a reader would have benefitted from the richness of the language and appreciated it more had only a list of the originals been provided along with the glossary.
By foraying into the unexplored domain of translating a popular piece of Bhojpuri literature for a discerning, elitist, city-bred reader, Choubey has managed to do the unthinkable, and in one go. It is a stellar act for its sheer thought and effort. He has not only highlighted the long and diverse literary culture of the language but also debunked the common perception of it being only a folk language, giving Bhojpuri its due. His disruptive effort, hopefully, might lead to many more such works being produced by the speakers and readers of the language, and in that context, Choubey’s present translation will fondly be remembered for being the first of its kind that helped to pave the path for many more.
Phoolsunghi has something for all; it serves as a timely reminder about the richness of Bhojpuri literature for the younger generation and has a multitude of joy and nostalgia to offer for the older ones. The story will transport you back to your roots so soak in the subtleties of a bygone era from a faraway land, and shore it up for yourself and your coming generations.
(Cover image sourced from Penguin Random House’s Twitter handle)
By Shillpi A Singh
And, when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it sums up the ardour and zest with which folk singer and Padma awardee Malini Awasthi has pursued her passion for music, relentlessly. Today, her unflinching faith and untiring efforts have given a new lease of life to the once dying folk and traditional music from the eastern parts of the country and moved it out from the so-called ghar-angaan (households) to national and international stage, making it an inseparable part and parcel of our humble being. Highly acclaimed for singing diverse folk forms – thumri, dadra, sohar, banna, jhoola, jajri, holi, chaiti, vivaah, dhobiya, nirgun – Awasthi mainly sings in local dialects such as Awadhi, Bundelkhandi, Braj and Bhojpuri.Her songs have touched a chord, among the masses, and the connoisseurs alike, regaling audience spread across the urban and rural pockets, and belonging to different age groups, spread across the country and also the globe. They help the older generation relive the days of yore when these songs were sung at home by the womenfolk, and provide a link to the younger generation for staying connected with the rich and varied musical heritage.
A native of Uttar Pradesh, Awasthi spent her early years learning the nuances of classical music from a guru at home. “My parents were not singers but had a taste for music. We (elder brother, sister and I) grew up listening to LP records at home, mostly classical renditions of musical stalwarts, thanks to our father. My sister used to take lessons from a guru who used to come over at 5.30 am. I joined his early morning class when I was barely five,” she says, fondly reminiscing her initiation into the world of music. Her father, a doctor by profession, who was then serving at the government hospital at Mirzapur, made it a point never to miss a classical music concert if it was happening at Banaras or Allahabad. “He took all of us along. The performances inculcated a deep love and understanding for music,” she says, recalling the days when her father used to pack them in a car and drive them to attend concerts. Even her mother had a great role to play in developing her musical taste. “She couldn’t sing but had once heard a song by Siddeshwari Devi (bindiya ka rang uda jaaye). She liked it a lot and asked my music teacher to help me with it,” she says of her mother.
As her father had a transferable job, he was posted next in Jhansi and from there he moved to Gorakhpur and then Lucknow. These places only added to her musical training and gave her the much-needed exposure. “In Gorakhpur, I had the privilege to receive musical training from two renowned gurus – Shujaat Husain Khan and Rahat Ali Khan. I received lessons in folk, classical, Sufiyana and ghazals from Rahat Ali. I was barely 14 then and to get an opportunity like this only helped me hone my voice and perfect the nuances.” Awasthi is revered for her fluency in ghazal and Sufi singing that comes from the sound knowledge of Urdu received from these two legendary teachers. For the uninitiated, Rahat Ali Khan had trained only two students in his life, one was Awasthi and the other one being Punjabi pop singer Daler Mehendi. By then, she had started giving programmes on radio and performing on stage. “My first appearance on radio was for Bal Jagat where I recited a poem and then sang a bhajan,” she says. She took to stage soon after and recited a song based on raag desh at a doctor’s conference in Gorakhpur. “I had no inhibitions and I was fearless because that is what my gurus had taught me. A performer on the stage attracts attention of audience so one must always respect that; appreciation and criticism that come a performer’s way mould him as an artiste and help him improve his art.” When her father moved to Lucknow, she got an opportunity to pursue a degree in Hindustani classical music from Bhatkhande University. A high-grade artiste of radio, she had already performed at festivals across the country and had also started doing television shows for Doordarshan.
It was at one such performance at Bhatkhande, legendary Hindustani classical singer Vidhushi Girija Devi whom she fondly calls Appajee heard her sing. Impressed with her voice, Appajee showered praises on Awasthi and asked her if she would like to accompany her to Kolkata and learn music. Overwhelmed at this offer, Awasthi almost jumped with joy. But her wedding with Uttar Pradesh cadre IAS officer Awanish Kumar Awasthi was fixed by then and she was couldn’t go with Appajee. After marriage, she accompanied her bureaucrat husband as he served in different districts but all along, she relentlessly pursued her passion for music. “I am blessed to have him as my life partner who has supported and encouraged me all through,” she says about her husband. As luck would have it, he was posted in Varanasi, and during this stint, Awasthi once again got a chance to continue her music lessons from Appajee. “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting,” says Awasthi, who lapped up every opportunity to stay in touch with music, from performing during cultural programmes in the district where her husband was posted to imparting music lessons to schoolchildren. She read and researched extensively on rural folk art forms and keenly observed how the folk music was slowly withering away for lack of attention and appreciation. The exposure strengthened her knowledge base and made her resolute in pursuit of music. “The strings of a musical instrument rust if left unused. I didn’t want my vocal chords to rust, so kept honing it by practising and singing. I didn’t sing for money. I didn’t care if the stage was big or small. I didn’t want to lose touch with the audience. I just wanted to perform,” she says.
Performer at heart
At times, Awasthi carried her children along, travelled in trains and buses to perform at All India Radio, and at other programmes across the country. “There used to be chain bookings in those days. I had performances at three places – Raipur, Raigarh, and Ambikapur – and I carried my daughter who was four and son who was one and a half to all these places, with my mother and mother-in-law in tow because I didn’t want to miss it. Such was my level of attachment to music,” she reminisces. It was at one such cultural function at Azamgarh that Gajendra Singh heard her sing and requested her to participate in a music reality show, Antakshari. “It was a life-changing experience, and I realised that one could create a space for oneself in public memory by sticking true to one’s musical roots,” she says about her first TV show. One thing led to another, and she did two other music-based shows (Sa Re Ga Ma and Junoon) and won the hearts of judges and audience alike. The best takeaway was a word of mention by none other than Lata Mangeshkar who called her a promising singer. The film offers started pouring, but that didn’t excite her to move bag and baggage to the city of dreams. She did lend her voice to many songs in Hindi films, most recent being Mano ya na mano in Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana that hit the theatres in April this year. “My heart is here, and even though I go for recordings to Mumbai, I rush home because there is a sense of belonging and connect with my land,” says Awasthi.
Power of popularity
“With great power comes great responsibility,” she says on what it means to be a celebrity, adding, “I am thankful for all the praise and popularity that has come my way. It is a matter of great honour and I am trying in my own small way to use it to benefit folk music and other artistes.” Awasthi is clear about her goals. A true daughter of the soil, she wants to popularise the songs, culture and language, which she says, “if not revived may become obsolete, and extinct.” She is doing her bit, giving folk music its long-awaited due and respect, that it rightfully deserves. “As a singer, I am trying to make my songs relatable and relevant for my audience so that folk never becomes redundant for them.” She has formed an organisation called Son Chiraiyya to promote young and budding talents. “The name is symbolic of our rich heritage, and it aims to preserve, conserve and promote singers and artistes.” And whenever her NGO organises a programme, she doesn’t perform but chooses to anchor the show. “My job is to present other talented artistes,” she quips. That’s the passion and true sound of music that has touched the chords of so many hearts, on home ground and foreign shores alike, keeping Awasthi on her toes, and her calendar chock-a-block with shows, concerts, music festivals, in India and abroad.
Songs Sung by Malini Awasthi
Mano Ya Na Mano | Laali Ki Shaadi Mein Laaddoo Deewana
Dil Mera Muft Ka | Agent Vinod
Sawan | Jaanisaar
Teri Katili Nigahon Ne Mara | Jaanisaar
Sunder Susheel | Dum Laga Ke Haisha
Saiyyan Mile | Chaarfutiya Chhokare
Bhagan Ke Rekhan Ki | Issaq
Joban | Ata Pata Lapata
Mann Ki Asha | Bumm Bumm Bole
(This article was published in the August 2017 issue of Rail Bandhu)