The ethos of Padma Shri recipient Shyam Sunder Paliwal’s life revolves around water, daughter and trees. A resident of Rajsamund district in Rajasthan, Paliwal is the architect of the Piplantri Model that hinges on water conservation, environment protection and saving the girl child.
“It was not too long ago that the district was known as a hub of marble mining. When I took over as Sarpanch of Piplantari, I found that the water here was severely contaminated. The poor sex ratio was another worry. The winds of change began to blow when we started an initiative to plant 111 saplings to celebrate the birth of a girl child across the villages, nurture and help the tree thrive. Slowly, the rural communities had realised that the trees that would grow from these humble efforts would help the environment in more than one way. Simultaneously, we started water conservation efforts like building small check dams,” says Paliwal, founder of Kiran Nidhi Sansthan, a grassroots organisation committed to rural development.
His initiative brought about a visible social change and helped water and environmental conservation in Piplantari. More than three lakh trees have been planted here in the last ten years, and the water level has increased to 50 feet from 500 feet. “It is heartening to see my penance bear fruits. It has been a long and arduous journey spread over the last two decades. We never dithered but stayed put, instilled confidence in the people and won their trust to do this wonder here. It was possible because the community came forward and pitched its support to these initiatives for tree plantation, water conservation and saving the girl child,” he says.
But the work is far from over. The much-celebrated water warrior’s Piplantari Model is the perfect medium to convey the message to others, and many Panchayats and village heads are following in his footsteps.
He will continue his work on these three fronts all around the desert state and elsewhere in the country because it is an ongoing process. “There can never be enough of these measures to save the environment from climate change. We need to do more, all the more,” he emphasises.
Bandipore resident Faisal Ali Dar, 33, has etched his name in the annals of history by becoming the first sportsperson from Jammu and Kashmir to be conferred with the Padma Shri this year. A martial arts champion, he has been training children and young adults at Ali’s Sports Academy. “Indulgence in sports,” he says, “will keep the young and restless gainfully engaged, drive away the blues, keep them in the best of health, and help them abstain from drugs.” He is a humanitarian who continues to work for the betterment of the people, be it by providing COVID relief, or by organising blood donation camps, and has been zealously pursuing his dream to make sports, especially martial arts, a way of life for children and youngsters in the Valley.
Love is a mystery. Love is unitive. Love is how we connect as human beings with one another and with the whole universe together. Love is how we learn, become better, and make the world a better place to live for us and others. Love needs freedom to breathe, equality to thrive, and openness to flow and grow. Love is personal, political, philosophical, social, historical, metaphysical, transcendental, et al. Sadly, we have only one word to describe such a complex emotion. The ancient Greeks had six different words, but even that’s not enough. 2021 taught me new ways to describe the complexity of love and its various hues. Love lost on many counts, but it miraculously sprang on a few occasions like a phoenix. My LOVE vocabulary was defined and redefined by people who touched my life one way or another this year.shillpi a singh
LOVE IS ADVENTURE: Anshu Jamsenpa
Her name means the sun’s rays, and she’s been living up to it, in letter and spirit. Like the sun that shines above the mountain even when the sky is covered with clouds, Anshu Jamsenpa, the young mountaineer from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh has been shining on the highest peak of the world by standing atop it and unfurling the Tricolour on five occasions, a feat that only a few can match.
She’s the fastest woman mountaineer in the world to summit Mt Everest twice in five days, the first woman in the world to do two double ascents of Everest (first one on May 10, 2011, and May 21, 2011; the second one on May 16, 2017, and May 21, 2017) and the first Indian woman in the world to summit Everest five times. Her third successful attempt to conquer the 29,029 ft peak was in between the two double ascents, on May 18, 2013.
A mother of two girls, Anshu was busy looking after her husband Tsering Wange’s travel and tourism business when one fine day she happened to accompany a group of three mountaineers for rock climbing and river crossing activities in her hometown. “The month-long Himalayan Trekking Expedition Programme had been planned by my husband’s company. I used to go along with them daily, stand and watch as they went about rock climbing. One day, I just walked up to the trio and told them that I want to try it too. I did it, and quite well. It gave me an adrenaline rush,” she recounts.
The rock climbing incident stoked her dormant adventure streak, and she was enthused to take it up. She was finally initiated into mountaineering in 2009 after being egged on by the mountaineering instructor of the Arunachal Mountaineering & Adventure Sports Association to follow her passion seriously. She enrolled herself in a course. But the toughest part about taking up mountaineering seriously as a career was convincing family members, especially her husband. “The thought of summiting Everest crossed my mind while I was undergoing a training course, but it was easier said than done. Climbing Everest was obviously the toughest one so far. Barring my second summit of the double ascent in 2011 when the weather was pleasant, the rest of all the other four summits have been tough from different perspectives,” she says. But in the same breath, she clarifies that there is nothing like the easiest or toughest climb. “In the mountains, there is no surety. The risk factors are always there,” she adds.
As someone who yearns to travel to mountain-tops, she says it is because there’s a sense of belonging and an emotional connection with the peaks. “Mountains bring out the best in me. I’m most happy in their company,” she adds. But she also derives a lot of happiness listening to music and being with her children Pasang Droma, 19, and Tenzin Nyiddon, 15.
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In between, she is busy working on her pet project, starting a training institute in Bomdila to encourage other deserving candidates into mountaineering and adventure sports from across the country. “It is just a small piece of land, and the building is yet to come up, but I have managed to train more than 5000 adventure enthusiasts here so far,” she says with a sense of pride.
She has also scaled Mt DKD2, Mt Trishul, Mt Nun and Mt Shivling.
A fact not known: She played the female lead in the feature film ‘Crossing Bridges” that won several awards including the National Film Award.
The weirdest quirk: I used to keep a notebook with my favourite songs written in it. Writing songs and singing has a calming effect on me.
Must carry items to the mountains: I carry a photograph of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Kindle and camera.
I know you want adventure, I know you want to see the world. But love is the greatest adventure, where you risk the most for the greatest reward. What good will all this exceptional living do if you’re doing it only for yourself?Penny Reid
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)