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First Person: Bapuji was a child at heart
(Pandit Jasraj passed away on August 17 at the age of 90 in New Jersey. His daughter Durga Jasraj recalls her Bapuji beyond the legendary classical vocalist, as a man who loved many things from learning how to make Zoom calls to singing online during the lockdown to encouraging fitness among youngsters)
Mumbai, August 20, 2020
On the one hand, my brother (musician Shaarang Dev) and I feel blessed and fortunate to have Bapuji as our father because we all know about his contribution to the world of Indian classical music, and how he was admired by people beyond borders. But I want to share how Bapuji lived his life and that inspired us to follow his footsteps.
My Bapuji was born in a small village Pili Mandori of Haryana, before the Punjab and Haryana partition happened. Even though he came from a society where gender discrimination was inevitable, in our house there were no such rules. So I was not treated specially because I am the daughter, or Shaarang was never given any extra privilege because he was his son.
We have grown up in a household where at least seven to 10 of his students would live with us because he believed in the guru-sishya parampara. He never took money from them because for him it was 'vidya daan', a huge contribution to music. He treated all his students as his children. In a way, he was living by example to teach us the joy of sharing since childhood.
He had a larger than life personality, something very magnetic. Although in our growing up days Bapuji became a superstar and travelled extensively for his concerts, he always had time for all of us -- house full of children! He would play with us, we would jump around him. Someone would be doing riyaaz and Bapuji would also be listening to that and correcting to perfection!
Bapuji was very open-minded and encouraged us to experiment and if we made any mistake, he would just get upset for a moment but then accept it as a human mistake. I think he was too huge a personality and, of course, he had so much love to give to all of us.
But I have to tell you, there was something Bapuji was very strict about -- and that is following set discipline. He always nudged all of us towards physical fitness because he would say you cannot excel in anything if you are not physically fit. He would always tell us to take care of our health and vocal cord, and for that one should lead a disciplined life.
As a child, I used to hate doing exercises and one-day Bapuji said, "Meri bacchi, body ka balance sahi rakho to hi mind ka balance sahi rahega, aur awaaz bhi". At that time I did not understand what he meant, why would he be specific with food, exercise and riyaaz so much. I understand the value of it now.
Bapuji was a child at heart. During the lockdown, he learnt Zoom video calls and Google meet, at the age of 90! And then, he would stay in touch with all his students worldwide and teach them music online. Anyone who met my Bapuji would agree how he always loved meeting people face to face and interact. But during lockdown, he did online concerts. He would say, 'Toh kya hua hum ghar par hai, agar isi tarah gaana hum gaa sakte hai aur isse logon ko khushi mil sakti hai, toh kyun nahi?' He would talk to me for at least two hours every day. He always had time for us.
Last month we had a conversation when I was talking about creating a raga. He explained, 'a raga is a combination of swara, and to get acceptance of that as a raga, it needs three generations. Otherwise, that combination of swara is like a composition or song that music directors are also composing. A raga should mature through at least three generations. Read the Shastra carefully, all the permutations and combinations have been done. It is like a sea and you have to study. There is no more scope to do anything on that. If you are saying you will make a new raga, perhaps you did not read the Shastra deeply'.
Bapuji's best contribution to Indian classical music is Jasrangi Jugalbandi. It speaks volumes about his contribution to the music world.
Bapuji, you are a blessing to us. We were chosen to be your children and we will live with everything you gave us -- the love, the compassion, the music and teaching.
(As told to Arundhuti Banerjee)