‘Music at a funeral should calm, not aim at inciting tears’
Musician Krishna Marathe gives spiritual Hindu chants, usually played on the fourth day after a death, a new avatar as she adds her guitar to the mix
“free-standing” sequel to his first biography Gandhi Before India, which traced Gandhi’s childhood and his decades as a lawyer-activist in South Africa, shifts the focus to India, where he returned in 1914. The book takes us right into the scene of action, as Gandhi spearheads a host of revolutionary and reformatory movements, before he is dramatically assassinated in 1948. Together, the tomes provide a holistic perspective on the leader’s life.
What makes this new account fascinating is that Guha happens to be for the first time, most members of the group aren’t first-time car owners. But none remember being part of a group comprising owners. Banker Jatin Lakhani, who joined the group last December, believes it comes from the fact that they are sailing in the same boat. “It’s a relatively new car. We were new SUV owners, and any source of knowledge on the car was welcome,” he says.
Lakhani, like most on the group, is obsessed with his machine. “If it’s not behaving properly, I need to get to the the first biographer to have access to the recently-opened Gandhi papers at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in New Delhi. “The material was collected by Gandhi’s first and most remarkable secretary Mahadev Desai, and later, Pyarelal Nayar. These papers track and document Gandhi’s correspondence from all over the world, his campaigns, letters to the Congress, and the criticism to his work, offering us a sense of a range of Gandhi’s influence,” he says.
Apart from the back-stories behind root of it. And here was a group where I could find like-minded people,” he says. But the fact that the group has people owning different variants invariably leads to raging debates on which car is better. “Of course, it’s not done with condescension. Whatever we discuss here is done with good intent,” says Ramachandran.
Taking it forward
The group makes it a point to meet every month. “At our meets, you’ll see children and even grandparents, the many revolutionary movements that set the stage for Gandhi’s demand for self-rule, Guha also touches upon the romance between Gandhi and Saraladevi Chaudhurani, the niece of Rabrindranath Tagore, whom he first met in Lahore. Their affair, though short and not consummated, was “very intense,” as visible in the letters that Gandhi sent to her, and which were painstakingly documented by Desai. That history has never judiciously discussed this story doesn’t come as a surprise to Guha. “I think there is a certain prudishness among the older generation of historians, who tend to exalt the public image at the expense of the personal,” he says. “I wanted to discuss Gandhi and Saraladevi in a way that was not scandalous, but human. They were enchanted by one another, but Gandhi could not have made a public display of his affection for her, because they were still part of a conservative society.”
But Gandhi’s personal life — marred by him being a difficult father and husband and the bizarre obsession with celibacy, which also saw him conduct the strangest experiment of sharing the bed with his grand-niece Manu — never once took away from his far-reaching political and social work, of which Guha feels the anti-untouchability campaign was most challenging. “It’s easy to mobilise people in a campaign for political freedom, but to ask Hindus to introspect on how they were treating a section of the society was commendable,” he says.
Having lived with Gandhi through his working career, Guha, who says he should be retiring now, is relieved that he has finally put the Gandhian story to bed. He, however, can’t be sure if his quest to know more is over. “I admire the man, but, of course, with reservation. Gandhi’s life is one lived in the open and his story is extraordinary in the way he shaped the country and the world. I don’t know [if am obsessed with Gandhi]… there are some things that are mysterious in every human being that perhaps, the individual himself/herself will never be able to understand. But all I wanted to do was provide a very layered, nuanced and textured account of Gandhi, and that’s why I prolonged.” after all it’s a nine-seater,” says fellow founding member and credit policy consultant, Ajay Nadkarni. Their first meet was at Sanjay Gandhi National Park in January. The following trips to a resort in Raigad, an old-age home, and then to Pen, saw numbers swelling. They no longer need the cards to spread the word. “People started enquiring when they saw our videos on Twitter,” says Nadkarni.
The philanthropic turn of events, though, was a natural progression. “Since we considered ourselves as family, there was a need to do something more selflessly,” Nadkarni says. It’s this activity that caught Mahindra’s attention, who wrote a personal mail to Nadkarni and Ramachandran lauding the initiative. “We used to tag him on our posts, but he had remained silent. Finally, when he saw our activities, he was all praise, said he never expected us to sustain this,” he smiles. IF you start watching a video on musician Krishna Marathe’s YouTube channel, you really don’t know what to expect looking at the set-up. Marathe, dressed in a formal coat, her hair spiked up, sits on a chair with her electric guitar in hand. Next to her sits a flute player. And then she opens her mouth, and the sweetest voice sings Narayan Hari Om, or Dakshinamurti Stotra, both of which are Sanskrit religious hymns.
Marathe, who was once heavily into rock music, was introduced to these Indian chants 10 years ago, when she was associated with a popular religious organisation. “I have been learning music from the age of three, and my mother was some sort of a Sanskrit expert, who has been learning classical music. So I grew up in that environment, but later, was reintroduced to that music when I went for events at this religious organisation,” says the Mumbai girl, who has now settled in Benagluru.
But even Marathe didn’t know that a chance spotting by the wife of a popular Bollywood actor would lead her career into a different space. “She saw me singing at an event 10 years ago, and then asked me to play at the chautha (fourth day prayer meet) as someone in her family had just passed away. I went there and played the typical classical chants, with my electric guitar, and there has been no looking back.” Since then, Marathe has played at many funeral prayer meets of various influential business and Bollywood families. Their only brief to her is that they want something peaceful and meditative. “I focus on meditative musical mantras, many of them original compositions. I play music that will calm the crowd, not instigate them to cry,” says the 38-year-old. She also says she has been getting job after job for years just because of word-of-mouth. “It’s too sensitive an issue for me to market myself.”
Aside from the fact that Marathe instils a rock element into the religious chants, what could be seen as interesting here is that she is an atheist herself. “My only focus is on the delivery, and only allegiance is to the music. I have realised this about our spiritual music — it’s so big in nature, that it can accommodate all kinds of tweaks. That means that if I add the electric guitar to it, it doesn’t change its integrity in any way.” Marathe does say that usually when people see her onstage, they are filled with scepticism, which transforms into a pleasant shock, when she starts singing. “I am suited-booted, and I have a guitar. That makes me such an anomaly. But I think it also works for me in the way that I have not tried to change myself. And, at the end of the day, I am very honoured to be playing at these events. The family is at its most vulnerable, and they trust me with the music. I like delivering on that kind of responsibility.”
Ramachandra Guha first got acquainted with Mahatma Gandhi’s life as a college student, when he read the latter’s autobiography.
Marathe playing at a satsang, accompanied by a flautist