‘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

Mid Day - - GALLERIE - AASTHA ATRAY BANAN aastha.banan@mid-day.com

“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

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