October 2 will mark Mahatma Gandhi’s 145th birth anniversary. With several kinds of celebrations afoot to commemorate the Father of the Nation, Classical Indian musician Neela Bhagwat will also be performing an ode, titled Mahatma.
An archival photo dating back to 1948, of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. It was the year he was assassinated. Pic/AFP
Bhagwat had written the concert presentation post 9/11 in 2001 and has structured the performance based on the musical form, Khayal; including both the longer version, Bada Khayal and shorter version, a Chhota Khayal.
A famous singer from the Gwalior gharana, Bhagwat had been itching to use the khayal for quite some time. “Bol Alaap i.e. the usage of words is a prominent aspect in my music. Having done this for the last 30-40 years, I have always felt that the words should be contextualised and that’s how I have been making compositions.”
Music artiste Neela Bhagwat during a performance
The search in Ahmedabad
Bhagwat explains why she chose to base the event on the Mahatma: “I was born in 1942 in Ahmedabad, so prominent figures like Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Rabindranath Tagore were always in my thoughts.” Looking back at 1948, when she was just six years old, Bhagwat shares, “Gandhi had just died and I couldn’t understand how human beings were turned into ashes. Something about his death left an impact on me.”
Mesmerised by the national icon, Bhagwat read scores of books including Gandhi’s own autobiography, watched Richard Attenborough’s film Gandhi, read criticisms and yet her quest didn’t conclude until she read Rajmohan Gandhi’s The Good Boatman.“That book moved me so much, that for the first time, I could imagine him as a human being stretching out his arms and feeling the world around,” says Bhagwat.
Inspired to perform
The artiste was then inspired to create this undulating composition and later on incorporated poetry by PS Rege, Uma Shankar Joshi and Hansmukh Pathak among others as part of the programme, Mahatma. It also included the only poem written by Gandhi, titled He Namratake Sagar setting it to tune.
The performance spanning one and a half hours has been lauded at various platforms worldwide, ranging from the Institute of Social Studies in The Netherlands and Tagore Centre in Berlin to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston.
Yet those performances haven’t stayed with her as much as the one at Sabarmati Ashram. “After my performance, I met a girl who was 30-35 years old and was sitting outside the Mahatma’s room. She told me how Gandhi meant both a father and a mother to her.
That moved me so much,” she shares, explaining that she finds Gandhi’s life filled with suffering, which in turn empowered him with creativity. She sums up, “His message is like don’t resist pain was inspiring. By considering everything and everyone the same, spells greatness.”
On: October 1, 6.30 pm
At: National Gallery of Modern Art, MG Road, Fort.