Wednesday, February 20, 2019

The Bliss of Not Knowing

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A year ago, on this day, I had two events to attend. My son Anand was having the first public talk of his year's sabbatical, at IIT Delhi, about his book Jinnealogy: Time, Islam, And Ecological Thought in the Medieval Ruins of Delhi. It's an immensely fascinating subject, and his audience was soon deeply engrossed. Anand's talk started at 3 p.m., but we both knew I couldn't attend the full session if I was to reach Ramjas College in time for Ankit Chadha's newest offering.

I remember the first time we met Ankit Chadha. It was on the 15th November, 2014, at Chounsatth Khamba, Nizamuddin, where, along with Bindhumalini, Vedanth Bharadwaj, and Ajay Tipaniya, he had given a performance of Khusrau ke Rang: A Musical Journey. It was truly magical, and so very moving. The SRE and I were both delighted when Bindhumalini introduced us to this team of very talented young performers. After that, we made it a point to attend this young Dastango's performances whenever we could. We saw him perform dastans on Sant Kabir, Rahim, Partition, The Little Prince, etc., some solo, some with a partner. We would always exchange a few words with him, either before or after the performance, sometimes both times, and it was always wonderful to have those moments with him. He was always warm and friendly, and had the gift of giving you his complete attention. On a cold winter evening we attended Dastan-e Khanabadosh at the IGNCA (December 2016), a solo narration about the nomads of India. It was, as always, scintillating. When we met Ankit before the show, and asked him what he planned to do next, he said he was going to stay in Sabarmati Asram for some months, working on a dastan on Gandhiji. So this particular dastan was truly long awaited...

Given my paranoia about punctuality and the cooperation of the traffic on that day, I managed to reach Ramjas College with a little time to spare. I was delighted to meet Anand's teacher, Professor Mukul Manglik, and exchange a few words with him. He was happy to know that Anand was in India for the year, and hoped to see him.(The world is a strangely miraculous place: Anand was the first person to tell me about Dastangoi, and thanks to him, I attended performances by Mahmood Farooqi and Danish Husain, and Ankit knew him as a friend of both of these dastangos!)

I greeted Vedanth, who is a singer and musician par excellence. Ankit and I had a brief conversation. For the first time I asked him about his family. His father wasn't keeping well, so Ankit was planning to travel less, after meeting his present commitments. That same night they were catching a train to Bhopal (or was it Indore?), and in late March were performing in Bangalore. In April he had several performances on the East coast of the USA. I told him that Anand and family were around, and he said that he hoped to meet him this year. There were many people at the venue who wanted to meet him, and soon it was time for the performance.

It was an open stage, with tall trees around. There were some traffic sounds, but they could not muffle the power of the narrative. In an interview with The Indian Express, Ankit speaks at length about Praarthanaa.

It's been a year since I saw this. I remember being deeply moved by the narrative. Ankit had interwoven many beautiful, little known stories about Gandhiji among the popularly known ones. He speaks at length of Gandhiji's teen years, his desire to commit suicide at one point, his sorrow mixed with guilt at his father's death and the death of their first child, their experiences in South Africa. Death is omnipresent in this narrative, often in the background. His account of Gandhiji's and Ba's response to the death of his secretary Mahadev Desai was heart rending. Vedanth's rendering of bhajan's both familiar and unfamiliar, was exquisite. The Kabir bhajan he sang after Ankit's extremely moving account of Ba's passing, was heartrending in its beauty:
Kar le singaar chatur albeli.
(I wish I had Vedanth's version to share with you).
When I am deeply moved by a performance, I get goosebumps. Many a time that evening, I had goosebumps. I had always had great respect for Ankit's dedication to his work and the depth of his research, as well as the brilliance of his performances. That evening, I recognised him as a truly evolved soul, 'bahut hi pahuncha hua'. I remember also a moment of fear, that he had come too close to Death for Death's comfort. I brushed that fear aside, and went to congratulate him on this absolutely scintillating, extremely moving work. As an elder, my heart was full of blessings for him, and as a seeker, I felt that I needed his blessings. For me, that day, he had become a wise sage, a guru.

Little did I know then that it was the last time I would see him alive. About two and a half months later I would meet Vedanth at his funeral...

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