In Memory of RasBhai

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In Memory of RāsBhāi

Today, I received unfortunate news about the death of my friend and colleague Srī Rās Bihārī Desāī, whom I called Rāsbhāi.
When I heard the news, my mind immediately went back to a morning long ago when I received a phone call at 5am.
It was Rāsbhāi on the other end.
“Divyāng bhāi, please listen to this. I know I’ve woken you up, but you must listen to this. We’ll talk after,” he said. Before I could really say anything, I heard the sound of drumming on the line. The patterns were set in miśra jāti.
After about 50 seconds, he came back on the phone.
“Who is that?” I asked.
“It is a bird. It is on the water bowl for birds. It’s actually dancing on it. I’ve been watching him for the last 40 minutes. I was thinking that I must call something and realized that I had to share it with you. That is why I called you so early in the morning.”
He actually recorded the bird dancing that day. I told him when we met next that I wanted to hear the whole thing. We met several times soon after that, but never at his home. Time, as it always does, passed by and today when I heard of his passing, I recall our agreement to listen to the bird dancing together and how that never came to be.
Rāsbhāi and I shared many memories together. He was one of my favourite Gujarātī singers. He was a good-hearted and knowledgeable person with a deep interest in philosophy. For the last 30 years, he has been using my students as his tabla player whenever possible. He was always a supporter of my work and I of his.
I pray to God that his soul will have the greatest place in heaven.

My First Meeting with Panḍit Saxenāji

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

On the first death anniversary of my first Tablā Gurū, Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā, I want to reflect on this great man who had immense knowledge of Tablā. I had a great love for him, and he had the same for me.


It was an evening in the month of February, 1971. My father told me that a big music festival, called Baiju Festival, was going on in the city, arranged by the Government of Gujarat. In addition, he informed me that Tablā maestro Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā was coming to perform and encouraged me to attend. I was very young at that time, but I was learning and playing Tablā for more than seven years. My teacher, Mr. Narmadā Śankar Bhaṭṭ, was a senior disciple of Panḍit Saxenā ji. I requested my father to take me to the festival.


He took me to the newly opened Jai Śankar Sundari Hall. With great curiosity, I sat in the third row, waiting anxiously for Saxenā ji’s turn to perform. He was slated to play two items: the first, with Gujarāt’s great vocalist Panḍit Rasiklāl Andhāriā, and the second with a sitārist.


When he came onto the stage, I was amazed by his presence and personality. He had a very small frame, not more than 5 feet in height. He wore a very nice kurtā and black koṭi. I would later learn that the koṭi was his signature style. Before him, I had already met many, many tabla players. Amongst of them all, he struck me as the most sober, most learned and calm person. His playing style mirrored his personality: neat, steady and balanced.


In his first item with the vocalist, he played nothing in vilaṁbit besides ṭhekā. I found this disappointing as I was expecting rolls and powerful drumming. But when madhya laya began with Rāga Megh, he played a small composition followed by a gat, which was enough to prove him to be the best student of Ustād Habibuddin Khān. In sitār accompaniment, he played some compositions, which I just could not understand at that time.


After the concert, I rushed backstage and touched his feet. I introduced myself. He told me he was coming back to Ahmedābād after ten days as a judge for the Gandharva Māhāvidyālaya competition. I told him proudly that I was participating in the same competition.


My father then arrived, did namaskar to Saxenāji, and asked him about me. Very humbly, Saxenāji replied, “I will be coming to Ahmedābād next week. Then I will get a chance to listen to him and give my remarks.”


With the determination to impress him at the upcoming competition, I returned home with my father and lasting memories of my first meeting with Saxenāji.


What happened next, I will write at another time.


Postnote by Gurūji Panḍit Divyāng Vakīl’s Student:
Panḍit Sudhirkumār Saxenā was one of the last Ustāds of the Ajrāḍā Gharānā. He spent many of his years in the care and service of the great Ustād Habibuddin Khān. He was the first professor of music in a higher-education institution in India, serving initially as a Professor, then Head of the Music Department at MS University in Baroḍā , Gujarāt. He passed away on November 30, 2007. He continues to live in the memories of his students and through his teachings.