Pandit Jasraj has rightly been called India’s best gift to the world who can take you on a spiritual journey, a musical nirvana with his perfect rendition of Hindustani classical music. He was born on January 28, 1930 in Hisar in Haryana in an orthodox Brahmin family to Pandit Motiram, a classical singer. His father died when Jasraj was four, on the day he was to be appointed as the state musician in the court of Osman Ali Khan. Pandit Jasraj’s vocal range extends three-and-a-half octaves and uses precise diction. He has also done extensive research to create numerous innovative compositions.
He created a novel form of jugalbandi called Jasrangi that is styled on the ancient system of moorchhana, between a male and a female vocalist, who each sing different ragas at the same time. In spite of all his accomplishments, he remains very simple yet philosophical, looking at life at the age of 84 with the vision of a child and a dreamer focusing on positive things with infinite faith in God and destiny. His enthusiasm is infectious, especially when he joyfully proclaims that the recent Boston concert, which was organized by Mithas, was his “best ever” with overflow of love from the audience. In this interview in Chai with Manju series, he shared his thoughts and philosophy of life, using some very interesting dialogues interlaced in Hindi with a great sense of humor which we have tried to share here.
QUESTION: What do you think is your secret of happiness?
PANDIT JASRAJ: I am not an old man. I think of myself as very young. My heart is that of a child—sometimes that of a crazy child (and then says in swift Hindi): “Dil to baccha hei..thoda paagal bhi hei” (and laughs heartly.)
Q: You seem to be at peace with life .What is your philosophy of life?
PJ: I always think that no matter what is going on around me that life is very beautiful because God is with me at all times. I never think of unhappiness and negativity in life. I disregard them. I just focus on whatever brings me happiness and think about it over and over. I always like to spend time with philosophers and ‘vidwaans’ and learn from them. Maharaja Jaswant Singh of Anand was a big influence on me.
Q: Do you believe in destiny?
PJ: Yes, completely. Of course, I believe in hard work but destiny is very powerful. It will hold your finger and take you in a particular direction, sometimes even without your realizing it. “kismat anguli pakadkar lei chalte hei jaanha jaana hota hei.” Things happen in a certain way when God wants to give you something. For example, in your case, you are a doctor, you came to America to study, work and of course, you work hard and succeed but it is still all “God’s will” for you. I hear people say that I have earned all this ‘Maine Kamaya hei yeh saab kuchh” and believe more in themselves than in God but I truly believe that all the happiness comes from blessings and “kripa” of God. People also come in your life for a reason.
Q: What do you think of love?
PJ: (Laughs): What is there to think? Love just happens. It comes to stick to you “chipak jaata hei” even when you do not expect it. It is not a delusion, it is a reality. What kind of life would it be if one did not have the experience of falling in love.
Q: Your dad died at the age of 4. How did it affect your life as a child and what are the long term effects of growing up without a dad?
PJ: I often go to the dad’s ‘samadhi’ and ask any questions that I may have and I have to say that I always get my answers. So how can I say that I have lost my dad. People that you love always live in your heart forever as a part of you. I was very lucky that my older brother took the role of my father first
then that of my guru. All of my older brothers ,uncles, family have helped me so much. I am so lucky and blessed.
Q: You started your career as a tabla player and there is a story that you left that after seeing the mistreatment of accompanying artists like tabla players and dedicated yourself to singing .Do you still play tabla?
PJ: Yes. I love tabla and I enjoy playing tabla for fun. So whenever I get a chance or I am in the mood then I play even if it is for only 5-10 minutes.
Q: In this concert in Boston, you are performing with Swapan Chaudhari. Do you think that your performance changes in any way with different tabla players?
PJ: Great tabla players can change so much in a program. “Program ka raang badal dete hein.” Swapan is wonderful. I really enjoy working with him.
Q: Your wife Madhura is the daughter of famous movie director V Shantaram and directs documentaries and plays. What are some of the strengths and challenges of two creative artists living together?
PJ: Hmmm ..There are some advantages and disadvantages too. When it works and you agree on things then it is fantastic, and when you do not… then it gets tough ..”Muskhil ho sakte hei.”
Q: You have two children: Sharangdev Pandit and Durga Jasraj. Tell us about them.
PJ: I am very proud of my kids. They are very creative and talented. Durga Jasraj has done great work and is also a television anchor and presenter. Sharangdev has wide interests in music .He is a well-known composer and is a television producer.
Q: Do you think music runs in genes? Your nephews are Jatin-Lalit and Sulakshana Pandit is your niece. Have you trained them in any way?
PJ: Yes. I do believe that music runs in your genes but you have to shape and polish your talent [tarashna padta hei] Family can play a major role in training in music.
Q: Do you take any special precautions regarding your voice?
PJ: Yes, I do. I eat very simple food ‘saada khana” with no spices. I also do not eat anything sour. I cannot remember the last time that I ate tomatoes. I also do not drink anything cold.
Q: Tell us about the best part of your musical journey?
PJ: Best part is that I was born in a family of musicians.
Q: Where do you see the future of classical music?
PJ: Future of classical music is very good. Some modern journalists think that classical music has no future but they are completely wrong. It is very powerful “bahut aasardaar hota hei.” It is spiritual. It brings you a lot of peace, happiness ..”Raahat.”
Q: Do you do Riyaz on a regular basis?
PJ: Laughs ….Riyaz like a good building needs regular maintenance.
Q: How do you prepare for your concert and what is your favorite place to perform in the world?
PJ: I keep an open mind for a program and go with the flow. Many Indian classical musicians do not decide what they’re going to perform before going on stage. Often I go with the moment, playing something after listening to what someone has played before me when I get inspired. I have to say that I would pick this particular concert in Boston as my first choice now. It was such a wonderful experience .It was so powerful. I have never felt like that before. The love from the audience was amazing.
Q: What is your favorite Raag?
PJ: Wherever my mood takes me at a certain time.
Q: You have so many well-known students. Who do you think will best carry on your legacy?
PJ: I have so many wonderful students. It is hard to name a few. They include Sanjeev Abhyankar, Ratan Mohan Sharma, Tripti Mukherjee, Suman Ghosh, Pritam Bhattacharya, Sadhana, Kala, Girish, Chandrasekhar, Hemang Mehta, Gargee and Ankita Joshi .
Q: You have won many awards. Any favorites?
PJ: I never thought that I will get awards like Padmabhushan. I have never tried to get any awards .They have come to me. Awards have a way of pushing you though and an intelligent person knows that this is not the limit. It is important to keep pushing yourself to do better.
Q: What is the best way that you like to relax apart from music?
PJ: I like to teach, watch TV, politics, sometimes like to watch movies .One of my favorite movie was Sadma with Sridevi and Kamala Hasan. I really enjoyed it. Sridevi was so good in her child like behavior.
Q: Panditji, you have had an amazing life, great stories and superb memory to store it in. Do you have any dreams unfulfilled?
PJ: Manju, I am blessed that my memory is very good, but do not say much about it. Next thing “‘pata chalega ke alzeimers ho gaya” ..laughs heartily. Yes, I have many dreams. One should never stop dreaming.
Q: You travel so extensively. Is there any fitness regime and how do you cope with all this traveling?
PJ: It is the love of the music and audience that keeps me going. When My journey is long then I keep playing music in my head “aur waqt kaab nikaal jaata hei malum hi nahi hota hei.” Of course, my diet is very simple and bland.
Q: What is your last word on Chai with Manju?
PJ: This tea was very good “yeh chai bahut acchi thee. Bahut maaza aaya.” Manju, you are a wonderful anchor.