Friday, June 20, 2014



 “RAGA’N JOSH ” BY Shiela Dhar

Reading a wonderful Autobiography “RAGA’NJOSH stories from a Musical Life “ by Shiela Dhar ( Mathur 1929-2001) wife of Prof. P N Dhar ( 1919-2012 ) eminent economist and Principal Advisor to Mrs indira Gandhi . There is no doubt that shiela and PN Dhar were an unlike pair .He was silent while she was expressive . He thought about life while she lived it . But then both shared much in common too. They were sternly attached to their truthfulness. Both loved good food and friends . A good number of their close friends happened to be from kashmir valley for whom they remained the most affable and adorable couple .

Shiela belonged to Mathur Kayasth community . Prior to Independence ,this community has always been well versed in Persian and urdu and as such remained close to Muslim nobility especially Mughals .   Shiela did her MA English from Boston ,  taught English  literature at Delhi University and  earned her name as  an accomplished classical singer of Kirana Gharana . Shiela Dhar also worked at Publications Division New Delhi. She served on the board of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and was advisor for music to the Indian Council of Cultural Relations.

 Shiela ji  informs us that her sons Abhinav and Madhav initiated her into writing this Book. And about her husband she adds

“ From My husband ,I expected encouragement as a matter of right  but the extent of it surprised me. I owe much to my Extraordinary family in this venture .”

The opening chapter of the book takes you to House NO 7 Civil Lines Delhi , a sprawling colonial Bungalow,  where shiela  ji  grew as a child in a joint family of about sixty members  consisting of her grandparents , uncles , aunts  , children and the servants . Her Grandfather was a Barrister  at law who had been conferred  the  title of Rai Bahadur by British Government . You are made familiar with Mutual love , Harmony and the  charms of the old joint family living . I quote shiela ji

“ Any visitor to the house was welcomed  with great warmth and  cheer . This came to be talked as wonderful trait of our family . ”


                                                       ( Shiela ji singing in a concert )

 The Book has lovely anecdotes connected with Begum Akhtar ,Vishnu Dighamber Paluskar , Ahmed jan Thirkawa , Bade Ghulam Ali Khan ,Kesar Bai ,Ustad Bundu Khan , Bhim sen Joshi , siddeshwari Devi and ustad Fayaaz khan sahib.You also come across the fragrance and sweet melody of the morning ,evening and late night RAGAS as you move through the pages . You are also brought to HARBALLABH festivals as you move along the pages of the book.

 Through the pages of this book ,You are also informed how  noted classical  singer Siddehswari  Devi had problems in England with her  Bath room and the toilets .   She felt repulsive at the very idea of having a bath in a coffin like tub .She wanted a Bucket and Lota ( Mug ) in her elegant Bath room that had Bath Tub and carpets on the floor  . Somehow she  found a Plastic jug ,  removed the carpet flooring , sat  on the wooden floor and had her bath splashing water on her body. Suddenly there was  a lot of screaming . The water had seeped into the kitchen of an apartment below direct into the fish stew that was being cooked .  And then  she could never  adjust to the paper rolls in the toilets . She cancelled her concerts and rushed back to India .
And siddeshwari  told  every one ..

“ RAM !RAM!  I shall never go to Vilayat anymore. Never shall  I ask anyone to send me abroad.”

The book informs us that the great Sarangi Player Ustad Bundu Khan was so rigorous in his Riyaz that blood would often spurt from his finger nails .The insecurity and  arrogance of   Kesar Bai and the typical style of Rasoolan Bai to sing with one hand on her ear has been gracefully   mentioned in the book.

I quote one anecdote relating to Khan sahib Bade Ghulam Ali Khan  from the Book …

She was barely  16 years in age when  her father entrusted a serious job to her . She was to   receive Khan sahib  Bade Ghulam Ali Khan at the  Railway station, take him and his troupe  to the house of the host , ensure their fresh up and dinner and then bring them to the concert hall. Khan sahib was fond of Non vegetarian Food.  But the  hosts were totally vegetarian . When khan sahib came to know that he was being served a vegetarian food , he burst with anger…..

"Do you think I can sing the way I do if I have to feed on grasses swimming in fluids of various kinds? Every note I sing has the aroma of kebabs.'' Sheila then describes how everyone ran helter-skelter to prepare a meal consisting of a rich chicken curry. That day, she writes, "hearing him was pure and instant intoxication''.

Another Anecdote relates to  Richard Attenborough . Her boss in the Publications Division, Mohan Rao, who imposes his domineering hospitality  on Richard Attenborough with a South Indian vegetarian meal. The guest looked noticeably troubled and at one point could not help saying:

 "How do you chaps manage to eat this stuff? To me it tastes like stewed armpits!''

One more  anecdote mentions how Pandit Bhimsen Joshi could not resist the temptation of his Drinks even during performance .Pandit ji once disappeared  from the Concert venue along with his two disciples for his quick drink giving every one including his wife  a slip .Shiela ji adds

“ When he could not be traced anywhere , and twenty thousand waiting crowd had to be served something ,a formal request was made to Rais Khan sahib , who was considered by some to have the same stature , to fill in quickly .He looked like a young God as he settled down with his sitar. After a while the music began, and gripped the audience with its unusual quality.  But then  suddenly from the left side of the crowd ,a  solid sea of people burst into hysterical applause .A tottering figure of pandit Bhim Sen Joshi was  seen moving towards the stage .”

Through this book , i found a great writer hidden inside a classical singer who essentially was a Great human being ;Caring , Artistic , intelligent and compassionate.

Recommended for a great and  enjoyable reading to lovers of music . Others who try to find out something relating to  Prof.P N Dhar , Emergency Period,  Smt Indira Gandhi's rule or Political Gossip  may be disappointed . Shiela ji has skillfully chosen not to open that window in this wonderful BOOK. 

( Autar Mota 20.06.2014 )

Creative Commons LicenseCHINAR SHADE by Autarmota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.
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