The glory of classical music has soared to the pinnacle of the creative arts, with the timeless amalgamation of age, melody, and harmony, echoing through the scintillating voices of several exponents in the vast expanse of the global sphere of fine music. Recently, people mourned the demise of an outstanding Indian classical musician, Pandit Jasraj, who passed away on 17th August, 2020. His voice will live in the memory of the succeeding generations. The people of Meghalaya were exalted when they witnessed him perform in Shillong a few years ago. The indelible expressions of his spectacular performance enthralled the souls of all artists and music lovers who came that day to witness an epitome of the Hindustani classical tradition.Incidentally, a local Khasi-folk legend, Kerios Wahlang, was invited on the same occasion when Pandit Jasraj came to create an eternal realm of blissfulness and divinity. As a witness, it brought back my memory of their meeting in the city of Shillong. The Asian Confluence and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) had entrusted on me the responsibility of arranging a solo programme of the old man, Kerios Wahlang, before the beginning of the classical recital of Pandit Jasraj. Primarily, Kerios Wahlang did not take the assurance of a token fee into consideration as he was more enthusiastic about his performance. He even refused the organizers’ offer of conveyance but promptly arrived at the venue by a local taxi from his village at Mawngap.
Meanwhile, all the security and stage gear arrangements for Pandit Jasraj’s performance were put in place under the supervision of a prominent media person and veteran newsreader from New Delhi. As I escorted Kerios Wahlang to the stage, we discovered that his performance was not properly arranged for and he was asked to sit on the floor at a corner of the stage. I immediately disagreed. His grandson and music accompanist was also hesitant, when the old man intervened and said softly, “It’s alright. I can sing and it is fine for us.”
I was too embarrassed and felt humiliated with the expert’s shocking professional attitude from the so-called section of mainland India towards a local folk artiste. They were, nevertheless, committed to their expert arrangement of the sound-system. They argued that the plan for the stage gear for Pandit Jasraj is never disrupted anywhere in the world. I resigned and went back to the auditorium. When the old man, Kerios Wahlang, was about to begin his performance from a remote corner of the stage, none other than the occasion’s highest dignitary rose in disapproval. Kerios Wahlang and his musical accompanist were requested to rise to the podium earmarked for the performance of Pandit Jasraj, at the behest of the maestro himself.
Kerios Wahlang acknowledged that his performance on that day was the best in his lifetime. It was a proud moment for Kerios Wahlang that the world-renowned Indian classical vocalist Pandit Jasraj applauded, with sincerity, as he stood up followed by a standing ovation from the audience, for a few minutes, including the technicians. Meanwhile, Kerios Wahlang descended from the stage and bowed to pay homage to Pandit Jasraj, and, the maestro lifted him up. Both exchanged glimpses of heartfelt tribute that they paid to each other.
Now was the turn of Kerios Wahlang to sit in the audience and witness the performance of Pandit Jasraj. The chief of the Asian Confluence, Sabyasashchi Dutta, gave me and my colleague, Benedict Hynñiewta, the privilege of painting on canvas while the maestro performed. Before the much-awaited show began, Pandit Jasraj gestured a namaste to the audience, while there was an evident eye contact between him and Kerios Wahlang. Adjacent to the stage, we were performing a jugalbandi of painting on canvas. When I just happened to look back at the audience, I saw tears rolling down the cheeks of the old man, Kerios Wallang, which he wiped with his handkerchief. I was extremely touched and tried to spontaneously translate the candid moment, on canvas, with my brush strokes. However, the old man was tired and had to return to his village, and, so, he could not stay back for the maestro’s entire performance. I took a brief moment, as I saw him off. When I went to hand over the envelop given by Mr. N. Munish Singh, the Regional Director, ICCR, he refused and instead thanked everybody for the opportunity given to him.
Nevertheless, I persuaded him to accept the envelop as a token of gratitude and appreciation to which he embraced me. The cab, thereafter, that he travelled by drove away as if to infinity. As I resumed the Jugalbandi with Benedict, we were overwhelmed by the performance of Pandit Jasraj when the flexibility of his voice, in rhythm with the music, transcended our minds giving solace to our hearts. It led me to reminisce the emotional encounter that I had with the legendary Kerios Wahlang. Both Pandit Jasraj and Kerios Wahlang are an epitome of sheer simplicity and beauty of character. This narrative is a humble tribute to the colossal stature of a global celebrity, Pandit Jasraj, and to a home-grown genius, Kerios Wahlang.