The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 9, 2000


Jiddu Krishnamurthi

Satyajit Ray

Jawaharlal Nehru

Ravi Shankar

Lata Mangeshkar

Sunil Manohar Gavaskar

Amitabh Bachchan


Jiddu Krishnamurthi
(May 12, 1895 — February 17, 1986)

ABOUT ninety years ago, the founders of the Theosophical Society, Dr. Annie Besant and Charles W. Leadbeater were on the lookout for a ‘messiah’ or ‘World Teacher’. During their travels around the then Madras Presidency, they spotted a skinny little boy playing on a beach along with his friends. The boy’s countenance had a mesmerising effect on them, and they were sure they had Jiddu Krishnamurthifound their ‘messiah’. They adopted the boy, groomed him, and gave him the best education possible. Years later in 1929, when the Theosophical society was ready to announce the new messiah, Jiddu Krishnamurti shocked the Society and the rest of the world by refusing to play the role. Albeit disappointed by his refusal, the Theosophical Society did not disown him. In fact he had a very close relationship the Dr. Besant right until the end.

The emerging of Krishna-murti’s teachings during the troubled twenties effectively challenged and shocked many. He travelled from place to place speaking to people, but during the years of the Second World War he remained in Ojai, Calfornia. It was only in 1947, just two months after Independence, that he returned to India and stormed into the hearts of the young with his unconventional philosophy.

Krishnaji or ‘K’, as he was af-fectionately called, did not be-lieve in rituals, conventional re-ligion, and even the guru-shishya tradition. ‘Meditation is not a search; it is not a seeking, a probing, an exploration. It is an explosion and discovery. It’s not the taming of the brain to conform nor is it a self-introspective analysis. . . . Meditation is the emptying of consciousness, not to receive, but to be empty of all endeavour. There must be space for stillness, not the space created by thought and its activities but that space that comes through denial and destruction, when there is nothing left of thought and its projection. In emptiness alone can there be creation.’

Unlike many saints who en-courage their disciples to revere them, touch their feet, worship them, Krishnaji strongly forbade disciples to cling to him: ‘I have affection for people. But I say, don’t get attached to me, as I am like the wind; you can’t hold it.’ And like the wind he remained to the end of his life – defying all efforts to declare him a guru, saint, or messiah.Top


Satyajit Ray
(May 2, 1922- April 23, 1992)

IN the early fifties, noted film director Jean Renoir arrived in West Bengal to shoot ‘The River’. A young graphic artist approached the director and got the permission to watch the shooting. The request was granted, and the idea to film Bibhuti Bhushan Bandyopadhyay’s classic ‘Pather Panchali’ was born.

Satyajit RayBorn into a family of artists, Satyajit Ray showed rare talent for drawing from a very young age. His grandfather was a well-known author, composer, printer, and publisher specialising in children’s literature, and his fa-ther was a writer and poet. Ray lost his father quite early in his life, and he spent his childhood with his uncle. He went to San-tiniketan in 1941 where he studied art under Nandlal Bose. In 1943 he joined an advertising agency, and after ten years’ work rose to become its art director.

In about 1950 he was sent to England to work for some months in his advertising firm’s London office. Once there, he seized the opportunity to see European and American films. Among the films that had a profound impact on him was De Sica’s ‘Bicycle Thief’. The technique of shooting on actual locales with non-professional actors in a realistic fashion ap-pealed to him.

Ray returned to India, and wrote the first draft of Pather Panchali. However, no producer showed any interest in the project. Undeterred, Ray, along with his cameraman friend Subrato Mitra, and art director, Bansi Chandra Gupta, shot some foot-age using a 16 mm camera, but the project had to be shelved for a year. In 1952 he mortgaged his life insurance, and even sold jewellery belonging to his mother and wife. Later the West Bengal government assisted him with finance and the film was finally made. Pather Panchali had a bad opening in Calcutta but picked up later. In 1956 it won the award for ‘the best human document’ at the Cannes Film Festival and a string of awards.

In the next next twenty-five years, Ray came up with cinematic masterpieces with amazing regularity. Films like, Aparajito, Parash Pathar, Jalasaghar, Mahanagar, Sshani Sanket, Sonar Kella and so on, he put the Indian films on the world stage. In 1961, Ray made the highly acclaimed documentary on the life of Rabindranath Tagore.

In spite of all the acclaim, Ray had no illusions about the impact of his work to bring about social change. ‘No film or for that matter no work of art,’ he once ad-mitted, ‘has ever brought about social change. Films can provide food for thought. But even the best reasoned and most perceptive documentaries and educational films cannot by themselves bring about the change. They can only spread the message and provide guidelines, which may or may not lead to effective action.’

Akira Kurosawa aptly summed up Satyajit Ray’s awesome talents when he said: ‘The quiet but deep observation, understanding and love of the human race which are characteristic of all his films, have impressed me greatly. Mr. Ray is a wonderful and respectful man. I feel that he is a ‘giant’ of the movie industry.’

Standing at six feet and four inches Satyajit Ray was literally a giant among the filmmakers.Top


Jawaharlal Nehru
(November 14, 1889 – May 27, 1964)

BORN into a very affluent fam-ily, Jawaharlal Nehru, could have spent his life in luxury, but he chose to give it all up for the suf-fering millions of his country.

Jawaharlal NehruAfter his primary education in 1905, he spent seven years in England, first at Harrow School, then at Cambridge, and later at the Inner Temple in London where he qualified as barrister. On his return to India he gave up law and joined the freedom movement. In the beginning he was inspired by Shri Aurobindo Ghosh, Lala Lajpat Rai, Bipin Chandra Pal, Sardar Ajit Singh, and later M. K. Gandhi. He was elected president of the Indian National Congress five times, and it was under his directions that the resolution for complete independence was adopted at the Lahore session of 1929. Between 1921 and 1945 he spent nine years in jail.

After independence, he became India’s first prime minister and guided India for the next seventeen years. Abroad he champi-oned the cause of the third world and along with Nasser and Marshal Tito, he became one of the founders of the Non-aligned movement. Back home, he was responsible for ushering in the green revolution, gigantic engineering projects, and the creation of Chandigarh. Nehru was not merely a politician; he had the vision of a statesman, the deep understanding and foresight of a thinker, and the sensitivity of a writer. His books Discovery of India, Glimpses of World History, and his autobiography re-flect his awesome grasp of India and the world at large.

Though Nehru believed in material prosperity he valued higher values as well: ‘Without science you perish; without spirituality you perish.’ His message of tolerance is relevant even today: ‘It is essential for the proper func-tion of democracy and growth of national unity and solidarity that communalism should be elimi-nated from Indian life.’

Great people have admirers, but only a few of them are admired even by their opponents. Here is what Clement R. Atlee, who was Britain’s Prime Minister when India won her Independence, had to say about Nehru: ‘There are few, if any, parallels in history to the magnitude of Nehru’s achievement, and whatever storms in future may blow up, India will be eternally grateful to the man who piloted the Ship of State on her maiden voyage with so few errors of navigation.’

Nehru never really recovered from the humiliating defeat suf-fered at the hands of China in 1962, and he died on May 27, 1964. On his desk were found these lines by Robert Frost: The woods are lovely dark and deep/ But I have promises to keep/And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.Top


Ravi Shankar
(April, 17, 1920)

MENTION the word sitar, and the first name that springs to our minds is that of Pandit Ravi Shankar, India’s cultural ambas-sador to the world.

Ravi ShankarAs a little boy he toured all over the world as a member of his brother’s dance troupe. Since young Ravi Shankar was more inclined towards music, he was sent to Ustad Alauddin Khan of Maihar for training. Destiny would take him to the West, turning him to a cult figure. His association with the Beatles and Yehudi Menuhin resulted in interesting East-West fusion. To popularise Indian music, Ravi Shankar opened a school in Los Angeles in 1967. Fifty years after his debut, his admirers seem to have lost count of the number of concerts he has held, and the number of discs he has recorded.

Artists are rarely recognised in their lifetime, but Ravi Shankar has been one of the few lucky artistes who have been admired by critics and art lovers alike ever since his appearance on world stage. National and international awards were showered upon him in torrents, such as the Interna-tional Music Vensco Award, the Silver Bear, and Venice Festival Award. During 1969-74 he composed and conducted Festival of India music with top musicians of Europe and America. Between 1949 and 1955, he served as Director of Music of All India Radio. In 1976 he was elected Fellow of the Sangeet Natak Akatemy. The Government of India nominated him to the Rajya Sabha in 1986. He wrote and conducted the orchestral musical ballet based on Nehru’s Discovery of India. The haunting signature music of the IX Asiad held in Delhi was his composition. He also gave the musical score for Stayajit Ray’s masterpiece Pather Panchali, and a couple of other films.

Talking about the impact of Ravi Shankar on music lovers, especially the young ones, Ravi Shankar’s old friend Yehudi Menuhin once said: ‘In him they recognize a synthesis of the immediacy of expression, the spontaneity, truth and integrity of action suited to the moment, that is a form of honesty characteristic of both the innocent child and the great artist.Top


Lata Mangeshkar
(September 28, 1929)

WHEN she was barely five or six, Lata Mangeshkar heard a student of her father’s render raga puria dhanashree wrongly. In all her innocence she not only pointed out the wrong notes, but also gave a perfect demonstration. Just then her father walked in, and was amazed at his daughter’s amazing mastery over the complex raga. Later he said to his wife: ‘Imagine, we have a gifted musician in our house, and we didn’t even know.’ Just then he decided to groom his talented daughter, but even he would hardly have foreseen the dizzy heights of success his little daughter would scale. After her father, Lata’s first formal guru was Ustad Aman Ali Khan Bhendibazaarwale, and later Amanat Khan Dewaswale.

Lata MangeshkarBut her happy childhood ended with the death of her father. Now Lata, being the eldest of six children, was forced work in order to feed the family. She sang her first song for Vasant Joglekar’s Marathi film Kiti Hasaal, but un-fortunately for her, the song was not included in the film. Later she was employed as child artiste, and her maiden film was Pahili Mangalagaur. After doing only five films Lata refused to act, as she did not like the idea of putting on heavy makeup.

In 1947, Lata recorded her first Hindi song ‘Pa lagoon kar jori . . . .’ for the film Aap Ki Seva Mein. She has dominated the Indian music scene since. With more than 25,000 songs in almost all Indian languages, she is the most popular voice in the sub-continent, and most of us can hardly imagine life without her songs. There is hardly a music director who has not used her voice. And not many know that between 1962 and 1969, Lata also composed music for three Marathi films.

She was honoured with the Padma Bhushan in 1969; was presented the key of the City of Georgetown, Guyana in 1980; honorary citizenship of the Republic of Suriname in 1980; honorary citizenship of the USA in 1987; Dada Saheb Phalke Award for life long contribution to cinema in 1989. She won the Filmfare awards for the best female playback singer for Madhumati, Bees Saal Baad, Khandaan, and Jeene Ki Raah. In order to encourage new talent, she stopped accepting such awards after 1969. But in spite of all the awards and honour her most cherished moment is when Pandit Nehru cried after she rendered the patriotic song Ai mere watan ke logo, and much later at Tirupati, where she sang for an hour and a half after being conferred with the title Asthan Sangeet Vidvaan Sarloo (Court Musician of the Shrine).

Her hold on her admirers’ minds can be judged by the number of enduring myths about her, like the one that American scientists are willing to pay the Indian Government millions of dollars to acquire her vocal cords after her death; that Pakistan is willing to give up its claim on Kashmir in exchange for Lata Mangeshkar, etc. And contrary to the widely held belief that she very calm, and is very particular about her diet, and that she only eats boiled food, Lata actually used to be a very short-tempered person, and she does relish spicy dishes.Top


Sunil Manohar Gavaskar
(July 10, 1949)

IF cricket is the most popular and the most paying game in India today, ‘Little Master’ Sunil Manohar Gavaskar deserves credit for it. In his long career, this run machine was the nightmare of bowlers all over the world. As long as he was on the crease, the main task of the opposition was to dismiss him as soon as possible.

Sunil Manohar GavaskarSunny, as his innumerable fans called him, began his Test career against the West Indies in 1971. He hit 774 runs and four 100s, although he played only four times, helping India to their first win in a rubber against the West Indies. At Port of Spain he scored 124 and 220 not out. He captained India in 40 Tests. In 1981-82, he hit his career-best 340 batting for Bombay against Bengal. In 1983 he became highest scor-ing Test batsman of all time at Ahmedabad during his innings of 90 against the West Indies. Gavaskar and Dilip Vengaskar added an Indian second wicket record of 344 against West Indies at Caltutta.

When he surpassed Sir Donald Bradman’s record of 29 Test centuries, he was modest enough to say: ‘I am obviously very pleased but I do not regard this as equalling his record. Bradman scored his runs in 52 Test matches, and I am playing my 95th’.’ Without taking credit away from Sir Don, it must be stated Gavaskar scored runs as opener against some of the fiercest fast bowlers of the world, where as when he came to bat, Sir Don was usually protected from the new ball.

Gavaskar became the first to pass 10,000 Test runs, in 1886-87, his final season as a Test cricketer, and his 34 hundreds remain the most ever. Thirteen of his hundreds were scored against the West Indies, the most feared side at the time.

The Government of India honoured him with the Arjuna Award in 1975, and the Padma Bhushan in 1980. Now Gavaskar is a successful cricket commentator and writer.Top


Amitabh Bachchan
(October 11, 1942)

THE release of director Prakash Mehra’s blockbuster Zanjeer in 1973, took the film industry by storm. In an industry dominated by chocolate-faced heroes, here was an actor who did not sing or dance, and barely smiled in the entire film. Zanjeer had been turned down by no fewer than five top actors because they felt the role wouldn’t be accepted by filmgoers. The film’s protagonist was a rugged and lanky young man who takes on the under-world single handedly and brings it to its knees. The audience loved him, and the ‘angry young man’ was born.

Amitabh BachchanAmitabh had actually got his break in Khwahja Ahmad Abbas’s Saat Hindustani a couple of years earlier, but had gone unnoticed. A long list of hit films like Deewar, Sholay, Trishul, Namak Haram, Don, Majboor etc., followed, and Amitabh was to rule the Hindi film world for the next two decades or so with hardly any opposition worth mentioning. Later in his career he once again surprised his fans by his comic portrayals in films like Chupke Chupke and Amar Akbar Anthony. Until recently this one-man-industry literally towered over all other actors, and his name on the billboard was enough to make a film a hit.

There have been very popular actors before, but the Amitabh Bachchan phenomenon defies analysis. Here is a man who is loved by men and women of all age groups, stations, and religions. Amitabh is himself at a loss to understand his unprecedented success. He often recalls incidents like the one when a little girl refused to take food or medicine until

‘Anthony Uncle’ came over and fed her. Her condition was critical, then someone requested Amitabh to visit the little girl. The star was so touched that he went to the hospital and fed his little admirer. His serious accident while shooting in Bangalore, united the entire nation. Thousands of people held mass prayer meetings for him in Bombay, Bangalore and other cities. Had he not survived, people would probably have deified him.

(To be concluded)
Text and illustration by Kuldip Dhiman

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