to the maiden name
The well-known maestro Pt Vishwa Mohan Bhatt has enhanced his celebrity status not only as master performer but also as an improviser and a soulful composer. He has successfully Indianised the western Hawaiian guitar. By incorporating elements of sitar, sarod and veena, and by adding more strings, he has designed the Mohan Veena and Vishwa Veena and taken them to unbelievable heights. The 1994 Grammy winner has a unique and adorable body language during his performance. The soft-spoken musician spoke about his passion for music to Piyush Paachak.
What makes Vishwa Mohan so special?
Well, the blessings of my gurus, rigorous riyaaz and my karna priya (pleasant to the ears) music. The instruments Mohan Veena and Vishwa Veena were devised to meet such objectives and I have tried to do justice to the instruments by playing them to the best of my knowledge and ability. The integration of the features of other classical instruments into a single instrument with a touch of acoustics engineering produces a different feeling.
Why did you choose to invent a hybrid instrument?
I inherited music from by family and had the blessing of Pt Ravi Shankar Ji. I always wanted to be innovative and do something original with my creative abilities. I could gradually bring out this "internationally Indian" instrument which has elements of sitar, sarod, veena and guitar. Mohan Veena, a 20-string modified archtop guitar with three melody strings, four drone strings and 12 sympathetic strings, can produce a rich blend of western and Indian classical music. The instrument has also evolved with the passage of time.
How has your family contributed to your success?
My father was a well-known musician. My brother was an established sitarist. My sons are talented too. Salil (my disciple too) is doing well with the instrument and Saurabh is a budding composer. The entire family, including my wife Padma, has always been supportive and inspired me to prosper. My mother Chandra Kala Bhatt, even at the age of 96, teaches me music. She is my god.
Which are your most memorable performances?
A special concert at Madison Square Garden (New York) on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995 and then a performance at the Festival of International Guitar Stars in Toronto, also in 1995. The "Meeting by the River" (along with Ry Cooder) which fetched me the Grammy will always remain special to me; a recent performance at Texas Dallas with Eric Clapton, attended by more than one lakh music lovers, and was just unforgettable. Performing for the SPIC MACAY has also been great. The Saptak Festival at Ahmedabad and the Sawai Gandahrva Fest at Pune are a few of my favourites.
What are the projects you are working on currently?
Besides performances and recordings, I also devote some time to fusion music. I have done jugalbandis with many well-known western performers in the past. I am at present working on a ‘fusion project’ of Indian classical melodies and the folk compositions of Rajasthan with the famous Langaas and Manganiars for a London-based musical company. This is expected to be a great creation.
You have done some composing too.
Yes, composing background scores has been a joyful experience. I entered this field when I composed Music for Relaxation for Music Today. Meghdootam, a Sanskrit epic poem, has also been composed and recorded by me. The mellifluous Mohan Veena has been used for the background music of Hollywood’s Dead Man Walking, Two days in the Valley and Meet the Fockers. I have also composed the sonata for Bollywood art movie Bawander.
Where do you look from here?
I would endeavour to play better and better and glorify Vishwa-Mohan Veena. Would want to perform more and more the world over. I wish to see my sons achieve greater heights in their lives and, more importantly, would want to see my favourite grandson Satwik, a child prodigy, groom himself into a fine musician.
Jyoti Singh on Matongini Hajra, a freedom fighter from Bengal who smilingly gave up her life for the country
She deserves a special place amongst the galaxy of the freedom fighters. Born in a family of modest means in Hogla village, married at 13 to a 55-year-old wealthy widower, widowed at 18, a martyr at 72, Matongini Hajra lived a life paved with adversities. Though people may not know her, her name is not unfamiliar in her village, Alinan, in Midnapur district of Bengal. Her courageous story, however, is restricted to the place where she lived. Primary schools and bookstores have been named after her.
Her resolve to live in a separate hut with a little kitchen and a small piece of land after her husband’s death was a step towards self-reliance. Committing herself to a celibate life, she started living with bare minimum necessities and did not accept a penny from her stepsons. After the death of her father, she sold the land at Hogla village and used the money to buy a spindle and a cow. This was a great support for she could now spin cloth, sell milk and grow vegetables.
The turning point in her life came when freedom fighters and Congress leaders started holding their secret meetings in the family priest’s house that had fallen vacant after his death. Matongini attended the meetings and being an excellent cook served them too. Hearing them, she was gripped by an urge to do something for the country.
So dedicated was she to the Gandhian philosophy that she followed it with absolute faithfulness. Her influence was pervasive. She motivated women to join the national movement.
Exhibiting extraordinary courage and willpower, she started salt camps at Tamluk. Soon, she had other women joining her. Undeterred by the police, often in jest she would slip salt packets in the policemen’s pockets and quip, "This is the gift of our motherland then why should we have the colonisers." Being the chief organiser of the Congress District Women’s Conference, she visited each home in the villages, urging women to stand up against imposition of taxes.
In 1932, when the revolutionaries decided to hoist flags at all offices and courts of British rajas as part of the Civil Disobedience Movement, Matongini disguised herself as a mad woman and managed to slip into the court and unfurl the Tricolour chanting Vande Matram. Six months of imprisonment did not break her spirit but only fanned the flame of patriotic fervour.
Again on the visit of Governor Sir John Herbert to Tamluk, following the killings of three British administrators, Matongini tactfully broke the tight security circle, disguised as a beggar and showed black flags in rebellion. On September 27, 1942, local leaders planned to take over important government institutions on September 29. The whole night, Matongini chalked out the execution of the plan. First, a group was to sabotage all communication links — roads and telephone lines — with Tamluk at night. The revolutionaries placed big trees on the roads to disrupt transport, demolished 30 culverts, uprooted 194 telegraph poles and removed 27 miles of telephone and telegraph wires and marched in the morning to Tamluk Court.
Matongini too set out with a conch shell in one hand and the flag in the other, asking the women of her house to take care of the household in her absence. As the group marched, the police opened fire. Many people dispersed and ran for their lives. But Matongini defiantly continued her march amidst the shots. First, there were warning shots but seeing her resoluteness, the police aimed at her limbs. She fell to the ground clutching the flag in one hand. She continued dragging herself till they fired a shot on the forehead. Her body was not handed over to her relatives and Ramakrishna Mission members cremated her. Her ruthless assassination spread the fire of patriotism in the hearts of the people, thus lending impetus to the freedom struggle.
Today a memorial in front of the Tamluk court stands to remind us of this freedom fighter.
Rupan Deol Bajaj says that three decades ago when she decided to retain her maiden name after marriage, it ruffled many a feather
It happened at a time when several inane topics were being hotly discussed (by women). Why on earth was God referred to as ‘He? Why not as ‘She? Why the hell did the legal code illogically state that "he includes she", whereas it is actually ‘she’, which in its spelling, includes ‘he’? Why don’t men have to announce their marital status, whereas women have to classify themselves as Miss or Mrs? What about Ms? (By the way, the ladies asked each other what was the correct pronunciation of Ms.)
It was the batch of 1969 — which of us was the first is unclear, the subject had never been planned or discussed or touched upon by any of us — but three of us, Miss Meenakshi Anand, Miss Kasturi Gupta and Miss Rupan Deol of the Haryana, Bengal and Punjab cadres, respectively, suddenly metamorphosed into Meenakshi Anand Choudhary, Kasturi Gupta Menon and Rupan Deol Bajaj in the state gradation lists and the all-India civil list of the Indian Administrative Service. In other words, we had all three announced that we had got married.
The two surnames were not hyphenated, which would have had the effect of reducing each to an equal half. Both stood independent. Whole. Separated. Yet united. One was the more important, being first in order of appearance but the other was the last word, and it is, after all, the last word that counts.
However, it ruffled many a feather and was even the topic of discussion at a meeting of the Council of Ministers, where I, then Deputy Secretary, Finance, had to represent the Finance Secretary. A very senior officer, bristling and spluttering with indignation on behalf of all mankind, exclaimed: "And what are we to make of this new fangled notion? Atrocious, I say! Either you are Deol or you are Bajaj, make up your mind. How should we address you?" I smiled sweetly and said that I had already communicated to the government what my name shall henceforth officially be. Then I gently reminded him and the interested ministers (all men) that the item was not on the agenda of the meeting for the day.
At the time, it was really a path-breaking and tremendously courageous step to take. It was a statement. Both personal and public. No subsuming of identity upon marriage into the identity of the husband, which at the time was automatic and taken for granted. Not for me.
No more wondering for years where that pretty first woman Deputy Commissioner of Punjab, the DC sahiba of Shimla, Miss Serla Khanna had disappeared — had she been allocated to a different cadre? Perhaps Himachal Pradesh, or Haryana upon the reorganisation of the state in 1966? Oh, no, no, she had only become our very own and distinguished Mrs Serla Grewal. There used to be an extremely smart and attractive Miss Shyama Behl, who was SDM at Nabha years ago, and is still remembered in that region — wonder where she is now? Never heard of her again. Naturally you did not. She became Mrs Shyama Mann. A very young girl called Sudha Khanna, who at the Under-Secretary level was transferred from the Punjab to Kerala cadre, and became Mrs Sudha Pillai. Not for me.
As it is, I can’t find or locate two-thirds of my school, college and university friends, their identities have changed and are lost forever. They all grew at different rates, in different directions, as it happens, and veered away from the common path of friendship we had travelled together for so long, subsumed only by their new names. Not for me.
A career is like a business house, which a working woman carefully nurtures. Each year of work not only notches up her experience but also adds to her reputation and goodwill. Rome was not built in a day and a woman’s professional reputation, in a man’s world, takes a long, long time to take roots. Changing one’s name mid-course is like going down with the snake instead of going up the ladder. Except that it is not a game. Marriage should not diminish a working woman but should be a matter of proud honour, adding to her stature and strength.
Twentyfive years down the line, hardly an eyebrow is raised at the double-barrelled names, which are now quite the vogue. Fifty per cent of the working women, including doctors, college and university teachers, architects, advocates, etc, have taken to it like fish to water. In our own Punjab cadre, we have Anjali Chib Duggal, Poonam Khetarpal Singh, Kalpana Mittal Baruah and Rakhi Gupta Bhandari. Further afield, there are Renu Sahni Dhar and Meenakshi Dutta Ghosh, and in the IRS Poonam Khaira Sidhu and many many more. Note the inter-mingling of the religions, the castes, the regions, and the states.
Well, our very own ideal Indira Gandhi, the first woman Prime Minister of India had, in places, appended her signature as Indira Gandhi, in some as Indira Priyadarshani Nehru, but in one or two places, she has signed off as Indira Nehru Gandhi (both proud surnames) but she keep it low key and never declared it "Danke di chot te". Dr Bambah, the then Vice-Chancellor of a Panjab University, told me: "People may well be startled by it, but there is really nothing new in the notion — in fact, you are all quite en retard." The earliest and most honourable example that he could recall was that of Marie Curie, winner of the Nobel Prize twice over, whose husband, Pierre Juliot, himself a Nobel Laureate, changed his name to ‘Pierre Juliot-Curie’. Their children were surnamed ‘Juliot-Curie’. I reserve that option for my next birth.
However, Mrs Rajinder Bhattal, the first woman Chief Minister of Punjab, told me that although she quite like my style she had really gone one better. She had only changed the status prefix from "Miss" to "Mrs" Rajinder Bhattal. Come to think of it, Mrs Vinnie Mahajan and Mrs Ravneet Kaur (Junior) appeared to have admired her sincerely, and adopted the same formula.