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I was always aware he was my superior in every way: Pandit Sajan Mishra

Shailaja Khanna | Updated on May 28, 2021

Brothers in arms: “I was always aware he was my superior in every way,” Pandit Sajan Mishra (right) says about his brother   -  AVINASH PASRICHA

Pandit Sajan Mishra pays homage to his elder brother, Pandit Rajan Mishra

* Though benumbed by the fact that his celebrated elder brother Pandit Rajan Mishra could not get adequate medical help, which led to his death last month, Pandit Sajan Mishra stoically accepts what he calls divine will

* He should be regarded as the “Yug Purush of Banaras music” — for opening a door to other khayal singers, ensuring that they would be regarded with respect, for getting the acknowledgement due to the gharana

* Pandit Rajan Mishra was such a fine composer himself but never took the credit for his compositions and always attributed everything to his guru, Bade Ramdas ji

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The tragic and untimely death of classical vocalist Pandit Rajan Mishra at the age of 69 of Covid-19 related complications left the music world shocked. Though clearly benumbed by the fact that his celebrated and much awarded elder brother could not get adequate medical help, which led to his death on April 25 in the Capital, Pandit Sajan Mishra stoically accepts what he calls divine will. “No one can avert what He wills,” he tells BLink. Excerpts from a conversation:

Childhood:

I was lucky to have been able to sing for 54 years on the stage with my elder brother, who was like a guru (guru tulya). No one can avert what He wills; every minute of life is predestined. What a journey it’s been. I started singing from the age of five or six. Bhaiya (Rajan Mishra) was 10 or 11. Our father would take us to various temples [in Varanasi] where we would offer our brief musical tributes. Our childlike offerings would be followed by those of the senior performers. On Mondays, it would perhaps be the Vishwanath Temple, on Tuesdays we would go to the Hanuman temple. We used to delight in the halwa puri that we were given later, and before we left, the mahant of the temple would give us ₹5 or even ₹11 sometimes, and we would already have decided how we would spend it the next day.

Musical training:

Bhaiya was five years old when he had the ganda bandhan (formal initiation ritual of a disciple) ceremony by guru Bade Ramdas ji. I recall hearing that he had learnt one composition in raga Puriya Dhanashri. After Bade Ramdas ji’s passing, we learnt from our father, Hanuman Prasad Mishra, and uncle Gopal Mishra. I continued to learn music from my brother; more than half my taalim has happened on stage with him. Many ragas that I have sung in concert with him, I was not even trained in: I had only the rudimentary knowledge of their contours. My concentration level used to be high on stage, I had to remain vigilant, not to falter. He used to say, “Tum to pakar loge (you will get it).” He had such confidence in my ability.

We took a lot from many musicians — our father gave us this sanskaar; he always used to say, please don’t think our gharana is the best; please listen and absorb from other singers too but always acknowledge the learning, always acknowledge who you took the composition from.

I recall that when we sang in 1974 at the famous Sawai Gandharva Festival in Pune, Pt Vinayakrao Patwardhan’s son taught us a bandish of Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan — Aaa ye, mandir va in raga Malkauns. He felt we could do justice to this bandish, and told us, take this from me.

We were very influenced of course by great singers such as Pt Bhimsen Joshi and Ustad Amir Khan, and absorbed a lot from them, and so many others.

Musical journey:

It was a slow rise. But as early as in 1969, several seniors present at the Sankat Mochan Samaroh in Banaras had blessed us and felt that the gharana was safe in our hands. Once, at Sankat Mochan, on Pt Ravi Shankar’s birthday, I recall we had concluded our concert but Panditji told us to sing again. So we sang all over again. I recall the raga was Gurjari Todi. He took us to Calcutta to the Netaji Indoor stadium in the 1980s. There were 18,000 people listening. Panditji was always very kind; we shared the same love of jokes. Whose names shall I take — everyone was so gracious in our journey — Pt Bhimsen Joshi, Pt Jasraj, Kishori ji, Girija ji...”

Bhaiya:

I think he should be regarded as the “Yug Purush of Banaras music” — for opening a door to other khayal singers, ensuring that they would too be regarded with respect, for getting the acknowledgement due to the gharana on khayal. This door had been closed for years. Bhaiya demonstrated how Banaras khayal is distinct [from other gharana khayals] as it includes the seriousness of the dhrupad, the expansiveness of khayal as well as the playful lilt of thumri.

Another unique aspect was the importance he always gave to lyrics. He was such a fine composer himself but never took the credit for his compositions and always attributed everything to his Guru, Bade Ramdas ji. I feel it’s due to the blessings of our Gurus that he attained the position he did. I was always aware he was my superior in every way.

Rare delight: In his later years Pandit Rajan Mishra immersed himself in lesser-sung ragas such as Chhayanat, Nand and Kedara   -  AVINASH PASRICHA

 

He was always so innovative; always wanted to try something new. In our youth, we, like everyone else, focused on 15-20 ragas that we practised a lot. Later he started getting interested in lesser-sung ragas — such as Chhayanat, Nand, Kedara. Very few singers sing Kedara for more than 20 or 30 minutes. But Rajan ji sang it with the same thoroughness as any other raga, for up to an hour-and-a-half, without repetition. Jhinjhoti is another raga that instrumentalists perform more; singers used to rarely sing it.

A 750-bed hospital has been set up in Varanasi in his name; imagine that it has come to this [that he could not get a ventilator and died of Covid-19-related complications]. He had no heart problems before. It’s in god’s hands, what can I say.

With Bhaiya’s blessing, I will one day sing again. Alone.

Shailaja Khanna is based in Delhi and writes on music

Published on May 28, 2021

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