Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Ashok Lulla evokes memories of 'RANGEELAY' BHAGNARIS

We, those whose memories go back to the 60s, or even earlier, are indeed grateful to all the Bhagnari stalwarts who brought the community together around the nucleus of Kataria Colony. Notable as their role, and contribution, is to the settled growth of our community, I think a community must also celebrate those who did not fit the stereotype role model of businessperson, socially active Bhagnaris, but contributed equally to our development and well-being. The occasion of Holi is most appropriate to remember these Rangeelay Bhagnaris who regaled us with their art and creativity during festivals and other muraadi occasions. In a condolence meeting I had made a mention that we, as Bhagnaris, laid great store by conventional success--high academic grades, business and entrepreneurial success--but never really cherished those who had an artistic bent of mind, the singers, the poets, the writers. I am recalling four of them, who served us in their own, inimitable way.
Mr. Issardas Sapru

Mr. Issardas Sapru led a long life as a musician, with a robust voice. He was a rangeela Bhagnari who enjoyed life, and loved singing. He was a faithful accompanyist to none other than renowned guardian of Sindhi culture, Prof. Ram Panjwani. The Ganpati celebrations in Bhagnari Panchayat Hall used to resound with his soaring alaap, and his trademark “Aisa Baapa Moriya…” My biggest regret is that I wish we had taken a taperecorder to record the 2 marvelous bhajans he rendered in the hallowed precincts of Sai Baba’s Mandir in Shirdi, “Param Sumangalsai Ram”. Every single soul there was drawn in and joined full-throatedly to this bhajan. The very walls of Sai Baba’s temple seemed to literally sing with the Sangat. His other bhajan which he sang in Sai Mandir, "Sai, Sai Kaha Karo, Dukh Na Kisiko Diya Karo", still 'hums' in memory. His sons, Parsu, Chandu, Manu and Soni, too, took to music, in various measure, though, not as a profession. Soni Sapru has passed on his love of music to his son Rajiv, who excels on the electric guitar and in vocals. Hope he carries on the inherited tradition to higher levels and we Bhagnaris will have the opportunity of seeing him perform on a big stage. In fact Bhagnaris in Dubai danced to his songs and music during this year's Holi party.

Ramesh Mehta in black skull-cap with Mr. Naraindas Talreja to his left, and other senior Bhagnaris at a Sai Kirtan.

Mr. Naraindas Talreja, albeit a sober person, was also one who was fond of music, and together with Mr. Ramesh Mehta, was the mainstay of the Sunday Kirtan for decades together. In a Panchayat meeting, Ramesh Mehta reminisced, "Naraindas and I had an ajeeb (unique) association, going back over 50 years. Mukhi Takandas invited Naraindas into the Panchayat's Managing Committee, and soon I, too, was inducted in the Committee. "Continuing with his recollection, Ramesh said, "Naraindas was fond of music and singing bhajans; I too shared the same passion. We, two, were regulars in the kirtan from a very young age." The aarti, "Om Jai Jagdish Hare", "Thakur Muhinjho Bhojan Ghari Achchi Kha", "Badi Der Bayi Nandlala" were synonymous with Mr. Naraindas. Naraindas Talreja was responsible for knitting the community together through the communal celebration of the Ganpati festival and Mata Da Kirtan. As Mukhi, he endeavoured and succeeded in increasing the Panchayat's Welfare Society corpus many times over. If today, we share a strong sense of community and kinship, it's due to the zeal with which Mr. Naraindas worked for the betterment of our Bhagnari community.

Mr. Ramesh ‘Ramal’ Mehta was another Bhagnari who excelled as a Singer, Composer, Poet-Lyricist and as a leader in Sindhi Theatre . His soulful bhajans, penned in adoration of Sai Baba, are suffused with devotion and lyricism. They can be easily classed with the best works of lyric writers in Hindi Bhakti Sangeet. Ramesh Mehta had a lovely bass voice, and a feel for rhythm, which is best seen in his bhajans, like “Sai, Tere Kitne Naam”, and “Mujhse Khafaa No Honaa,”, “Tera Hi Hai Aasra, Tera Hi Adhaar.” The Sindhi version, "Tunjho Hi Aahe Aasro, Tunjho Hi Adhar", was rendered by the Diva of Sindhi singers, Late Bhagwanti Navani, and has become a part of Sindhi repertoire, around the world. He was also fond of theatre, and worked with Sindhi theatre groups. He shared this passion with our present Mukhi, Mr. Lachhu Gehi. We all, senior Bhagnaris, remember his "Wah Re Chou-Enlai, Tujhko Sharam Na Ayi" during the 1962 China war. One episode I recall, some 3 or more decades back, was the special song he had composed for the Dhol ceremony of Nimma - Naraindas' daughter- yes, that was quite sometime back!--I remember the opening line: Mubarak-badiyaan hum aapko sabhko bhaantne aye, mubarak ho, mubarak ho". But, perhaps not known to most Bhagnaris, was the sterling contribution Ramesh made to Sindhi Theatre. He was verily called the "Bhisham Pitamah" of Sindhi Drama; a galaxy of Sindhi writers, directors, actors looked upto him as their guiding light. Ramesh played lead roles in many Sindhi dramas, scripted plays, and even directed a few. In recognition of his long contribution to Sindhi Theatre, Kala Sindhu has instituted a "Ramesh Mahta Yaadgaar Award (deemed to be a Lifetime Achievement Award). The award, to be given away every year, will commend the most outstanding contribution made to Sindhi drama. Ramesh Mehta was indeed a man of many parts. Our small Bhagnari community possibly could not offer him the kind of large forum that Sindhi Drama did, and that is our loss.

Pictures of a truly 'rangeela' Phrshottam Kamra very much in his elements

This black & white portrait of a leaner, younger, bush-hatted Purshottam taken, obviously at a picnic, where singing and dancing formed part of the enjoyment.
Mr. Purshottam Kamra was another rangeela Bhagnari who loved singing and dancing. In the fifties and sixties, his family home near Mahim station used to be a gathering place for artistes and musicians from Hindi filmi industry. His late brother Mr. Daulatram Kamra was an accomplished dholak player. Any occasion, be it a picnic, a pilgrimage to Shirdi, Sai Kirtan, Ganpati festival, or justa casual gathering in the garden near Hinduja Hospital, was good enough for Purshottam Kamra to unwind and sing. He excelled in old Hindi songs and did a nice routine of Bhagwan-dada numbers like “Bholi soorat dil ke khote” and “Shola jo bhadke”. I particularly recall his prowess when he was young, (and I was a teenager) in singing that classic qawali, “Na To Caravan Ki Talash Hai". This qawali has Mohd. Rafi, Manna Dey, Shamshad Begum and Asha Bhosle. He rendered each of these vocalists’ verses flawlessly, with Asha Bhosle’s long alaap, a near replica.

Sindhi ladaas and Bhagnari folk songs were another part of his repertoire,“Edday edday edday ta edday aa…ghoongat khol, ghoongatkhol”, “Nangra nimani-dha”. And, of course, his Bhagnari tarana, “Asan Bhagnari” will long remain the anthem of Bhagnaris, as long as we hold on to our language. Purshottam also had a wicked sense of humour, and carried a fund of off-colour jokes, which we used to enjoy heartily.A Life Well-Lived: All the 4 Rangeelay Bhagnaris have left behind settled families and are survived by wives, children and numerous grandchildren who have done well by themselves. In the case of Purshottam, one particularly remembers that perhaps he had an inkling of the limited time available to him. He went on a pilgrimage to the Chaar Dhaam, managed to sell his commercial property, make a will, put his legal and financial issues in order, leaving almost no loose ends.
To each one of these 4 dear-departed Bhagnaris, a big, belated “Thank You!”

Ashok Lulla


  1. I can never forget "wah re chou-en-lai, tujko sharam na aayee, bhool gaye kiya kaha tha tumne hindi-chini bhai bhai' by Late Shree Ramesh Mehta. I was just 10 at that time.

    Nice one, Ashok, keep it up. We need more articles like this one.

  2. Superb!!
    Ashok well done we are waiting to hear more from you

  3. I Love U Daddy n I Miss U!!!!!!!!!