It might have been in the winter of 1996, a couple of years before i had left Delhi, that i had heard the mesmerising voice of Mukul Shivputra for the first time. It was with Jaya Shankar that i went to attend the SPIC-MACAY live concert at Teflas in JNU and was sitting on the floor in the first row. It was quite unusual to see Jaya Shankar getting so excited about Mukul. The bearded and dreamy looking Mukul came a little late, in disheveled kurta and unkempt hair, his eyes red with sleeplessness and intoxication due to dope or alcohol. Mukul should have been in his early 40s then. He was not even bothered to sit straight facing the audience. And i found the air of rebelliousness and the streak of irreverence adding charm to the mystique of Mukul. After a few interjections, the master of Khayal took off and the ambience became sublime. I was stunned beyond belief as i had never imagined that a human voice could transport you to another world to this extent and leave you afloat in a state of blissful trance. It was a cathartic experience. Its too difficult to get grounded and continue to live on a mundane plane therafter.
If it is so agonising for a layman like me to get grounded into the mundane and continue to survive with all its mediocrity, i cannot possibly imagine how painful it would be to sustain for a more delicate soul like that of Mukul's, who would be longing to get eternally drenched in the celestial music of the cosmos. Beneath the facade of respectability, how thick-skinned, how insensitive, how ruthless, how cunning and how snobbishly arrogant have we become! How can a vulnerable soul like Mukul put up with an audience like us and still manage to contain the unending love to give a rendition of breathtaking exuberance? Don't you think, in this whole process, the soul of an artist of the order of Mukul will have to get bruised badly and the heart left bleeding in the deafening loneliness of the Universe?
A few months ago, when Ponraj visited Mumbai and when we were having a rare sitting with Ananthan, he told that he had read it in the newspapers that Mukul was found begging in front of a temple in Bhopal for money to buy drinks and that he had disappeared after hospitalisation and that the government of Madhya Pradesh is searching for him. It came as a rude shock. Since then, i've been regularly googling to find more about Mukul's health and his whereabouts, about which there is not much news available till date. What nefarious designs of the Cosmos had pushed the son of the legendary Kumar Gandharva and the student of all time maestro MD Ramanathan to such despair? Is it just an issue of substance abuse and addiction to alcohol? Or is it yet another tragic saga of the self-destructive tendency latent in all geniuses running riot and wrecking havoc in the life of Mukul?
During the beginning of May 2009, Mukul was found at the gates of Shirdi Sai Baba Mandir at Bhopal, with the company of other beggars, begging for money to buy his next drink. Thousands of beggars are available in all the Temples, Mosques, Churches (interestingly, you wont find any in the Synagogues!) and all across the roads of cities and towns in India. Beggary in India has a rich tradition behind it. It can be neither looked down upon nor be romanticised to absurdity. Some great saints have lived their entire lives begging as it is considered to be a sign of complete renunciation of all material needs. But that is a rare and complex phenomena. Sai Baba Himself lived His entire life in Shirdi that way only.
All beggars cannot be saints. Extreme poverty, migration and exploitation have forced human beings into beggary. Those who dare to stay put in their villages and in their forests are getting seduced by the ideologies of Marxism-Leninism & Maoism and are turning to armed rebellion. The State machinery is getting consolidated to curb the Naxal menace from the thousands of Naxal infested villages all across India. Some of them turn to non-ideological crime : thefts and burglary. Redistribution of wealth and circulation of money is the most amusing leela in this world of maya. The theatre of cruelty vis-a-vis the theatre of absurdity!
In such a wierd scenario, when our dear dear Mukul goes begging, it becomes difficult to comprehend. There may be myriad reasons which can be ascribed : the death of his mother, the sudden death of his wife, the pressure to prove as his father's worthy son or pure neuroligical disorder. Who knows what can be the reason for such tragedies that keep happening to the few genius of mankind? I consider it as a tragedy because Mukul is no saint who would love to beg and i feel that he should find ways to mitigate his inner angst and suffering and thereby continue to enjoy his art and his life in whichever way he feels like, without falling back into the blind old alleys of the demons.
After the rehabilitation and medical treatment at the Gandhi Bhavan in Bhopal last year, Mukul Shivputra inaugurated the Khayal Kendra and came on the stage to give a fascinating lecture on the history of Khayal and also to render two beautiful bandishes (melodic compositions), one in Raag Savani from the Tansen era and another in Raag Darbari, an Amir Khusro composition in honour of Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya..
Much more are yet be heard from him. The Gods and the Gurus should conitnue to smile. Pray that the Grace continues to shower..