Text: Arati, Photo: Hari
I first saw Parbat Jogi in a performance in Baroda - as part of the Kabir Festival happening there. He was the Dholak player accompanying Moora Lala Marwara - a folk and Bhakti-ras singer from Kutch. He stood out with his flamboyant mastery of the Dholak - his virtuosity - playful and powerful, resonant - bringing out sounds from his modest instrument that I had never heard before.
His looks matched his style on Dholak - deep red kurta, locks of hair tumbling to his shoulders, greying at edges. He stared at the audience - directly, deeply aware of those he sought to impress - effortlessly.
Parbat Jogi accompanied us on the Malwa Yatra. He had recently lost his father and had shaved his hair - only a small lock remained - his signature of belonging to his particular community. On the third day of our trip, on our way to Ujjain, we stopped at a farm where we were being hosted for dinner. I had been intending to speak to him, know him a little more. After a dusk walk with the group and a visit to the Shiva temple on the farm, I saw Parbat Jogi sitting with the other accompanists from Kutch, in a tight group. I decided that this was a good time to break ice, converse, as a fellow yatri...
I approached the group, hesitating a bit, and addressed him, if I could talk to him...He demurred wondering that he had either anything of information or interest to share..then he turned to his friends and started confiding something in Kutchi to which they all started started grinning wildly. Knowing the discussion to be centred humorously around me I immediately broke into Gujarati smiling as I confided that I was very conversant in Gujarati and therefore was probably able to understand most of what they exchanged in Kutchi...it was amazing what followed - they immediately laughed, now speaking in Gujarati that they did not realise that I was a Gujarati, to please join them and full of questions about me, my background etc. I had broken ice...just with a common language - breaking all social, cultural, geographic differences between us.
What followed was a very honest, open and a intimate conversation with Jogi about his life, background, and the story of his musical journey. His is a story of following his inner calling despite the very harsh realities of his life. He recalled how he would venture out with goats, sheep and his dholak, and get so involved in his 'play' that the herd would disperse into neighboring properties and he would get beaten up for letting them stray. He spoke of having to make ends meet as a laborer carrying sacks of grain on his back - and yet his head filled to the rhythms of his dholak, the beats and the variants, beating inside, speaking aloud these 'Bols' to me. He remembers how at the end of a hard day of labor, when others were ready to go home and collapse, he would be bursting with a desperate need to return to his music, and would annoy his mother by reaching straight for his Dholak, or one of the many other instruments he played. Unlike most other folk musicians he was an accomplished Shehnai and Surando player - and according to him, one of the only two Surando artists in Kutch. He related an interesting folk tale of a King who was asked for his head as a reward by a Surando player and willing did it - such was the great influence of Surando's music. This story had great influence on him. Parbat Jogi had never previously seen a Surando but crafted one for himself based on a description by his father, and then learnt to play it well enough to be invited to play it on the All India Radio.
Our conversation followed easily and long - long after the others had left us, long after most had finished dinner. It followed mutual sharing and singing of favorite ragas, discussions on the values of swara (notes), and taal (rhythm)...I still remember him saying "When the swara and breath become One, in an ultimate union, taal finds no place", and " If swara is breath, then taal is the heartbeat" - we then agreed that Shabd (word) was the intellect, the awareness - the wordless-word!
Parbat Jogi was/is a discovery in my life. I remain riddled with many more questions since I met him - what is the origin this unbearable passion? nothing nurtures it and yet it grows...are these in-born tendencies? or needs born from his bleak background? or just an inner genius, illuminated?
Over the next many days, Parbat Jogi sang and played with us with a joyous abandon - and it was our privilege to have been there as witnesses, as playmates!