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Posted at: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM; last updated: Jun 10, 2018, 12:04 AM (IST)

Last Vanjhali player bows out

Baba Kashi Nath wowed Prince Charles, but was ignored at home

Sarika Sharma

“This vanjhali will speak to you the way we talk. And you won’t feel the need to know the lyrics. There are many who play compositions, but there is nobody who can make the instruments talk.” Baba Kashi Nath takes a deep breath and blows into the one-and-half-feet wooden pipe, the flute. The line between sound and the written word starts blurring. The magic of Kashi Nath begins to flow. “Ho jaavo ni koi mor liyavo, ni mere naal gaya ajj lad ke. Oh Allah kare jeh aa jaave sohna, devan jaan kadma vich dhar ke, ho Challa beri oye boor e, ve vatan mahi da door e, ve jaana pehle poor e, ve gall sun challeya chora.” His rendition is so powerful, you almost see Shaukat Ali introducing the world to Challa; at times, Gurdas Maan is conjured up before your eyes as his shoulders rise and drop in rhythmic motion.

NO musician in this region could play the been, the snake charmer’s flute, and the vanjhali with such felicity. Wind instruments are the hardest to master, but playing them was a breeze for Baba Kashi Nath, who would render Indian ragas like Bhairavi, Sindhi Bhairavi, Bhimpalasi, Malkauns and Tilang, but turned to folk tunes for livelihood. It is for this reason that he was nominated for the Sangeet Natak Akademi award both last year and this year. The artiste died last month in utter penury, for want of treatment for paralysis that struck him six months ago.

Born in the nomadic tribe of Nath-Jogis in Multan, Pakistan, he received initial training from his father, Baba Laung Nath. Nourished and nurtured by the nomadic spirit of his community, he became an able musician, mastering various musical genres. When the vast lands available for these nomads shrunk, he settled at village Jhorarnali in Sirsa in the 1960s.

Prof Atamjit, who nominated Baba Kashi Nath, says he used rare blowing techniques on the been and vanjhali, always opening his performance with an alaap. Kashi Nath led the Indian Heritage dance group that stood first in the International Musical Festival of Wales, the UK, in 2003. 

Writer Gurbhajan Gill, who had seen Baba Kashi Nath from close, says there was no one in this region who could play the vanjhali, except Kashi Nath’s son, Mahendra Nath, who was taught by his father. And except the saperas, none could play the been, not like Baba Kashi Nath. He says it is our failure that he died waiting for treatment. “The most important point here is how can we even talk of reviving folk art forms when those carrying forward these traditions are fighting for survival,” says Gill. He says that while the North Zone Cultural Centre, Patiala, and Punjab Government did honour him, he was totally ignored by Haryana.

Atamjit feels that sitting in a silent corner in Haryana, Kashi Nath probably never aspired for an award. “He spent his life practicing music and fighting poverty. He didn’t have time to think of awards,” he says. He now, never will. Baba Kashi Nath lived through the cold winter in that mud house without doors and died on a sweltering day in May, passing the baton to his son. Will he survive the odds?

The tribe

Nath-Jogis, the tribe that Baba Kashi Nath hailed from, are known as Saperas in Haryana; in Rajasthan, they are called Kal Belias; and, in Punjab, Jogis. In West Punjab, (Pakistan) they are identified as Faqirs.

Prince Charles charmed

He visited England four times and enthralled his audiences with his jugalbandi with artistes from various countries present there. His soulful renditions even won the heart of Prince Charles, who walked up to the Indian group to appreciate Kashi Nath. Professor Rajpal Singh, the Indian organiser, had called it a proud moment for the nomad and the country.

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