PANDIT JASRAJ who recently celebrated his association with Indian classical music for the past five decades, believes that his journey has just begun. "Music is my life. I cannot think of anything else but music. Just like the cricketers 'eat cricket, drink cricket...' so also music covers every moment, every aspect of my life," he tells HUBERT VAZ in an exclusive tete-e-tete at his apartment at Yari Road

HE could well be mistaken for a scientist in his own world or an artist walking in a dream... If you took one look at veteran vocalist Pandit Jasraj, his tossed-up ivory locks, his dreamy eyes and his sharp facial features, you'd know instantly that the man is a cut above the rest.

You don't have to walk through the open door of his flat in an apartment at Yari Road and encounter him on a huge swing belting out his favourite classical melodies to know that he is a veteran vocalist. After having spent five decades romancing with Indian classical music, Pandit Jasraj, who considers himself 'an instrument of God' has become a household name in music not only in India but abroad as well.

There is also an unmistakable serenity that abounds his comely face and a warmth that flows forth when his 'shishyas' (students) greet him by touching his feet. His blessings come forth abundantly and the students would consider it their privilege to be an obedient slave by his feet, if only they have him for a guru. And, Pandit Jasraj indeed has been keeping the 'Guru-shishya parampara' alive even today in his interaction with his numerous disciples all over the world.

When we encountered him for an informal chat to reminisce his illustrious 50 years, Pt. Jasraj strode into his past with ease and let the finer details of his struggle and determination in life come forth minus the pain. "I never leaped and covered a few miles. My journey in music was slow and steady like the tortoise in the fable, not the hare. I went through a lot of struggle and hard work before even considering myself worthy to sing on stage. Now, though so many years have gone by, I feel my journey has just begun. Music cannot be bound by time...it's a timeless fad which stays forever, grows on one's being, refines the soul... Music itself is an experience of the Almighty and a musician has to be close to God because it is a divine talent..." he went on, as we listened attentively. Then, he suddenly sheared the serious silence with a down-to-earth plea "aare bhai chai peelo, biskut khalo, mujhe to bhook lagi hai" (please have your tea and biscuits, I'm hungry).

For a moment we were perplexed, then laughter filled his parlour as we relaxed taking in the neat array of musical instruments, trophies, works of art, all pointing towards his eternal obsession with Indian music. We chose to divert on his leaning by asking him whether he ever experimented with Western music. "I have nothing against Western music but I never felt the need to experiment with it. The confluence of two types of music, Indian and western, can give birth to really good compostitions but it will be the latter which would actually gain from richness of Indian music," he asserted.

"The reason why Western influence is taking over is because Indians have disregarded their very own treasures, like that of the Sanskrit language, which is the 'language of Gods.' Sanskrit texts have been the source of many a modern invention and technology. People from other nations picked up clues from our heritage and have prospered while we have remained sidelined," he explained.

Pandit Jasraj has been getting a lot of inspiration for musical compositions in dreams. Many of his unique compositions were inspired by dreams where often, 'the lord' would convey a lot to him in the form of a melody, he admitted. However, he hastens to add that music has no religious connotation or identity. "I sing 'Allah Meherbaan' as well as 'Govind Gopal" with equal ease and audiences from both communities have appreciated both.

Adjusting his beige silk kurta and with no attempt to straighten his scattered white tresses, he brings in more humour to the conversation. "Often people say I must be a big drunkard who cannot perform without consuming alcohol. By the way I appear during performances, my eyes lost in a trance, and my hands waving about as I live out my song, people often think I must be drunk during my performance. Yes, I am intoxicated, but with the intoxication that comes forth from genuine music. It can even lead audiences into a stupor. Music is like that, a heavenly experience, better than any other earthly intoxication." He had made his point but we had to take a second look into his eyes, as he obliged with a special short performance at home, to see for ourselves why audiences thought so.

When we asked him how much hand his wife, Maduraji, had in his success, in all humility, he confessed that she was indeed his better half and so deserved equal credit for his success.

Madura is the daughter of V. Shantaram, the pioneer of Indian Cinema. As his wife and mother of Shaarangdev, the famed music director and Durga their daughter who is a multi-faceted star on the small screen, Madhura Jasraj has quietly worked behind the scenes to express herself through many a medium.

Recalling his very early experiences, he said "My father died suddenly in 1934 and we all had to do our bit to shoulder the burden of a large family. I chose the tabla as my means of livelihood. My brother would sing and I would accompany him on the tabla. A very senior musician brought my relationship with my percussion instrument to an abrupt end by deriding me for beating a dead animal's skin. I decided then that I would henceforth only sing." In 1944, his guru and elder brother, Pandit Maniramji, lost his voice, which meant he (Maniram) couldn't sing anymore and the family lost its sole means of survival. Later, he got his voice back by a sheer miracle in a Kali temple and decided to sing only devotional. It was then that Pandit Jasraj was influenced by the power of being a vocalist and chose to embrace the fine art for life.

Pandit Jasraj's life was also influenced to a great extent by one Mrs. Som Tiwari whom he considered a foster mother. "Mrs. Som Tiwari (a 'gold medalist' in M.A.) was both my teacher and my student for I taught her vocal music while she taught me to read and write. She was truly my mentor during my formative years between 1949 and 1963 and she has been a tremendous influencing force in my life.

Cautioning him about how wordly distractions would rob him of a God-given talent, she laid down a strict order for him: no tea till the age of 30, no smoking till 40 and no liquor till the age of 50. "And, I have been following all these restrictions even till date, well into my 70s. I never felt the need of any such pleasures because music has become the very essence of my life. Just as you hear these ads about cricketers who eat cricket, drink cricket, sleep cricket, so also music covers every moment, every aspect of my life."

Talking about distancing himself from the universal vices, Pt. Jasraj said he has learnt to hate smoking and drinking as it has a harmful effect on his voice. Even the smell of alcohol or cigarette smoke in the room, consumed by others, puts him off and he would withdraw from the premise in order to preserve his voice, he said.

One of his unique creations is what came to be knows as the 'Jasrangi', which was first appreciated at a concert in Pune. The Jasrangi is a unique confluence of the male and female voice, both singing different ragas simultaneously on different scales, yet harmoniously blending with each other.

Pandit Jasraj has eight music schools, including the Pandit Jasraj Academy of Music at Long Island, New York, running successfully. He has set of talented teachers who teach at these schools in rotation, he himself taking turns at each of these. With these ventures he has been churning out a large number of classical singers and music exponents and believes that some day classical Indian music will once more become popular and hold sway.

"Music can create magic, can make wonders happen among people. Religion and music are one and the same thing it has no barriers, and it binds people of all backgrounds. Hence, music is my very breath. Music is my life..."