Jhaverchand Meghani

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A life led musically, June 8, 2017: The Hindu

Utkarsh Mazumdar pays a heady tribute to Jhaverchand Meghani, famous for preserving Indian folk literature and songs

Noted poet, writer, social reformer and freedom fighter Jhaverchand Meghani’s colossal efforts have helped to preserve the rich folk heritage of Gujarat. The littérateur -- who was bestowed the title of Rashtriya Shayar by Mahatma Gandhi -- devoted his life to chronicling the folk music and stories of Saurashtra by travelling to hamlets and meeting the locals. Theatre veteran Utkarsh Mazumdar was always intrigued by the fact that a play had never been staged on this important literary figure. Last year, he decided to produce and direct a musical based on Meghani’s life under the aegis of his theatre group Sarvannam. Titled Meghani Sarvani , the Gujarati musical, which premièred at the Prithvi Theatre Festival in November 2016, will now be staged this Friday.

Mazumdar, who essays the protagonist’s role, says, “When I started my theatre company Sarvannam in 2007, I was keen to showcase the lives of the great cultural personalities of Gujarat on stage. My first play was on Narsinh Mehta, who is considered the doyen of Gujarati literature.” The 62-year-old thought of Meghani as the subject of his next production because he played a pivotal role in preserving folk songs. “I felt I should pay a tribute to him and keep his memory alive by staging a musical,” say Mazumdar. “Every Gujarati has learnt Meghani’s poems as part of their curriculum and he is revered by people of the community across classes. His most famous song, ‘More bani thaanagat kare’, also featured in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Goliyon ki Rasleela Ram-Leela .”

His life’s purpose

Born in 1896 to a Jain family, Meghani had an eventful life. A bright student, he would often pen poems for the school magazine and participated actively in various cultural activities. On getting the news of his Kolkata-based elder brother’s ill health, Meghani rushed to be by his side leaving a lucrative job as a teacher in Bhavnagar. However, he soon realised that if he wished to stay in Kolkata, he had to learn Bangla. Meghani learnt the language by trying and deciphering street signboards, watching plays, attending the weekly Brahmo Samaj meetings and studying Bengali folklore. It was around that time he started reading Rabindranath Tagore’s works and realised the significance of preserving folk literature. He eventually bagged a job as a personal assistant at a utensil manufacturing company and soon travelled to London. Within three months, Meghani and returned to India as he felt his home town Kathiawaar was beckoning him.

He joined Saurashtra Weekly and edited the newspaper from Monday to Thursday while the remaining three days of the week, Meghani visited various villages to meet the locals, listened to their folk songs and recorded them. “At that time, the villagers were wary of allowing any stranger to meet the womenfolk,” says Mazumdar. “But they trusted Meghani and felt he was one of them. Later, he published all these songs as a series of five volumes titled Saurashtra Nee Rasdhaar . In 1922, he translated Tagore’s ballad ‘Kathaa-u-Kaahinee’ titled Kurbani Ni Katha (Stories ofMartyrdom) that paid an ode to the sacrifices made by the Sikh, Rajput, Bauddha and Maratha community in Indian history. Meghani went on to author more than 100 books and collaborated with Tagore to translate Bengali poems into Gujarati.”

For Mazumdar, the critical task was to ensure that the play showcased Meghani’s eventful life and works through live music, songs and dances. “I wanted the songs to emerge from the story rather than making a musical that is just a compilation of songs,” says the thespian. “I asked writer Hiten Anandpara, who has penned the story, that the events and songs should blend seamlessly. There are 15 songs in the play and each track rendered by me takes the story forward and shows a new facet of Meghani’s life to the audience.”

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