Durga Jasraj has never felt the pressure to fall in tune with her father Pandit Jasraj’s rich classical music legacy. They work together without skipping a note.
Pandit Jasraj is in a playful mood as he sits down for the joint tete-a-tete with his daughter, TV host and artist promoter Durga. Panditji or Bapu, as the legendary classical vocalist of the Mewati gharana is fondly known, is resplendent in red – the silk red dhoti-kurta-jacket combo is accessorized by funky sunglasses. Durga, decked out in a purple kurta, jokes, “It’s Holi and Diwali at the same time!” The indulgent father holds her hand through the interview; she leans on his shoulder as they laugh at his off-hand one-liners. Panditji took on the role of her guru when she was seven, and they performed together for years before she co-hosted the popular Antakshari with Anu Kapoor in the ’90s. Now she promotes artistes through her company and founded Indian Music Academy in 2006 that helps old and ailing musicians, with her father as the chief patron. While their careers are entwined, Panditji and Durga make for wilful working partners. When she wanted to mark his 50th year of performing with a multimedia presentation called Golden Voice, Golden Years, Panditji wasn’t sold on the idea and flatly refused. She turned her back and walked off. “Both of us couldn’t sleep the whole night,” says Panditji. “At 5 am, we woke up fully in agreement with the other!” Panditji jokes that ‘uski gati aur meri gati mein farak hai’ and it takes him longer to grasp her concepts as she is very quick with her explanations. But once the idea percolates, says Durga, it’s pure magic. “For the series of concerts Tiranga, which I conceptualised, he performs the saffron, which is about light, energy and power. He said, ‘Hum Surya Mantra se shuru karte hain’. Then he sings Bhairav, which is sung when the sun is rising. The thought process is phenomenal.”
Her proud father jokes about Durga’s shaky start as an entrepreneur, which marked her attempt at stepping out of his shadow. He says, “When Durga wanted to buy a house, I could’ve signed the bank papers for her. Office khol diya, lekin paise nahin banati thi. Maine kaha, installments tumhi bharo.” Durga adds that she had started crying, but that jhatka made her strong. Today, she says, she can claim that she made it on her own steam.
Being Panditji disciple and daughter was no easy task. He is a perfectionist and anything less is unacceptable to the guru. In fact, the only memory Panditji has of his father (who passed away when he was four), is of him sitting on his father’s tummy. His dad laughed when a young Jasraj performed, and the maestro thought it was because he had done a good job. “Till today, he is trying to correct that mistake,” Durga says. Panditji was very fair as a guru and he had once even recommended another artist to a promoter who wanted to feature Durga. “Ask her two years later,” Panditji had told the organizer. While he was Durga’s reality check over the years, she has unconsciously proven been one for him. Panditji says, “Durga nein ego nahin aane diya. She’d check me if I wasn’t saying something right.”
As Durga luxuriates in the surprising compliment, she says that his broadminded outlook has shaped her perspective. She grew up with diverse influences of Panditji’s favourites such as Madonna, Michael Jackson and Barbara Streisand. Though he travelled a lot, he wasn’t interested in tourism but he ensured Durga and her brother were familiar with Paris and San Francisco, two cities he loves. “He loved the artistic spirit of Paris, and apart from the usual touristy places, took us to a restaurant where unknown artists painted.” She played cricket with her sports-loving dad on the terrace of their Shivaji Park home. It was an open house, and great musicians walked in and out of it, sometimes in their shorts after their walk on the sea face. The conversations were stimulating, the humour sublime. But it wasn’t all high-minded. Durga recalls a time when Bapu was high on Madhuri Dixit performing Ek, Do, Teen in Tezaab. She says, “Once my dad went to the airport to pick up Ustad Ali Akbar Khan and Zakir Husain. All classical musicians come with shagirds as a package deal. At home, the shagirds and I were peeping in from the dining room and eavesdropping. Bapu said, ‘Dada, main aapko ek dance dikhata hoon.’ He put on Ek, Do, Teen and here were three maharathis going, ‘Oh ho, wah wah!’ They rewound the tape and watched Madhuri 30-40 times!” Panditji confirms the incident, laughing heartily. “He can be very childlike,” Durga says. And while Durga has come into her own, her father’s guiding hand is a blessing she is grateful for.
courtesy – mumbaimirror