Thursday, January 20, 2011

Professional Artists : Good Guys - Bad Guys

Twenty seven years later, I wonder why I let myself be appointed as Member of the Students Union Council of St Stephen's College, when I entered my MSc Class. After having fooled around for three years it should have been high time that I settled down and did the MSc course some justice. But that's not the story here...

The highlight of any Students' Unions' tenure was the organization of the winter festival or "Winterfest" We decided to present to the College and to the University, the best College festival organized yet. As part of the cultural programs we decided to invite Pt. Hariprasad Chaurasia the renowned flautist, accompanied by Ustaad Zakir Hussain on Tabla. For another evening - and this was a first for the College and for Delhi University - the most popular semi classical artists on the scene at that time - Jagjit and Chitra Singh.

Those were old times. Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain very kindly agreed to a fees of Rs 25000 which was split between the two of them, with Rs 5000 only, paid to Zakir Hussain. Both agreed to a payment after the concert was concluded.

Jagjit and Chitra Singh on the other hand demanded Rs 50,000 and 100% advance, with not scope for negotiation.

There was little concern as we had good sponsors who are committed to cover these expenses. Hence both were signed up.

It only seemed too good to be true however. One day before Hariprasad Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain flew in from Mumbai for the concert, one major sponsor backed out. Now, all of a sudden there was little money, certainly not enough to pay for both programs. Jagjit Singh had to be paid prior to his departure from Mumbai. Without payment, there would be no concert !

It was all left to the possibility of Chaurasia and Zakir Hussain agreeing to reduce their fees despite an earlier agreement. In a last minute crisis management meeting of the Student's Union, it was decided that these two artists would be met upon arrival at the airport, and the problem explained to them, with a plea to allow the College Union to go back on their word !

Chaurasia's and Zakir Hussain were welcomed to Delhi, and the bad news conveyed to them. Imagine their reaction, when, the first news given on arrival (a trip made exclusively for this concert), was  that there wasn't enough money to pay, and could they please reduce the amount of the fees originally agreed upon?

Chaurasia was disappointed to say the least. But he recovered and took my colleague aside, at a safe distance from Zakir Hussain. His suggestion to us was this - pay Zakir his full Rs 5000, and pay me Rs 10,000 instead of the promised Rs 20,000. It took the man 5 minutes to take the decision, to get us students out of a major predicament, and at much loss to himself. That we were grateful and appreciative of the magnanimity of this man's character, was an understatement.

That evening, Pt. Hariparasad Chaurasia's concert commenced at 7 pm, in the College auditorium, packed with his fans who had travelled from far across the City to the University campus, to listen to him. And the concert ended at 3 am the next morning !
It remains one of the most memorable performances in Delhi of this great duo.

Jagjit Singh's payment was made in full, upon his arrival. Rumors were afloat that in absence of the money, he would walk out from the stage. And the consequences would be disastrous for the Union. Apart from a colossal disaster, a ruined reputation, there was danger of physical harm from the bad elements who were part of the audience. For non members of the College, there was a gate fee levied too.

Jagjit Singh's concert was successful, as expected. On stage as well as in the 'Green Room' he came across as an extremely arrogant man, often scolding his musicians in full view of the audience, for not being in tune or in beat. The concert ended late in the evening, the audience left, and we said our Goodbyes to Mr. and Mrs. Jagjit Singh. 

But hang on - this wasn't the end of the story. The man called out to me, and wanted to meet the 'treasurer' of the Union. Since the 'treasurer' was not around, I offered to help. Jagjit Singh then informed me that he was waiting for taxi fare to be givent to him in cash, for him to return to his Hotel. The fare was Rs 110 !

Still recovering from this 'shock' I proceeded to inform other Union members of this demand. This prompted off a debate on whether he should be given the Rs 110 or just 'shown the door' One half of the team took a harder stand. The concert had finished and there was no harm Jagjit Singh could do. The other half had a more moderate view - and according to them, Jagjit Singh was capable of 'bad mouthing' the College.
This debate carried on for 30 minutes. And all this while, Mr and Mrs Singh waited at the College entrance, refusing to get into their taxi and drive off without the Rs 110!

The moderate view prevailed, and Jagjit Singh was handed over Rs 110.

This was an experience and a learning no one was likely to forget in a hurry. Two professionals - equal in their stature, yet one so humane, considerate and helpful, and for whom the 'raagas' his flute and the tabla produced was nothing short of a prayer, and whose attitude while performing was nothing short of complete and total devotion to the Almighty. And the other - a cut throat professional, whose only religion was money.


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