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Coimbatore learns to rock

An evening of music that combined the beat and rhythm of a modern concert with the spirituality of a satsang. Vikram Hazra had both the young and old on his side as he belted out his bhajans, writes PANKAJA SRINIVASAN



BHAJANS WITH A TWIST Old wine in a new bottle Photo: M. Periasamy

Dirty sneakers and the mandatory jeans-n-t-shirt look vied with pattu sarees, mookuthis, veshtis and vibhooti.

What was it to be — a rock music concert or a satsang?

One wasn't really sure as the event had been described as an evening of bhajans set to rock music. Young boys and girls shuffled in behind their parents rather reluctantly resigned to spending the next few hours listening to bhajans. "How could bhajans possibly rock?" was the unasked question writ large on their faces.

Then, Vikram Hazra strode onto the stage barefoot. Wearing a bright yellow kurta with sparkling white pyjamas and holding a guitar, he roused enough curiosity to make the younger ones in the crowd sit up.

Trendy presence

He was obviously different from the bhajan mandali kind of a guy with a harmonium in tow that they were dreading.

As he strummed a few notes, the faces brightened even further. And when Vikram threw back his head and sang a full-throated Vakratunda Mahakaya... he had everyone's attention.

Crowd pleaser

It was a novel experience for Coimbatore. Five thousand people gathered at the Mani Higher Secondary School grounds on Christmas Day to give bhajans a chance to rock at an event organised by Art of Living (AOL) followers to commemorate 25 years of service to society. Vikram, a young volunteer, teacher and programme director of AOL, soon had the audience clapping its hands, stamping its feet, dancing and even singing along with him.

Old and new

Old favourites like Achuttam Kesavam Ramanarayanam were given `rock treatment' without taking anything away from their original flavour.

A beautiful shabad of Ravi Das was sung with feeling. So were short Hindi poems expressing the bhakti of devotees and compositions by AOL members.

In between, there was a short session where Hazra guided the audience step by step into meditation. Total silence reigned as 5,000 voices stilled and as many souls took in the peaceful vibes.

With renewed enthusiasm, they greeted Hazra's rendition of the evergreen favourite Eric Clapton's Tears in heaven with applause.

And, as it was Christmas Day, the evening could not be complete without a soulful performance of Silent Night, Holy Night.

"I hope he sings a Strings' song", said one young hopeful teenager while another commented that, "He looks a little like Lucky Ali". "Man, his guitar playing is cool," said a third, while a bunch of other youngsters just beamed happily.

"We should have more such music concerts," was the unanimous opinion of the young blood present in the premises.

It was obvious that Vikram had touched a chord and they thought of him as one of them.

Making a difference

He could be a promising executive. He has the jargon, the appearance, the confidence and all the gizmos that go with that image. He jet-sets across the globe and counts Rhea Pillai amongst his friends. He is certainly a man on the move, but he is in the business of saving souls, especially young ones.

You wouldn't think so if you saw him with his Mac laptop, several mobile phones and trendy watch. He wears his kurtapyjama with elegant ease and listens to the avant-garde music of Bill Frisell and Ottmar Liebert as well as enjoys Dhrupad immensely. Maybe why this program director with the international Art of Living Foundation (AOL) goes down so well with young blood all across the globe.

"There is an absence of role models in their lives," he says referring to the increasing number of suicide cases amongst young students.

"On the face of it, these youngsters have everything - good families, money, friends, social acceptance . - still they decide to end it all."

This is where Vikram and the group of young volunteers come in as they organise seminars and workshops in both rural and urban areas to empower youth and give them back control over their lives.

As he is young himself and so obviously understands Gen X, Vikram is ?ooded with letters and e-mails and telephone calls from young adults asking for advice, solace and sometimes just his shoulder to cry on.

Some of these notes are cries for help. Vikram is able to talk to these tormented and stressed out kids and help them out of whatever private hell they are going through.

"AIDS, sex, alcoholism, drugs. all these have a platform from where they can be addressed and solutions sought, but what do you do with kids who have none of these problems but are yet talking about taking their own lives?," he explains.

For Vikram working with the young is his calling. For a person who once long ago thought his mission was to "get people to stop spitting", Vikram Hazra has come a considerable distance.

Today he is busy building bridges with the young people all over the world and instilling in them a sense of dedication, commitment, sincerity and a spirit of service without missing out on the fun and the partying bit of life.

"The greatest gift that the AoL has given me is the knowledge that I am doing something that is making a difference in the lives of people somewhere and this gives me the energy to carry on," he says.

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