The melody and the man
A.R. Rahman on his duties as a music director, a man of faith and a man of dreams
MUSIC FOR CAUSE TOO A.R. Rahman's new journey of music involves healing. PHOTO K . MURALI KUMAR
Looking for the answers to all the questions in my life.
Will I be alone? Will you be there by my side?
It is something He did, I wonder why!
He is searching for the answer to stay alive...
Could you ever listen, could you ever care to speak your mind?
Only for a minute, for only one moment in time! This joy is around you.
Show me the love we must find. Are you searching for a reason to be kind?
He said pray for me brother... .
This stanza is A.R. Rahman's new, nine-minute anthem that he co-wrote with Blaaze, his friend and a composer who worked with Rahman in "Kisna" too. The star musician unveiled it in New Delhi this past week. The reason he calls it an anthem is that it is created for the cause of poverty alleviation and patients suffering from tuberculosis across the world. Rahman is the global ambassador for the Stop TB campaign.
The `Mozart of Madras' as he has been dubbed, joined hands with Pakistani musical band Junoon and the Indian group Indian Ocean to unveil the anthem at a Poverty Concert to kick-start the People's Summit Against Poverty, a campaign organised under the flagship of Global Call for Action Against Poverty - GCAP - timed before the U.N. World Summit that takes place between September 14 and 16. With this concert Rahman becomes the first musician to pen an international poverty anthem. There is more to this concert than meets the eye. It is a sustainable campaign that has formed a coalition called Wada Na Todo Abhiyan (Don't Break the Promise campaign) joined by several community and faith groups, trade unions, celebrities and individuals. It will be a reminder to the Indian Government to fulfil the promise made in the National Common Minimum Programme and the 10th Five Year Plan about ending poverty.
Watching this extremely shy musician who is a picture of modesty is a study in itself. He isn't one who to twitch his nose and muffle it with a hanky while entering the office of NGO Sahasi at Mangolpuri in Delhi. In this room meant to take care of TB patients, filled with malodour, he sits stoically and listens to their problems, though he can't answer them as he is not well versed in Hindi.
His entry makes women break into the strains of "Hum Honge Kamyab". They apply a tilak, there is a garland to welcome him. And there are smiles on the faces of men and women. But soon the event turns into a media-Rahman rendezvous rather than an occasion for the people to meet Rahman.
"Will he do something for us", "If he gives us medicine and money, only then I will understand that he is here for a cause", "The doctors don't give us medicines," ladies of the area raise their voice. Rahman isn't able to convince them that the poverty concert he is here for is to voice their concern only. He could only manage to say in Hindi "Aap concert main ayaga na? Main wahan gana gaunga, sab aana... "
But soon one notices that it is not just a token visit. He is here to provide ample time to listen to them in a separate room, stinking and hot though it may be. He talks to a weeping girl banished from school because of contracting tuberculosis, checks her medical card and DOTS doses, talks to an old man and sings for them his latest hit "Mangal Mangal" from "Mangal Pandey".
A long meeting and Rahman is back in his air-conditioned car. It is imperative to see if he is actually affected. "This is not the first time with me. I have been going to remote places of Gujarat, Bengal, etc. It is always good to meet people through an NGO. This way the cause gets noticed. Moreover, to help them in an individual capacity you need a lot of infrastructure. I have tried to interact with the financially weak in my personal capacity at home, but it is usually unmanageable." He recalls an incident at home:
"On the 27th day of Ramadhan I was giving zakat (alms in cash or kind) last time. When I came out of the house, I was shocked to see some 3000 people gathered outside. When I tried to distribute, people jumped on each other to grab it. They jostled and snatched it from each other. It created mayhem. So much so that we had to close the door and call some really deserving people like the handicapped, the very old and ailing ones, one by one and hand over the zakat. I was moved. It is a shame for our country that one out of four people goes to bed hungry."
And if not anything, Rahman is geared to realise his dream of building a centre for spiritual healing in his hometown, Chennai. With slight hesitation, he gives in. "It was my cherished dream to build a centre of spiritual healing. It seems as if the time has come for it. With the money I earned, I have bought a 60-acre land on the outskirts of Chennai, out of which we will use 40 acres for the centre," he beams. Why spiritual healing you may ask and what is that?
"It is healing only by praying." And he believes it happens because he saw it happening with his own daughter, now six years old. "She had a hole in her heart when she was born. Since she was so small, surgery was very risky. So I resorted to my spiritual guru and by the time she was two, the hole vanished. It was only the prayers that worked. Since then, I do believe in spiritual healing," says the composer, who prefers to call himself a sufi.
Talk to Rahman about his spiritual leanings and he talks of Islam and Sufism. "You know there are four stages in Islam: Shariyat, Tarikat, Marifat and Haqeeqat. I am a strong believer in them."
He observes rozas, offers namaz and still calls himself a sufi. "A Muslim is a sufi, isn't he? And if they are not, they should be one. Because God has created all creatures, why should we differentiate them?" he questions. You may argue on that but nobody can doubt he heals through his music. He cares for his muse - people.
Not that he is happy with all his compositions. But some he had to "because of film demand". So far if "Swades" was his favourite musical venture, he was sad at the treatment of the "Maula" song in "Mangal Pandey".
"Though `Mangal Mangal' was a sutradhar song on which I had to work a lot but the beautiful `Maula' song was not exploited fully. Only a part of it was used in the film Javed Saab (Javed Akhtar who has penned the film's song) and I were very unhappy with it," he says, appearing hurt.
For now he has two more landmark films in hand "Rang De Basanti" and Ashutosh Gawarikar's "Akbar-Jodha" which has 12 songs. "This should be my last period film," he laughs.
Is it easy to score music for period films, especially when there is hardly any musical evidence available from that era. "I go with the feel. We do take artistic liberties in such cases."
He also has Abbas Tahirwala's "young love story" and Rajeev Menon's "musical" film coming up. As the maestro descends from his car, the electronic media queues up for a byte. It is 4.30 p.m. and no one knows that the musician "had a bite only at five in the morning." But the idol of the millions is humble enough to mingle with the masses.
Did anyone say that success reveals what you truly are?
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