Saturday, March 28, 2015

Geet Ramayan - A "happening"

That a radio program spanning 56 weekends should evolve into a full-length music concert and then capture the imagination of millions for six decades, seems like an impossible fairytale. But the story of Geet Ramayan is no less than such a tale.
Sixty years ago on Ramnavami, the voice of ‘Babuji’ Sudhir Phadke rang out in the morning on Aakshvaani Pune, carrying the words of Ga Di Madgulkar स्वये श्रीरामप्रभू ऐकती, कुशलव रामायण गाती. Fifty-five songs followed over the next one year, and the rest is history. Much has been written and spoken about it in these last 60 years. It has also been translated into several other languages. People celebrated its silver jubilee, then its golden jubilee, and the celebrations are still continuing. What is the secret of its astounding success? 
Is it just a combination of classic lyrics and melody? Or is there more to it than meets the eye? Before we delve into this enquiry, a tribute to its creators is a must. I cannot find any better way than to just quote the co-creators here –
Ga Di Ma said about his creation – 
अजाणतेपणी केव्हा माता घाली बाळगुटी
बीज धर्माच्या द्रुमाचे कणकण गेले पोटी
छंद जाणतेपणीचा तीर्थे काव्याची धुंडिली
कोण्या एका भाग्यवेळी पूजा रामाची मांडिली
देववाणीतले ओज शीतळले माझ्या ओठी
वाल्मिकीच्या भास्कराचे झाले चांदणे मराठी
झंकारल्या कंठवीणा आले चांदण्याला सूर
भावमाधुर्याला आला महाराष्ट्री महापूर
चंद्रभारल्या जिवाला नाही कशाचीच चाड
मला कशाला मोजता? मी तो भारलेले झाड

And this is what Babuji said – गीतरामायणाचं महत्व शब्दामध्ये व्यक्त करावं ही शक्ती माझ्यात नाही. एकच सांगतो की गीतरामायण कोणी केलेलं नाही. मी केलेलं नाही, माडगूळकरांनी केलेलं नाही, ते “झालेलं” आहे. काही गोष्टी अशा असतात, त्या कोण करतं माहीत नाही.

Geet Ramayan has been described in many ways - it has been called a miracle, a milestone in Maharashtra’s culture and so on. The fact is that it has existed for longer than the ‘Maharashtra State’ as we know it today! Any art has to be seen in light of the environment at that time. So rewind to 1955, and consider this –
Eight years had passed since independence, and we Indians were coming to terms with some uncomfortable truths. The horrors of WW-II were still being felt by the struggling economy. Prices were rising, foodgrains were scarce (long queues outside ration shops) and the country faced a severe trade deficit. Look at some of the movies of 50s. Raj Kapoor in Shree 420, Aawara, Jaagte Raho and Phir Subah Hogi - underlining the plight of a common man (aam aadmi as a phrase was yet to be coined then!) battling the cruel system. Raja Paranjape’s Pedgaoche Shahane and Lakhachi Gosht, commonly labelled as comedy movies, are actually a scathing commentary on the degenerate system. And then, who can forget Guru Dutt asking everyone – Jinhe naaz hai Hind par wo kahaan hain?

Pu La Deshpande wrote this in 1972, and it accurately captures the disillusionment that Indians faced in the 50s. An excerpt -
स्वातंत्र्य मिळण्यापूर्वीचा आयुष्यातला सारा काळ हा जणू काय स्वप्नाचा काळ होता आणि इथून पुढे या स्वप्नाशी मेळ न जमवणारा विद्रूप सत्याशी सामना देणारा काळ सुरु झाला होता. स्वातंत्र्याची पहाट फुटल्याच्या घोषणा कानावर पडत होत्या पण डोळ्यांपुढे मात्र अंधारल्यासारखे झाले होते.
भोवताली हा असा अंधार दाटल्यासारखा वाटत असूनही आपण यापुढे परक्याचे गुलाम नाही या कल्पनेचा आनंद होताच.....पण हळूहळू प्रत्यक्षात निराळेच चित्र दिसायला लागले. स्वातंत्र्यलढ्यातल्या नेत्यांचे राज्यकर्ते झाल्याबरोबर त्यांच्या वागणुकीत, राहण्याच्या पद्धतीत, विचारसरणीत भलताच फरक पडू लागला.....चार आणेवाल्या या दरिद्री नारायणाच्या टोपीचा आता राजमुकुट झाला होता. जी टोपी डोक्यावर असताना साधी विडी ओढण्याचे धैर्य होत नसे त्या टोपीखालचे डोके आता सत्तामदाने झिंगू लागले होते....
-          “एका गांधी टोपीचा प्रवास” (१९७२)

Such were the times when Geet Ramayan “happened”. Which brings us back to the question – what made it so successful?  I have no intention of getting into the debate whether Ramayan actually happened for real or not. Whether it did or didn't, I like to believe that Valmiki surely documented it for a purpose. To remind all rulers (or anyone, for that matter) about a “code of conduct”; about the ideal behavior expected. Little surprise then that the characters in Mahabharat appear to be more human, more vulnerable to the trials and tribulations of life than those in Ramayan. (Read ‘Sanskruti’ by Iravati Karve.) But that doesn't mean that Ramayan is all utopia. It is what one turns to when faced with the dilemma between ‘want to do’ and ‘ought to do’.

In that sense the title bestowed upon Ga Di Ma of a “modern Valmiki” couldn’t be more apt. No, I am not suggesting that he wrote it as a sermon. Nor am I saying that he wrote to to cheer up the dejected common man as his version of ‘Acchhe din’! The socio-economic environment of 1950s did contribute to Geet Ramayan “happening”. It was not just an innovative radio program. It was not just the lucid words of Ga Di Ma. It wasn’t just the soulful compositions of Babuji. It was much more.

Why is it still so popular today? Instead of giving a theory, I might as well narrate an incident that happened 4-5 years ago. I was returning home with my daughter Vallarie after dinner outside. The conversation veered around to Geet Ramayan, and she asked me if I had ever heard all the 56 songs without a break. Of course I had, and sure enough, she had too. Several times, in fact. We were about to reach home when she said, “shall we hear it now?” So we began with स्वये श्रीरामप्रभू ऐकती and instead of going back home, we started a long slow drive around Pune. We went all the way round university, Khadki, camp, Swargate, Katraj, Chandni Chowk and came back to Deccan but by then, Ram had just gone into exile and everything was still hunky dory. So a second round of Pune happened, but even by then, the battle hadn’t begun. Hanuman had just disrupted life in Lanka by setting it alight. And so we went round Pune a third time, and as we finally reached home at about 4 am, Lav-Kush were ready to go to Ayodhya, and Valmiki was telling them -  गा बाळानो श्रीरामायण ......

Indeed, one can hear these fifty-six songs over and over again. Why not do it once again now?
Geet Ramayan on Youtube

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