From the first floor balcony of Rajendra Mehta’s Pedder Road flat, one could see vehicles whiz by all day. For many, it was a regular journey, leading to different destinations. On the comfortable sofa inside, the ghazal maestro would greet you with “pakodas,” kachoris and essenced tea, served personally.
By the time you emptied the cup, he would quote a few other poems which talked of travellers, journeys, fate and destinations. The first time I had this experience, I felt like I was relishing an exclusive mushaira.
Mehta said “Every artist has that one song which everyone in the audience wants to hear. In our case, this was the one.”
Mehta seemed free that evening, but from what I gathered later, everything else could have waited for a conversation on poetry to get completed. Over the second round of tea, and with impromptu examples, he explained the nuances of ghazal poetry, how the rhyming concepts kafiya and radeef were used, and the role of syllables and meter. He described the difference between a ghazal and nazm, and stressed on the importance of understanding the poet’s thought process and choice of words.
When you read a novel, you may just enjoy the story and forget it soon. But when you get deep into the language and characters, you retain much more,” he said.
He called me home a few days later and gifted me two books – the dictionary “Aaina-e-Ghazal”
by Dr Zarina Sani and Dr Vinay Waikar, and “Ghazal Darpan” by Dr Waikar, which contained lyrics of popular ghazals, with meanings of tough words.
“The next time you come, I will take a written test,” he joked. Meeting him opened up my thinking, and like many good things, this happened by sheer chance. To quote Dr Badr’s ghazal, Koi phool sa haath kaandhe pe tha, Mere pair sholon pe chalte rahe.
Over dinner, he whispered to me, “Wonder how many people understood what I sang. I should have sung in my suit and tie instead of my kurta-pyjama. Thankfully, I didn’t start talking about poetry or they would never give me a visa.”
“I’m like your elder brother,” he would often say. When Nina Ji passed away in 2014, I met him at the prayer meeting. I had a serious neck problem and was wearing a cervical collar. Though there were many visitors, he spent some time to enquire about my condition.
A flood of memories flashed through my mind when I visited the Mehta residence after getting the news on Wednesday. His son was on his way back from Dubai, and I sat with his brothers-in-law, discussing his immense contribution. The traffic kept moving outside, and people headed to their destinations. There was nobody to recite poetry, but citing my own experience, my thoughts went back to Dr Badr’s line, Mere raston mein ujala raha, Diye uski ankhon mein jalte rahe.
Thank you, Rajendra Bhai.