I knew about Maharajji’s visit to Pune since a few months and ever since I was excited to see him for the first time perform live in front of me. I have no knowledge of Kathak; I have seen a few performances and enjoyed them for their simplicity and expressions. But yes as an artist I relate to it or for that matter to any art form alive.
My interview with Maharajji was scheduled on the same afternoon he landed in Pune. I was nervous and thrilled at the same time, interviewing Maharajji? I am not a trained journalist neither am I a seasoned writer. But I believe in one thing when it comes to writing: If you respect someone’s art knowing what it means to be an artist, you can never go wrong. I need not be a kathak dancer to interview him. I just need to respect his art and understand what he is trying to express through it. I express through my paintings and he expresses through his dance. It’s as simple as that.
I reached the venue much earlier and was waiting outside the green room for him. As I waited there I was continuously sketching Maharajji in my mind, how would he look? (I had seen him only in photographs). While I was almost lost in my own thoughts I could hear people around me whisper, “Maharajji has arrived.” I stood up instantly. I saw lot of people escorting him to the green room and within a few seconds he was right there, in front of me. There was silence, no one moved. His feet barely made any sound and I was still when I saw his profound eyes. They are prominent in the first sight itself. The coordinator came out and told me that he is ready for the interview but he says that if you want a good interview, you will get it after the performance. I decided to wait for the good.
I went in for his performance and grabbed a place in the front row with my camera. Until all the audience settled down there were only the musicians and technicians on the stage. I could faintly hear the sound of ghungaroos backstage. I knew Maharajji had come. The performance was commenced by Saswati Sen, Maharajji’s foremost disciple. She spoke eloquently about the basic mudras and gestures, my eyes were already glued to her expressions. After the initial performance, entered Maharajji. His voice was warm and full of depth. He addressed everyone like how one would talk to his grandchildren, so simple, so warm! I was left mesmerized by what followed.
It was 10pm in the night. Everyone followed Maharajji to the green room to take his blessings. Some went to click pictures with him while some went with their autograph books. I was waiting in the green room. Every time someone would come out after meeting him, they would exclaim joyfully. I was told that it would take time and I might have to interview him in the car. I was even more excited. After all the people met Maharajji, he and Saswatiji left for the hotel where they were staying. They asked me to come with them to the hotel. I ran towards my scooter and followed their car till the Corinthian club which was five minutes from the venue. I entered through the wrong gate and parked my bike in the middle of nowhere and ran towards the lobby. I could see him walking towards his room on the first floor. I thought this interview would never happen.
I was called by the coordinator to run to his room as soon as I could. I entered Maharajji’s suite. It had a huge drawing room where I was asked to wait. I could see him inside his room and Saswatiji was helping him remove his makeup. The television people had already entered his suite with huge lights and tripods. I still thought that my interview would not happen because these people will call him as soon as he comes out. I still waited only because Maharajji had told me that he would meet me. Maharajji finally sent for me. I was a little nervous but I was comfortable. “Aiyye baithiye”, said Maharajji as he folded his legs and sat on his bed. I could not believe that he had called me inside his room and more than that to sit with him on his bed. I started with the interview instantly. Saswatiji added her opinions too in the interview. It went on for twenty minutes, all this time the rest of the world did not exist for me. I could hear only his voice and I was trying very hard to believe that I was sitting right in front of him. After I was done Maharajji exclaimed humorously, “Ho bhi gaya!”
I was touched by his modesty. He gave a warm hug as I touched his feet and I was left overwhelmed by every word of his. I couldn’t have asked for more that day. I left the hotel at 12am in the night and throughout the road to my house I could only think of him. What a lovely human being and I got to know something new about him that made me relate to him immediately; that he too is a painter.