Sanjay Verma

Kathmandu:

Just eight days ago the musical trio Sukarma played at Dharhara. The group delivered with the same intensity, dedication and love for music which, admirers associate them with. Sukarma has always let their music speak for itself. Hype, marketing or commercialism is little known to the group. They produce music from their hearts and attract the likeminded. The Dharhara show was memorable: Dhrubesh Regmi, a picture of absolute and pure concentration when playing his sitar, Shyam Nepali’s sarangi and infectious half smile and Atul with his ever serene face on his magical tabla. Atul not only played but also sang and spoke with passion and eloquence that afternoon. That was to be the last time; Kathmandu would see Atul creating music.

Exactly a week after the Dharhara afternoon, he is no more. This morning thousands were at his funeral. Friends, colleagues, relatives, students and admirers were all in shocked mourning. All the sorrow that emerged at Pashupati was not going to bring Atul back. Destiny does not care for the sadness that has emerged at the passing away of a 33 year old.

Having zero musical ability, I have always envied musicians. I admired the magic that Dhrubesh, Shyam and Atul created and shared on stage. While their music flo-wed during performances th-ey spoke to each other thro-ugh a language set in their eyes and facial expressions. Encouraging each other, building on the pattern of the pie-ce and the tempo. These images will always remain with me.

We at the Embassy of India have had the pleasure and good fortune of knowing and working with Atul and Sukarma on various occasions. I especially remember the time when we requested Atul to share the stage with the legendary Ghatam player Pandit Vikku Vinayakram, who was to perform at Birendra Iinternational Convention Centre. Atul was delighted at this opportunity to play with a world-renowned percussionist but was nervous too. For those who saw the show will remember the initial hesitation that seemed to sit heavy on Atul in the early minutes of playing with Vikku, which was not unexpected. However, true to our faith in Atul’s ability, the rhythm got going and he was soon jamming with Vikku’s troupe, like one of them. After the show, Atul came in for a special mention by the great Vikku himself.

It is not easy to achieve success as a musician at the best of times. In a crisis-ridden society, musicians will find it even harder. Yet, Atul was fully devoted to his craft, he not only performed but also taught. He taught, the old world way, with little thought to fees or personal convenience or his family’s personal space, after all the classes were at home. He was also at one time in the faculty at Padma Kanya, but himself was a student, having enrolled for a degree at the Banaras Hindu University.

What drove Atul? How do some people give themselves up to a singular passion in a manner that surpasses worship? Music was religion, a calling that was easily apparent in Atul’s eyes which regularly shut in musical ecstasy during performances. Musicians of the subcontinent say that they experience divinity in their music. Atul surely did. Even outside of the musical idiom he carried peace and serenity on his being. Calmness set on his face gave an indication of salvation. Having gone he is only revisiting nirvana. Atul has left behind many unfulfilled desires. For the scores of his students he was not only a tea-cher but also a guardian, who guided them through music and life. Performing for causes and institutionalising Kirateswar Sangeet Ashram was another. Getting a higher degree from Banaras was also a dream. Above all this was to spread the appeal and goodness of classical music.

Sukarma has lost its beat. I pray, that Sukarma will continue. Atul would have wanted it, many thousands do too. May his students, especially Ananta and Parshu, step into his footsteps and keep the legacy running. It will be hard on these kids, but they have to, as a tribute to a man who meant the world to them. May Kirateswar develop into a timeless musical platform. For all this to happen, me and you have to reach out and encourage local talent and music, go to their shows and encourage them in any way you can. There are other selfless Atul’s out there.

(The author is the counsellor, Press, Information and Culture in the Indian Embassy, Kathmandu)