The sun is setting over Abgaon Kala – a semi-rural settlement on the outskirts of Harda town – and as one nears the panchayat building in the village, strings of soul stirring music hits one’s ears.
Inside a room in the bhavan, captivating scenario is unfolding. Youngsters and children – clearly from different backgrounds – are totally engrossed in singing – accompanied with traditional harmonium and dholak. Smiles, claps and general excitement prevails the air.
This is the daily scenario at the panchayat bhavan of Abgaon Kala, which has turned into a practice cum meeting room for the members of ‘Voice of kids and youth’ group – one of the Changeloomer projects spurred by NGO Synergy Sansthan with support of MP office of UNICEF.
Janardan Bagdi and Anuj Mahant – anchor and co-anchor of the project – clearly lead the motley group of ‘musicians’ ranging from kids as less as seven years of age to youngsters close to 30 years. They belt out song after song – from bhajans to sufi renditions like ‘damadam mast kalandar’ and the usual bollywood hit numbers and those few just watching them are enthralled.
However, the group also manages to enthrall much bigger crowds as they have started giving professional performances about three months ago. The musical group has already become a talk of Harda town.
But though the musical skills of the group are apparent, their inherent objective and achievement is less evident to cursory looker. This aspect however starts to come clear as one starts talking to the different members of the group.
The group is varied not only in the sense of age, but also religion, caste and socio-economic divides. So there are Hindus and Muslims, Brahmins and SC/ST persons and also some few who would normally not be considered ‘elite’ enough to sit together due to their economic and social status.
“We had seen the religious, caste-based and socio-economic divide so apparent in our village that it made me question the very basis of humanity,” Janardan Bagdi, the anchor said. “Meanwhile it also struck me that though there are so many differences, music flows in every bit of our village that has several families of traditional musicians – singers as well as percussionists. This set me thinking why music can’t be used to diffuse all the divides and this was why I proposed the project under Changeloomer,” Janardan adds.
Anuj Mahant’s thoughts flow more as self-confession. “I grew up in a Brahmin family of traditional musicians and some deep prejudices and divides were ingrained in my mind. Right from not making friends with persons of other religion or caste, I also kept up my family’s idiosyncrasies like not going out after dark or not spending night out of house. But discussions with Janardan and understanding music in-depth has changed this totally,” he says.
Suddenly Jhalak Mahant, cousin of Anuj who along with sister Tulsi has joined the musical group intervenes. “I will tell you how much Anuj Bhaiyya has changed. See us two sisters sitting here making music with all this motley group of people. He was the one to encourage us to come here so that young girls of village could follow suit. Just imagine,” she says with a broad smile.
Apart from this in-depth change in Anuj himself, the younger generation of Abgaon Kala is seeing sea change. Despite initial objections from families, Hindu and Muslim, general category and reserved category, affluent as well poor kids and youngsters gather every evening at the panchayat bhavan and enjoy their common passion – music.
Many children have started learning music from Anuj and Janardan and also some life lessons. “Earlier I felt odd about sitting with Muslim kids, but now I understand that everyone is equal and music is within everyone,” Deepak Baragi, a class 9 student, who is learning to play harmonium says. Shahabuddin Khan, a 12-year-old agrees that now there is much more friendship between them.
Ravi Rao, a traditional dhol player from poor background says that being with this group has brought him self-respect and respect in society that was always missing. “My music has melted every divide,” he says.
Also, under project, a group of young people has been formed who gather every evening after practice session to discuss social issues and problems in village and their solutions. This group is also making efforts for revival of traditional forms of singing and percussion (like Singaji Bhajan and Gherabaji bhajan) that are on verge of being lost. “We are sure we would be able to revive and strengthen these formats,” Puran Mohe, a youth says. Lokesh Rathod, a white-washer and a Singaji bhajan singer cannot agree more.