I saw your first email as i was running out of the house and really did know what to say and was away from email since.
Mohanji was actually one of the first people I met when I came to Devdungri in the summer of 1996. I think he simply did not get what i was doing there and i took some time to figure him out:) Actually i distinctly remember the very first time we had a discussion by ourselves was just a few days after i came. I was by myself, terrified that someone will come by and want to speak to me and Mohanji it was who came, with some land records, of someone else who was in a trouble of course. He said there was a problem, he did not say much and i understood even less. He put it front of me…and he was also checking me out, whether i could prove of some use. Because i had done some work on land records with some organisations on land in Raigad while at TISS, i at least knew which was the right way to read the crop register and mutation entry but there were a couple of maps which totally stumped me. I looked up very confused and he simply smiled, it said it all. Lal Singh walked in, much to my relief, but to my surprise, if i remember right, he took one look at the papers and asked me to explain them, much to the amusement of Mohanji.
He could be as warm as he was prickly. He sang Kabir more than he talked about it as such… i remember it used to take him time to warm up and when he did, it was quite incredible. I remember the recoding we did with Boorji once, i Tilonia. At one point everytime Boorji asked Mohanji to sing two particular verses of his ballad–‘the’ song that only he could sing like that–Mohanji would sing the first one right and sing something else for the second. After about 15 minutes we thought Boorji was going to explode. Shankar, Ramnivas and myself could not stop laughing. When i was taking care of the shops he had a complaint to make about someone or the other working in the shops everyday.
My memory of him will always be of someone who just kept walking, his eyes level, intense and he seldom smiled when he did not mean it. And i cannot but not think of Chunnibai…please give her a hug and tell her to sing too when you’ll sing rang rang ka phool khile hai from me too…
He was the very first person I met when I landed in Devdungri. I got off ahead of the spot I should have actually got off, feeling a bit lost I wondered what to do, when he showed up at my side and directed me to the hut. What I remember most vividly about him was his smile. Warm and open. From that first meeting onwards, he became the one person I saw most frequently & spent time with through out my time in Devdungri. His petulant anger when he was hungry was legendary in the MKSS circles. The songs he composed and sang were powerful statements and voiced the sentiments of the poor. His words and his voice will be missed in our struggle as will his unstinted support & presence. I will always miss you Mohanji. Deeply!
I am saddened to hear that Mohanba has passed away. He was a special person and someone whom I admire. I have fond memories of my interactions with him although I regret the fact that I did not spend as much time with him Devdungri as I could have spent. I missed an opportunity to fully benefit from his wisdom and life exepriences.
I spoke to Nikhil yesterday and we discussed Mohanba. I told him that one of my most enduring memories of Mohanba is from a train ride that a number of us from the MKSS took to Orissa to attend an Action Aid social audit. It was a long train ride and I got restless during the journey when I noticed Mohanba sitting contently and deep in his own thoughts. This was early in my time with the MKSS and I had not really had many discusions with Mohanba. I asked him what he was thinking about. He replied that he was thinking about donating part of his land to the MKSS. I only realized the significance of what he said later on when I learned from discussions with Lal Singhji and Baluji that people who inherit land from their parents don’t really consider the land to be their personal property to distribute to just anyone. It is seen as property that they hold in custody and pass on to their sons. To me this incident reflects the depth of Mohanba’s attachment to the MKSS and how in some ways he was a man ahead of his times.
I will never get an opportunity to see him again but he will forever be a source of inspiration for me. My thoughts are with his family and the MKSS.
Love and Zindabad,
Its like a bulwark of the sangathan has passed into its foundation. And I say bulwark because as a dalit with little means and without literacy, he was one of those ‘last persons’ from whom the call nyaya samanta ho aadhar aisa rachenge hum sansar found its strength, and in many a song, its voice. I can hear him sing, around the villages, across the towns and in those nights when we listened to kabir,” haathi maan to moto ban jawe, cheenti maa tu chhoto kyun, inka bhed bata re maare awadhu sabit karni karta kyun. nar nari maan ek biraje do duniya mein dikhe kyun. chori kar ke bhagan laga, pakadne walo tu ko tu..” please sing this song from me when you meet at his place and the other one of my favourites from his, rang rang ka phool khila hai.. and of course han liyo raaj, when he did sing it, it was beautiful. His voice will always remain within us, reverberating.
Mohanji made his presence felt like a slender, tall, beautiful and timeless gnarled tree to me with his permanent lines, beautiful voice and crazy temper. I hope Chunni bai will sing soon, and sing with his voice too. Grief of what we lose, no matter how, inflects our lives with deeper layers always, and loss becomes a finding, I hope to hear her sing the next time I meet her.
Love and zindabad,
Mohanji has left his lyrics, his songs and his immense legacy to the poor in Bhim and neighbouring blocks, to Rajasthan, and to the MKSS . His will always be the definitive story , in the beginning of the chronicle of the RTI and of the MKSS.
I will miss his contribution to my politics. He always pulled me out of any cynicism or despair I may have had from time to time. I was ashamed of being so, when faced with his faith in the Sangathan and the future. He was a later day Micawber -” something will turn up ” , and it always does ! With nothing materially to guarantee a future he managed to be eternally positive. A huge personal loss for me.
Dear Aruna, For Mohanji–His yellow turban and gleaming eye; old black coat flapping around his ever shrinking, unbending, frame; swelling throat, pointed finger and ever rising voice; lightning to the ear, setting the heart afire; burning thru the here and now; making us remember(moist eyed) why we are….