In Memory of RasBhai

In Memory of RasBhai

Today, I received unfortunate news about the death of my friend and colleague Sri Ras Bihari Desai, whom I called Rasbhai.

When I heard the news, my mind immediately went back to a morning long ago when I received a phone call at 5am.

It was Rasbhai on the other end.

“Divyangbhai, please listen to this. I know I’ve woken you up, but you must listen to this. We’ll talk after,” he said. Before I could really say anything, I heard the sound of drumming on the line. The patterns were set in mishra jati.

After about 50 seconds, he came back on the phone.

“Who is that?” I asked.

“It is a bird. It is on the water bowl for birds. It is actually dancing on it. I’ve been watching him for the last 40 minutes. I was thinking that I must call something and realized that I had to share with you. That is why I called you so early in the morning.”

He actually recorded the bird dancing that day. I told him when we met next that I wanted to hear the whole thing. We met several times soon after that, but never at his home. Time, as it always does, passed by and today when I heard of his passing, I recall our agreement to listen to the bird dancing together and how that never came to be.

Rasbhai and I shared many memories together. He was one of my favourite Gujarati singers. He was a good-hearted and knowledgeable person with a deep interest in philosophy. For the last 30 years, he has been using my students as his tabla player whenever possible. He was always a supporter of my work and I of his.

I pray to God that his soul will have greatest place in heaven.

Girishbhai – A tribute to his unwavering support and love …

Girishbhai – A tribute to his unwavering support and love...

To become a great musician requires a lot from the person who wants to become the musician. Patience, dedication, focus are requirements. Success follows if one undertakes intense sadhna. The path becomes easier if you have people who support you, encourage you and challenge you to work even harder or go that extra mile.
They are many such people in my life. People that I am indebted to for their friendship, unwavering support. They truly helped me to reach where I am today. One of these people is (the late) Girishbhai.


Girishbhai understood very little about Indian classical music, but he believed in me and my dream and had one mission: to make me one of the best tabla players around. There was a period of several years in my life where he would continually call me up and say, “Pandit you should practice tonight. Your home or my home. Let’s do this, I’ll pick you up in the evening.” (He called me “Pandit”).

As night approached, he would be at my door. I was not allowed to drive myself anywhere if Girishbhai was in town, he called himself my “sarathi”(charioteer), Guruji travelling on his own was not permitted. He would pick me up and take me to his home, where I would set myself up on my asana. Girishbhai’s seat was right across from me. I would play non-stop for 4 to 5 hours. Generally concluding around 2 or 3 in the morning.

Girishbhai would not move during my practice. He would sit there listening the whole time. When I finished, he would give encouraging comments and proceed to give me a massage, citing that my practice must have made me very tired.

After massaging my shoulders and arms, the next part of the late night was fixed. “Now you must be hungry. Tell me Pandit, what will you eat?” At this time in Ahmedabad, late-night restaurants were virtually non-existent. Only one restaurant was open and that too was a considerable distance away in the old city.

He would ask me what I wanted to eat and set off to the old city. I was not permitted to join, as he would not allow me to do anything after these long practices. He would return with hot food, which we would eat, before Girishbhai dropped me home.

These night practices happened regularly for 4-5 years. For 4-5 years, Girishbhai would pick me up, take me to his home, sit in front of me without moving for the 4 to 5 hours that I practiced, give me a massage, get me dinner and then drop me home. His motivation was one thing: to make Guruji one of the best tabla players around.

He did not understand Indian classical music, but he understood my dream and did everything he could to make it a reality. Whomever he would meet, he would speak to them of his Pandit, Pandit Divyang Vakil and the wonderful tabla he heard. That was his love. If I had any program in Ahmedabad, even if the program was close to his home, he would come to my home, pick me and take me to the venue and drop me home afterwards.

Those years have passed. Girishbhai has passed on. But I will always be indebted to him for his support and am thankful for the love that he had for me. Thank you, Girishbhai. I hope that your example will be an inspiration to others.

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

My First Meeting with Pandit Saxenaji

On first death anniversary of my first Tabla Guru, Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena, I wanted to take the time to reflect on the person who had great knowledge of tabla and great love for me and I too for him.


It was a evening in the month of February in 1971. My father told me that a big music festival, called Baiju Festival, was going on in the city, arranged by the Government of Gujarat. In addition, he informed me that tabla maestro Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena is coming to perform and encouraged me to attend. I was very young at that time, but I was learning and playing tabla for more than seven years. My teacher, Mr. Narmada Shankar Bhatt, was a senior disciple of Pandit Saxenaji. I requested my father to take me to festival as it would be great fun.

He took me to the newly opened Jai Shankar Sundari Hall. With great curiousity, I sat in the third row, waiting anxiously for Saxenaji’s turn. He was slated to play two items: the first, with Gujarat’s great vocalist Mr. Rasiklal Andhariya and the second with a sitarist.

When he entered on the stage, I was amazed by his presence and personality. He had a very small frame, nor more than 5 feet in height. He wore a very nice kurta and black koti. I would later learn that the koti was his signature style. Before him, I had already met many many tabla players. Amongst of them all, he struck me as the most sober, most learned and calm person. His playing style mirrored his personality: neat, steady and balanced.

In his first item with the vocalist, he played nothing in vilambhit besides theka. I found this disappointing as I was expecting rolls and powerful drumming. But when madhya laya began with Raag Megh, he played a small composition followed by a gat, which was enough to prove him to be the best student of Ustad Habibuddin Khan. In sitar accompaniment, he played some compositions, which I just could not understand at that time.

After the concert, I rushed backstage and touched his feet. I introduced myself. He told me he was coming back to Ahmedabad after ten days as a judge for the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya competition. I told him proudly that I was participating the same competition.

My father then arrived, did namaskar to Saxenaji and asked him about me. Very humbly, Saxenaji replied, “I will coming to Ahmedabad next week. Then I will get a chance to listen to him and give my remarks.”

With all mood and determination to make him happy in the competition, I returned home with my father and lasting memories of my first meeting with Saxenaji.

What happened next, I write at another time.

Postnote by Divyang Vakil’s Student:
Pandit Sudhirkumar Saxena was one of the last Ustads of the Ajrada Gharana. He spent many of his years in the care and service of the great Ustad Habibuddin Khan. He was the first professor of music in a higher-education institution in India, serving initially as a Professor, then Head of the Music Department of MS University in Baroda, Gujarat. He passed away on November 30, 2007. He continues to live in the memories of his students and through his teachings.