With India in the throes of a grim, second COVID-19 wave, social media timelines have been filled with the pleas of those scrambling to find ICU beds, ventilators, oxygen cylinders, plasma and medicines for loved ones and acquaintances, as well as responses from volunteers who have been scrambling to help those in need or amplify these requests to the right quarters. However, while individual citizens can put their heart and soul into connecting people with life-sustaining resources, they cannot match the scale at which the state is able to " and must " deliver services. This is reflected in the loss of one of India's finest classical vocalists, Pandit Rajan Mishra, who passed away in Delhi on 25 April. He was 70.
His son Rajnish, a classical singer, told PTI, "He died of a heart attack around 6.30 pm. We were trying for a ventilator but nobody supported us, nothing in any hospital. Later, the PMO [Prime Minister's Office] reached out to help but he had left us by then."
Born in 1951, Pt. Rajan Mishra belonged to the distinguished lineage known as the Banaras gharana. He sang with his brother Pt. Sajan Mishra, who is younger by five years. They were raised in Varanasi, and got their musical training from their father Pt. Hanuman Prasad Mishra, their uncle Pt. Gopal Prasad Mishra and their grandfather Pt. Bade Ramdasji Mishra.
Varanasi is beloved not only for the river Ganga but also the 15th century saint poet Kabir, the Kashi Vishwanath and Sankat Mochan temples, the Gyanvapi mosque, and syncretic local traditions. The culture of devotion that Pt. Rajan and Sajan Mishra imbibed from their hometown is a hallmark of their art. They released over 20 music albums.
The brothers were known for saying, "When we sing, we are one soul singing even though we are in two bodies." Together they won great acclaim as exponents of the khayal style of singing but they also sang semi-classical music and bhajans. They received prestigious honours such as the Padma Bhushan, Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, Tansen Samman, Kashi Gaurav, Gandharva National Award, and Honorary Citizenship of Baltimore in the US.
Earlier in the day, at about 3 pm, Pt. Rajan Mishra's friend, Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt " the classical maestro famous for creating and playing the Mohan Veena " had tweeted a request about the Mishra urgently needing a ventilator at St. Stephen Hospital in Tees Hazari, Delhi, where he was admitted. The plea was retweeted over 1,500 times but Pt. Rajan Mishra could not be saved. At around 7.30 pm, Bhatt tweeted that Mishra had succumbed, terming it "a big loss to Indian classical music world."
Apart from leaving the singer's admirers in mourning, this instance also underscored that the health infrastructure in India's capital, under tremendous pressure during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, needs desperate attention. When public figures of Pt. Rajan Mishra's stature have to scramble for a ventilator, how will the poor access healthcare?
"The demise of Pt. Rajan Mishra is absolutely heart-breaking news for the Indian classical music fraternity," said Prasad Sawant, one of the founders of Sangeetnama, an event listing platform for Hindustani Classical Music concerts.
"He, along with his brother Sajan Mishra, were among the pioneers of sahgayan, a style that involved confluence but not jugalbandi. He will be remembered for a unique amalgamation of command on his art, extraordinary stage presence and bhaav in his singing," Sawant added.
Sawant was among the various people who attempted to locate a ventilator for Pt. Rajan Mishra after seeing Pt. Vishwa Mohan Bhatt's appeal. He recalls tagging connoisseurs of Indian classical music, and a few artistes, along with the Ministry of Culture in his tweets, but was disappointed to get no response from them. He also tried his luck on Facebook by targeting groups frequented by aficionados of Indian Classical Music. Nothing came of that.
Pt. Rajan Mishra, along with his brother Sajan Mishra, performed in several countries outside India. The first among these was Sri Lanka in 1978. After that, there was no looking back. They sang for audiences in Bangladesh, Qatar, Singapore, the USSR, Germany, Switzerland, France, Austria, the US, the UK and the Netherlands. They were also featured in Makarand Brahme's documentary film Adwait Sangeet, which is about their life and work.
Nirupama Kotru, joint secretary " Ministry of Culture, Government of India, remembered Pt. Rajan Mishra as someone who "carved a niche" in "a highly exalted form of presentation of Hindustani music, which was an inspiration to singers everywhere".
She added, "His untimely demise leaves an irreparable void in the firmament of Indian culture, even though an amazing outpouring of support came forth from all sections of society in an effort to save his precious life, a testimony to the high regard for him which cut across occupations."