Krishna in the Garden of Love: Kanai Das Baul.
In my travels through Bengal, Netaida, Paramitadi and Nimaida took me to Tarapith, a pilgrim town in West Bengal. Tarapith for me has all of the worst attributes of pilgrim sites- crowds, scamsters, filth, fake babas, and almost none of the goodness that other places may have.
In a maze of touristy lodges with stench all around, in a little mud hut with a tin roof, on a cot with a thin, barely-there mattress, Kanhai kaka has his home. He is blind, and has one caretaker family who were on holiday when we went. He relies on the goodness of some neighbours to feed him. The place had hundreds of mosquitoes.
Kanai kaka goes every evening to sing near the smashan bhoomi, the cremation grounds. We walked with him across a busy road, and he led us deeper through increasingly narrow gullies of the religious madhouse.
We stopped at this temple, all white and pink because of basant utsav. An agarbatti seller was sitting at the edge of the structure with his wares. He moved his stuff a few feet away. Nimai went to spread the plastic mat on the structure, but Kanai kaka told him to spread it outside it, on the ground. The pujari looked on. The lady begging next to him had her back to him the whole time.
And then he started. Krishno Anurager Bagane. Krishna in the garden of love. The tears flowed, and flowed. He was using what seemed to be a child’s ektara, one that you might find at a touristy shop anywhere in Bengal. Two people put money into the ektara in the middle of his song, dampening the sound. It didn’t seem to make a shred of difference to him or his piercingly haunting call.
Why did he sit outside the temple, not inside it? Why did he not take up the offer of shelter and food till his caretaker came back? How does he have such resilience to find true inner light in his circumstances? I don’t have answers, only deepening questions.
As I foray deeper into Bengal, I am jolted into reality by the state of most true musicians in this country. May we be aware and foster more empathy, doing what we can to support and be alive to realities that are outside our own.
Joy Guru. Mauli Mauli.