When I Met Kailash Mehra the First Time
I do not remember when I first heard about Kailash Mehra the singer the first time, but I remember thinking about her seriously in 1990’s when her musical CD Bal Maryo came out. It was a fabulous collection of Kashmiri songs, including the classic bedardi chani, which also is her favorite song of herself. I heard the CD dozens of times. It also introduced the singer Vijay Malla to me, whose singing I have cherished since.
In 2003 we heard that Kailash Mehra was touring U.S. for her musical concerts. My wife felt strongly that we should manage her New York concert. I supported her in her vision, and in that direction, we realized that we should invite her to stay with us. To our good fortune she accepted the invitation, and the date of her arrival from, I think, one of the Midwest cities, was set.
Kailash Mehra’s flight was coming at LaGuardia Airport in New York City. I started two hours before the flight arrival time from my home. I was lucky to find the parking for my car at the airport quickly. This put me in the arrival gate an hour before the flight arrival, a long time to kill comfortably. It was a busy arrival gate where several flights came. Every few minutes I would check my watch to see how much more time I will have to wait to meet Kailshji. Finally, it was announced that my guest’s flight had landed. I waited anxiously for her to come to the baggage arrival carousel, from which I was only twenty feet away. One by one the passengers from the city in Midwest flight came to the carousel and after some search picked their bags and left the arrival building. But I did not see Kailash Mehra. But wait a minute, I had never met her before. How was I then going to recognize her? Well, I had seen her photograph in the concert flyer used in one of the cities she had given a concert in. Arrival passengers around the baggage arrival carousel were thinning out, but where was my Kailashji? Now there were only four passengers looking for their baggage. But which of them was Kailashji? It remained a $64,000 question, as I was not able to match the passengers with the image of Kailash Mehra I had in my head. I started panicking, which is not normal for me. Finally, there was only one passenger left at the baggage arrival carousel. Logically it must be my Kailshji. I started focusing on her keenly. She had a lot gold ornaments on her. She was dressed in shilvar-kameez and chuni, Indian women’s clothing. My brain was shouting to me: that is her, that is her. We were both staring at each other for several minutes, as we were not sure if we were seeing the right person. Finally, I could not take it anymore. I jumped the rope separating the passenger receivers and the passengers. We were the only two people left, as every receiver had paired with his arriver. I rushed toward her in excitement and virtually hugged her, but did not do it out of the fear that an Indian woman would not allow a stranger to touch her. I braked my rushing feet just a few inches from her and folded my hands in the classic Indian hand gesture of namaste. I peered at her intensely and she looked at me with controlled inquisitiveness. Later in my relationship with her I learnt how a controlled personality she was. I wanted to ask her why she was wearing all that gold jewelry but did not dare to do that because of her Indian sensibility. Meanwhile, my brain was busy in figuring out the difference between the Kailash Mehra photo I had seen and the Kailsh Mehra I was seeing.
Once in the car we started to cast off our shyness, she faster than I. I had to keep myself in control lest she think I was a mental lightweight. Once home she relaxed considerably in the company of my wife.
On August 28, 2003, I organized a concert for her in Rockland County, New York. I introduced her to the audience in what turned out to be a very successful event. She sang some of her famous songs to the joy of the tri-State (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut) Kashmiri audience.
Later she and her husband Vijay Kumar Sadhu became very good friends of me and my wife Mohini. In the 2006 visit to U.S. she and Vijayji stayed with us, and I again organized a concert for her, but this time in New Jersey. It was even more successful than the earlier concert. I stayed with Kailashji and Vijayji at their residence in Jammu during one of my visits to India. Our relationship became deeper with time.
But with the passage of further time, she became formal with me. She now addresses me Respected Kaul Sahib in letters. But for me the magic of that first encounter and the subsequent meetings has never been dulled. Behind her present very formal and disciplined persona lies a simple girl who needs affection and attention. That is what I have captured in the photo at the top of this essay I took of her in 2009. But behind her controlled demeanor lies a long-suffering personality. She has seen a lot of hard times in her life but yet she has managed to become a very successful artist in a language she was not born in. I believe her being denied a Padma award is disgraceful on part of the government. Last year I tried to persuade the Jammu and Kashmir Governor to give her that award but it did not succeed.
Suffern, New York, July 24,2023
The Enigma of Bhajanji
We hardly knew you Bhajanji,
A year has passed since you unexpectedly left us,
A year of intense suffering and slow-burning pain.
We searched for you in the corners of the world and heavens,
But only in the recesses of our hearts and contours of our minds
We saw your smiles and songs well anchored.
While on earth you were an enigma hidden in a charm,
Your pains and joys were carefully wrapped up,
Only clue to your soul was in your music.
Wherever you are give us a smile from time to time,
As your absence has changed our rhythm and colors,
We are searching for new anchors and new meanings.
But you left the world of music in a better shape than before,
You bought harmony and intensity in its pursuit,
Joy and freedom in its absorption.
Suffern, New York, July 17, 2023
The Marred Gift of God
It is something that the world remembers you after death,
But for a moment I would burn our love and reclaim my freedom,
As in our times it is a convenience not a dedication.
It is a wonder that God still has faith in humans,
For they have mutilated the grand design,
And changed living to a process than a phenomenon it is.
The sunrise still reveals the wonder of nature,
But the world runs by a dollar,
Our best hopes are materialistic.
Why have we surrendered to physicality,
Where have we lost the spirit of grand ideas,
Why isn’t sacrifice the great bliss?
What was given to man and what he has done with it
Will remain forever a dagger in man’s heart,
Our loss immeasurable.
Suffern, New York, November 13,2022
Stillness of Being
Where Do We Find You Bhajan?
Where do we find you Bhajan,
In the shy Wullar waters of Sopore,
Or in the regal Nishat and Shalimar gardens?
Your carefully managed long tresses of hair,
Well groomed mustache and stylish kurta and pajama,
Created the image of a slick socialite or an actor just out of a performance.
What were your secrets Bhajan,
What were your heart aches and ecstasies,
What were your frustrations?
Your enigmatic smile revealed little,
That you had devoted your life to strings from five,
Long burning hours doused in perspiration.
Maybe your Kashmiri Dhun reveals a little,
Sopori Baaj some more,
But your mystery you have taken with you.
Suffern, New York, July 14, 2022
Walking Toward the Sunset
There were times when some people thought
I was a pure specimen of life,
But such adulation was rare and far between,
Most of my life I was a mystery man.
They came to me as I was clean and harmless,
Curiosity was often rife
As how a strange person like me existed,
Or why he existed.
Love was given to me sporadically
As I could never surrender my aloofness,
I was a privileged specimen of some disorder,
A mystery shrouded in an enigma.
Ambition was my engine,
Achievement my goal,
But I did not want humans to judge it,
My ideal was the yardstick.
Heaven and hell were to me the same,
Twain they existed,
One was the prize,
Other its price.
The hardest thing was to live amidst materialists,
The day-to-day artists of existence,
The blind and the deaf,
The greedy and the selfish.
Life by itself does not give anything,
At best it can return you what you put in it,
It is your ideas of life that open the lockbox:
Your vision is everything.
What is love:
A relationship between the observer and the observed,
Held in reverence and grace,
Eternal compact without conditions.
Some of the journey of life is mindless:
Inanities thrown at us without reason,
Imaginations of the crass and benighted,
Dreams of the destitute and vulgar.
How to turn pain into elixir is the challenge of life,
There is no one we can complain to,
The almighty who designed human life,
Is soft on reason and long on imagination.
Stupid I have tolerated but insane I can’t stand,
Life is a long journey of ignoring and compromise,
But the true principle of life is life itself,
Rest is a convenience or mere convention.
I have been victimized by the cheap labeling of the world,
By its false innuendos and vulgar narcissism,
Un-eclectic choices and brutal selfishness,
By a visionless journey and blind faith.
I have seen good ideas mutilated by expediencies,
Imagination crushed by practical solutions,
Good of the community dwarfed by the ambition of one,
Infinity reduced to a momentary thrill.
I have been crushed and beaten by the majority,
Humiliated and tousled by the powerful,
Jeered and lectured by the popular,
Laughed and maligned by the special.
But now I have gained the rest of my freedom,
I have come to the end of my journey,
My sunset beckons me,
I can only look forward and not turn my head.
Why is life so difficult,
It is not so as it comes from nature,
But has been made difficult by the world:
Culture, religion, politics, economics.
Life is a fairy tale but we make it into a project,
We squeeze its music out,
And turn it into an achievement machine,
Results and not reverberations.
Suffern, New York, February 4,2022; Rev: January 14, 2023
Ode To New Year
Why are we blindly welcoming the arrival of new year,
Weren’t last few years our pained existence?
Does man have wisdom,
Or is he a natural phenomenon unguidable?
If man is susceptible to illusions
Then why not build a path with them?
Personal resolutions and planning
Are dousing of a grand fire.
Our fate was written in our evolution,
Search for happiness our greatest illusion.
New year is another year in a wrapper,
Don’t squander it in wisdom but live it in your veins.
Suffern, New York, January 4, 2022
Trip To Kashmir 2021
My six-week trip to India was a boutique of reciprocated sentiments for my motherland, especially the part spent in Kashmir. As the nature of human life is, it was not perfect. Along with the flowers there were some thorns.
I spent seventeen glorious days in the lap of my mother, Kashmir, in spite of it being in the throes of winter. I visited the sites that are usual for me when I visit it. Place of my birth in Malik Angan, place where I lived Malikyar, my college Amar Singh College, my later matamal sites at Mandir Bagh and Jawahar Nagar. Also, visited our close relative Shangaloo’s house at Kralkhud, near Habba Kadal. Visited also Tullamulla, Hariparbat, Zyeshta Devi temple, and Shankaracharya. Went also to Shalimar, Nishat, and Chashmashahi, visiting the first two more than once. Throughout my stay Srinagar was under the blanket of fog, which diminished the beauty of Dal Lake. But in spite of it I had three shikara rides on it, and its beauty was still enthralling, though reduced. I made umpteen visits to Ahdoo’s for their authentic Kashmiri cuisine.
Outside Srinagar I visited Sonamarg, Baltal, Pahalgam, and Gulmarg. Baltal was stunning, its grandeur especially under snow is awesome. Pahalgam was the same paradise as it has been before. A pearl of beautiful small valleys studded with awesome mountains and ethereal pine trees. I first time went to Betab Valley, Chandanwari, and Ashmukam. Also visited the temple at Mamleshwar, and Chris Zasndee’s Himalayan Cheese Factory. Pine and Peaks hotel where I stayed, which was recommended by my travel agent, was excellent. Its view of Pahalgam from its rear side is great. Their food was excellent.
Gulmarg was beautiful too, but I am repelled by its 3.5 square mile central valley, which has been neglected, I believe, throughout its history. I have written about how it can be converted to a beautiful valley studded with gardens, trees, picnic spots, walkways, etc. My friends have urged me to send it to the government for their action. But knowing its caliber I have been reluctant to do that. Rest of Gulmarg is awesome, especially when you go up on the Gondala to Kongdoori. I also went to a waterfall in Tangmarg.
I spent seventeen very beautiful days in Kashmir. My micro-planning of the trip paid off. The selected hotels were very good, but Shaw’s Inn at Gulmarg was off the mark. Four days at the fabled Taj Vivanta at Srinagar, at about 30,000 INR per day, were great. It has a great location atop a hill overlooking Dal. But due to the persistent fog that was not visible, the sole reason of my selecting it. But otherwise the hotel is very good.
I took about two hundred pictures of the trip to Kashmir. I am vicariously reliving it through them. I have put them on FB.
Here are the pics. Best way to see them is to use the slideshow option, located in the settings section, top right of the Google Photo page.
1. Trip To Kashmir, 2021 (Pics From The Flight To Srinagar, 25 Minutes Before Landing)
Suffern, New York, January 1, 2022
Reminiscences of Bhabi – Kamla Cherwoo
It seems some things in life are destined to fail, especially among those that you cherish the most. When I was a boy, I used to think I would marry a village belle. It was because I thought she would be pure of heart and simple in demeanor compared to a city slicker. Good luck opened up for me, I married one. Along with that came the relationship with a village family, which I was attracted to for the same reason as the belle.
It was in late February 1969 when I first met Bhabi, Kamala Cherwoo. The meeting was initiated by her, as she wanted to see me, the first time, and talk with me before I was married with her daughter, Mohini, which was scheduled about a week later, on March 2, 1969.
I did not have any inkling of what kind of a person and a personality she was, but I had never heard anything bad about the Cherwoo family, in the Kashmiri Pandit society in Kashmir those days. She had set the meeting in a restaurant in the main bazaar of Jammu, escorted by her middle son.
Setting my eyes on her the first time, I found a very compassionate person, who held herself in good control, and was diligent in being respectful and charming to the person she was meeting. I was buoyed by her kindness, transparency, and generous respect she gave me. Years down the road this initial assessment of her has never wavered.
Bhabi was born in Srinagar, Kashmir, in a Kashmiri Pandit family. Her father Srikanth Mattoo was a medical doctor, specializing in pathology. She had a younger sister, who died young. Lack of a male offspring compelled her parents to adopt a son, Jawahar Lal, considerably younger than her.
At the age of fifteen or sixteen Bhabi was married in Cherwoo family, living in Anantnag, about thirty-five miles south of Srinagar. Her husband, Vish Nath, was the younger son of the family patriarch, Halder Joo Cherwoo. The family was engaged in the wholesale business in edibles, spices, and cloth. Their success in it had made them into a well to do family, concomitantly earning them social status. Cherwoos were a well-knit clan, spread over a few families, living at the same general place. The families were independent and yet had the thread of togetherness connecting them.
How a sixteen-year-old girl learned to live with them is the quintessence of Bhabi. By her culture and by her personality, Bhabi did not fit with Cherwoos, but yet she successfully lived with them virtually all her life; in fact, becoming one of their leaders. She molded herself to the new reality, using her salient qualities of tolerance, patience, inter-personal skills, and diplomacy, to be in control of the family; which her status as the family scion’s wife demanded. She acquired the ability of deflating the family feuds and giving it the semblance of unity and congruity.
Even bigger challenge for Bhabi was to live with her husband, Babuji. He was of fragile tolerance, hyper sensitive about his self-image, dictatorial, and temperamental. Here was a colossal challenge for Bhabi. She had no special training to meet it, except to the extent what almost all Indian women of her generation had when they got married. Deep respect and tolerance for their in-laws and the husbands, a religious zeal to succeed in this endeavor, and, above all, not mind the hurt if bruised in interactions with them. It was a missionary work they had silently agreed to do. Over the years Bhabi managed to live with Babuji by sacrificing her right of equality, perseverance, and tactfulness. Over time their marriage became one of gratitude, tolerance, and love.
After my marriage in Cherwoo family, I visited them several times during my visits to India from U.S. Also, they reciprocated visiting me and my wife in U.S. several times. Because of these I came to know Bhabi more.
During her almost annual visits to U.S., after the demise of Babuji in 1995, at the age of seventy-three, up to early 2,000’s, she stayed with us without fail, along with staying with her two sons. She was disciplined in daily activities: walking, eating, sleeping, and praying. She was always in control of her mind. But it is not difficult to imagine that at times she would have been travelling down her memory lane to the great times of Cherwoo’s in Anantnag, her times with Babuji, and other relatives. The mega-family atmosphere has its own charms. Then, especially living in Kashmir, her birthplace, had its own gravitational pull of memories of childhood and youth, when her children were born and raised. It is a stroke of misfortune when a person is compelled to move from his place of birth, childhood, and youth to another country. Babuji’s untimely demise, I am certain, has played a significant part in her subsequent emotional life. She would not engage me with her past, and, I guess, anyone else. That came from her inherent shyness and control over herself. For the same reasons she would not complain about anything to me.
I several times went to the airport to receive her when she was coming from India. During travelling she would put on an aggressive posture, just to feel secure and be alert. After my retirement I would generally be the one attending to her lunch and dinner. I, also, made sure that we had honey in the house, which along with milk, she would take before going to bed. She would occasionally take walks outside the house. She had a long praying period in the morning. Whenever her middle son Balji would visit us she would be excited, as he was her favorite child. He had equally a weakness for her.
Overall, Babi’s personality is unique. She is a long suffering and a controlled personality, who believes in the grace of God, and is at peace with the world. No wonder all this has contributed to her longevity.
We developed a special relationship, which continued on till 2013, after which due to my divorce with my wife, it abruptly ended. It was not her who ended it, but her children, who decided not to tell her about the divorce, on the assumption that doing so would jeopardize her health, as she was already in her 90’s. Nothing could have been farther from the reality. Bhabi had seen many deaths among her close relatives in her lifetime, including that of her beloved Babuji; my and Mohini’s divorce would not have been unbearable for her. This was a tragic situation for me, as I could not do anything to mitigate it.
I treasure her gentle touch, cool control, and sheer goodness. My memory flashes to trips we took to Pahalgam, Khirbhawani, and the times we spent in New York. She was a shaft of tranquility, forbearance, and silent fortitude; the kind of which I have only seen in my mother and a few others.
But memories of her will remain strong in my universe, as there was a relationship of love and respect between us. I have been told that old age has encumbered her heavily. I am certain that she will bear it gracefully, as she has borne other calamities in her life.
I am ending this tribute with the following words:
Upon the altar of life there are not enough sacrifices one can make,Bhabi burnt her ego and interests to irradiate her world with compassion and love.
- All pictures taken by me.
- The frontispiece picture of Bhabi taken in Sept., 2007.
- The pictures below are of Bhabi, Babuji, and Kakni (Bhabi’s mother)
Suffern, New York, May 25; Rev: May 26, 2020
Book Buzz: The Light Through The Woods by Maharaj Kaul
Book Buzz: The Light Through the Woods by Maharaj Kaul
Maharaj Kaul’s The Light Through the Woods: Dreams of Survival of Human Soul in the Age of Technology offers a surreal and philosophical experience intended to revive the slowly diminishing connection between humans, nature, and the divine.
In his second book of poetry, out of the six he has written, Maharaj continues to rejuvenate our spirits. His poetry explores the crushing emptiness of modern life and the appalling disconnect between our flesh and soul. With every page, Maharaj invites his readers to go beyond their preconceived views about life and explore the depths of their being. Each verse was masterfully interwoven into a poignant piece that evokes deep-seated emotions and unspoken truths about life.
The author laments how technology and modern living have gradually affected our inner peace and genuine happiness. He believes that man is born with natural freedom, joy, grace, and grandeur. But, as we grow up, the existing culture gradually corrupts us and prevents our original nature to grow. By creating and living in the present culture of materialism, the author also wants to put a spotlight on the precious things we tend to overlook in our fleeting moment in this world.
Maharaj did an excellent job in speaking the language of love for freedom and human service. His writing reminds us of what it really means to be alive in this complicated world. He believes that life is a short journey meant to be a celestial dance over the worldly abyss. Humans are here to help the unfortunate and offer respect to nature.
His style comfortably navigates through the mystical terrain to hopefully guide us in this physical world.
There’s no coming back once the light through the woods shines on your soul. You will find yourself absorbed in a series of captivating stories, thoughts, ideas, feelings, and experiences. Celebrating his nostalgic memories from his birthplace, the author paints stunning imageries and delivers a bleak atmosphere of the sufferings he endured in the past. He expresses his joy in reminiscing his childhood while echoing the sadness and drudgery of the place, emphasizing the tragic dispossession and diaspora of the people in India.
Maharaj’s creation will surely transport readers into a winding path of pain and joy, love and loss, disenchantment, and self-discovery.
“In this illuminating compilation of poems, Maharaj Kaul plumbs the depths and scales the heights of human existence in the modern world, with a clarity of vision that speaks to the heart with stark honesty and graceful candour.”
―Lynn Harper-Cheechoo, Amazon Reader’s Review
The Light Through the Woods by Maharaj Kaul
Maharaj Kaul was born in Kashmir, India, where he spent his childhood and boyhood. He graduated from Banaras University, India, in electrical engineering and went on to Polytechnic Institute Of New York for a master’s degree. He is the author of “Inclinations And Reality: The Search For The Absolute,” “Meditation On Time, Destruction And Injustice: The Tribulations Of Kashmiri Pandits,” and “Life With Father.” He retired from engineering after forty years of work and lives in Suffern, New York.
Suffern, New York, Oct. 14,2021
I do not remember when I first heard about Kailash Mehra the singer the first time, but I remember thinking about her seriously in 1990’s when her musical CD Bal Maryo came out. It was a fabulous collection of Kashmiri … Continue reading
We hardly knew you Bhajanji, A year has passed since you unexpectedly left us, A year of intense suffering and slow-burning pain. We searched for you in the corners of the world and heavens, But only in the recesses … Continue reading
It is something that the world remembers you after death, But for a moment I would burn our love and reclaim my freedom, As in our times it is a convenience not a dedication. It is a wonder that … Continue reading
Where do we find you Bhajan, In the shy Wullar waters of Sopore, Or in the regal Nishat and Shalimar gardens? Your carefully managed long tresses of hair, Well groomed mustache and stylish kurta and pajama, Created the image … Continue reading
There were times when some people thought I was a pure specimen of life, But such adulation was rare and far between, Most of my life I was a mystery man. They came to me as I was … Continue reading