How does one write an obituary for a person who was so vital, so alive in life, so in flow with the creative energy that his passing seems like an unscripted third act, a dry run that teases one with the prospect of a different denouement? It is still impossible to believe that Amirchandji is gone.
Artist At Heart
I met him quite by chance and without proper introduction at a college’s nukkad natak competition titled Udaan that I was a part of. It was the post-event feedback meeting, and he sat in a corner with a ready smile on his face, listening intently but saying little. I had noticed him earlier as well; it was hard to miss him in his long flowing kurta that glid over his slight frame, its ends swishing as if about to take flight when he walked. A Himachali topi in the deep colours of autumn sat on his head. It was his first time there, on what had been a multi-day event, but he fit in easily. His attire apart, his most striking adornment was the air of an artist, which never made him seem out of place with any art form. His simple sartorial elegance, often faraway look – in deep thought and with a ready smile whenever the world intervened, drew you in. He was an artist at heart, in search of solitude but always in the midst of people; if he snatched a few moments away, it was because his inner nature willed it. He has now found the solitude all artists crave but in a cruelly tragic way.
My last conversation with Amirchandji was but a few weeks before his passing. He called me up, concerned about what was going on in my life. He intuitively asked me questions that seem to haunt me often nowadays. The life of an artist is solitary, it takes the emotional depth of a person like Amirchandji to peel back the layers and the masks to get to the real conversations. Amirchandji always had real conversations. Within minutes he could have you confessing your concerns and complaints. He was masterful at it and never judgmental.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, his attention turned to the forgotten artists. He was concerned that their suffering was going under the radar, and whilst attention was rightly focussed on migrant workers, artists were falling between the cracks. He would schedule Zoom calls with the senior artist community to see what could be done. I asked him how his attention had shifted to artists in need; no one was talking about them. He replied that artists possess self-respect because they are driven by their own talent; even in need, they will not raise a noise unless the situation is dire. And he is right! Recently I had to apply for a home loan, and the process was difficult but also embarrassing; the world isn’t tuned in to the ups and downs of an artist’s life. But Amirchandji was. And when artists across disciplines, young and old, mourn him with deep sorrow, it is because we have lost not only a mentor and friend but also a translator who understood the ways of the external world and the inner workings of the artistic mind, its complexities and simplicities.
Bedrock of Bharatiya Culture
He was the bedrock of the Bharatiya cultural movement through his work at Sanskar Bharati, but completely unassuming about it. In the early years of our association, he invited me to a programme near Lucknow; it was to be a grand event and was arranged with the careful detailing that was his forte. The flight tickets were booked, and I was to take the 5 am flight out of Delhi for Lucknow. Since these were still early days, I didn’t mention to him that I hated flying! However, since I had committed, I knew I would have to go. A night before the early morning departure, I worked myself into a panic at the prospect of flying. I could not fall asleep. And then at around 3:30 am, the unexpected happened, weariness overtook anxiety, and my eyes closed. Cut to 8 hours later and a dozen missed calls from Amirchandji! I had not only missed my flight, but I had also slept way past the duration of the dreaded flight and the hour-long drive to the venue of the event! Now what?
I have to admit I jostled with the idea of avoiding his calls entirely. What would I say? No reason was good enough. And then the phone rang again; it was him. There was no escaping this; I answered the call steeling myself for the downpour of well-deserved admonitions; instead, what I heard was a concern. Not only had I been in a panic, but I had also triggered panic in Amirchandji and the team that had gone to receive me at the airport at an ungodly hour. No one knew where I was?! I mumbled out my apologies but they were of little interest to him; he was relieved I was safe. I was convinced this was going to be a permanent black mark against my name. But I was wrong. It was never mentioned again, and he sought my collaboration soon enough. Most recently, I worked out an event plan and white paper for an online concert to raise funds for artists during COVID-19. It took place with great success and featured the top artists in the country, contributing their time and talent for the cause. He sent me a list of the featured performers, and I discussed the scheduling with him. According to their seniority – it was a heavy-duty list of artists, and artistic temperament needs pampering. In his good-humoured way, he was well aware of this fact and navigated it with ease! Only he could have managed to get such a galaxy of talents from music, dance, poetry, singing etc. on one platform for a good cause and with no drama!
There were so many conversations with him, in the last 18 odd months they were on the phone, some would go on for over an hour. He was always mixing potions and natural remedies and would share them with me – the subjects we discussed ranged in interests from art to health to the national interest. About ten days ago one of his assistants called me upto attend a meeting and now well into my natural unreserved self, I said it sounded boring! Such was my comfort level with Amirchandji, that I could have my moods and interests and know that like a loving and indulgent elder, he would humour them. What can one say about a man who becomes such an integral part of ones’ life and lets you be your authentic self? Who says artists never die in his last conversation with you and then goes ahead and does exactly that.
Not fair, Amirchandji. I was to visit you in Kala Sankul and see the new centre that you had lovingly manifested with your hope, dreams, persistence and aspirations for the artist community. You told me only to come when the elevator was functional; this missed appointment is on you…
You said artists never die; you won’t either; your legacy lives on in the thousands of lives you touched. In your passing, the nation’s artists community has lost a tireless and selfless champion. You are irreplaceable.