Mayank Chhaya at Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad while shooting ‘Gandhi’s Song’
Jagdish and I were once colleagues at the Free Press Journal in Mumbai in the 1980s and share our admiration for many of the philosophical underpinnings of the Indian civilization.* Jagdish gives a broader context to ‘Vaishnav Jan To’ (The truly righteous one), the nearly six-centuries-old song written by the great poet-philosopher Narsinh Mehta.
At a minor level, it is joyous to know that I figure as a subject of an op-ed in the newspaper where I began my journalistic career in 1981/82. I recommend you read the piece from which I quote the specific reference to the documentary here.
“No official telling, however strong the arc lights, can match up to the pull and power of citizens taking the message forward and making it a part of their lives and their mission to live it and tell it. Take the example of a song like Vaishnav Jan To, which was played in Singapore as (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi listened in. The rendition was beautiful; the setting was just perfect and the message as always flawless. But Vaishnav Jan To is powerful because it needs none of the imagery to shine through and live on in eternity, as it has five centuries after it was first sung in Gujarat by Narsinh Mehta, who lived 1414-1480.
Consider this: Somewhere in faraway Chicago, an Indian journalist battling difficult times in the news media business found strength and comfort in this very song, which is also celebrated as Mahatma Gandhi’s most loved prayer. So, keeping aside his troubles, the journalist put together a team, flew down to Gujarat and successfully wrote, directed and produced a 68-minute documentary titled “Gandhi’s Song”. It tells us the story of the song, its philosopher-poet and a lot more about the wealth of the Indian ethos. The journalist, who produced the film is Mayank Chhaya, 57, a news writer who has a flair for free flowing prose and is noted for his best seller on the Dalai Lama, Man, Monk, Mystic. Here is an ordinary, everyday person, telling in his own small way a big story for humankind. It’s a story captured in the simple and powerful idea of what constitutes right conduct – to understand the pain of another, to help those in distress and to serve with humility. Gandhi’s song moves people.
The documentary merits mention against the high profile global events if only to point out and celebrate the magnetic pull to a life lived by a set of values. These values are at the heart of Indian scriptures and teachings. Across time and geographies, people of all hues have been attracted to the timelessness and simplicity of the messages. They tie in together as a spiritual path, or spirituality as distinct from religiosity. This is a source of strength for India and a reflection of our rich ethos.”
* Jagdish and I have been friends for close to three decades now.