India: A musician, who once performed for presidents and PMs, now lives in abject penury
The Covid lockdown has deprived Bhagwan Das of all income
As a musician he has performed around the globe, playing the harmonium and singing qawwalis, sharing the stage with luminaries, including Fateh Ali Khan, and bewitching top leaders, like the late Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, with his songs.
But Bhagwan Das, 75, is today in a terrible state, having suffered two paralytic attacks this month, struggling to raise money for even basic necessities such as food and staring desperately at a bleak future.
“Our art is dying,” Das told the media in Delhi.
“I remember the old days when I would get calls from leaders and chief ministers for events and performances. I was the first in my family to visit Europe and the US.”
Five years ago, the artiste fell sick and could not move much. “We tried to make a living by playing instruments and singing at weddings, but the pandemic has killed our career,” bemoaned Das.
He now spends time looking at photographs of his tours across Europe, the US, the Middle East and Pakistan. Das lives with his family at an overcrowded transit camp that was built for former residents of the Kathputli Colony in Delhi.
“I wish I could sleep in peace for one night without pain and my belly full,” he said.
“When I was young and on the stage with my puppets or the harmonium, the world was at my feet. Prime ministers and presidents sat below to watch and listen to me.”
The father of five has no funds and the lockdown has deprived the family of all income. They have had to borrow funds from neighbours and depend on government rations.
“I learnt singing at Nizamuddin dargah singing qawwali with legendries such as Habib Painter,” he recalled.
Besides singing, he also developed a love for Urdu poetry. But today, all his dreams lie shattered as he battles a formidable challenge late in his life.
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