The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Maestro bows to a miracle
- ‘I thank the audience for its encouragement and the mosquitoes of Salt Lake stadium for not bothering us’

Silence had descended over Salt Lake stadium late on Friday. The final rehearsal for next evening’s The Telegraph A.R. Rahman’s Unity of Light concert was over. Suddenly, the solitary figure of Allah Rakha Rahman slipped behind his keyboard and played a little bit of magic — ‘Zindagi ek safar hai suhana/Yahan kal kya ho kisne jana…’ As the last notes of the Kishore Kumar classic melted away, Rahman’s wistful eyes followed them into the distant darkness of the deserted stadium.

Kal’ (Saturday) had something special in store for Rahman and Calcutta. Same time, same place, the night after, the melody maestro was still on stage. But as his first live concert in India drew to a close, he was surrounded by 80,000 devotees.


Sesher Dine Sujon Bine and
Biral Bole Maachh Khabo Na
by Purnadas Baul
Anurager Manush by Swapan
Basu Prabhati by Amar Paul
Bondhur Deshe by Dohar
Charulata, Goopi Gayen Bagha Bayen and Ghare Baire
Bhalobashi Bhalobashi - Tagore in Bengali films
Ray's World, Gitabitan Live

“This is a miracle,” Rahman was to whisper to a confidant, even as he stepped off the stage. From there, he headed straight for the airport dargah. For the entire Rahman team, the real miracle moment was when the paper torches lit up the stands, with the crowd on its feet, dancing to Chhaiya Chhaiya, and then singing Ma Tujhe Salaam.

“I have to thank the audience for its encouragement, the Almighty for the weather and the mosquitoes of Salt Lake stadium for not bothering us. They were such a problem during the rehearsals, every time we opened our mouths to sing, they would sneak in,” Rahman said on Sunday.

There were more than a few technical hitches on Saturday evening, but the afternoon after, Rahman could look back with a smile. “The sound let us down but it was the crowd that lifted us and pulled us through. From 2 pm, hours before the show, there were these kids coming in. It was quite moving,” he recounted, after a leisurely lunch, with mother Kareema, sisters Rehana and Ishrat, and troupe.

Hours before that, he had dropped into MusicWorld on a mission. For 25 minutes, he browsed through the Bengali folk and film sections of the Park Street store, picking and choosing with the meticulous care of a man immersed in music. By the end of his stay, he had picked up quite a mix (see box).

During the afternoon chat, Rahman explained why: “I picked up Ray’s films and Baul songs, which I want to use in my future shows.” In green shirt and blue jeans, gone was the anxious fidget or the fingers-through-hair routine. In place was a relaxed performer after a job very well done, obliging young fans with autographs and acknowledging all the adulation.

This was not the Rahman that his team had known for the past two frenzied days. Either rehearsing at the stadium or conferencing with technicians, he was here, there, everywhere. “The night before, he was just praying,” said youngest sister Ishrat. And on the big night, reticent Rahman made an extra effort to connect. As a member of his retinue said: “I have never seen him open up so much or speak so much on stage.”

The composer clearly gave the Calcutta show his all — even planning an aerial shot of the stadium on concert night, but scrapping it at the last minute due to logistical problems. “We aimed for the skies but at least we ended on the roof,” he smiled, before retiring to his ITC Sonar Bangla room for a last round of prayers prior to his departure.

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