Madhya Pradesh also had a long history was of professional dacoits and Baaghis (rebels). The most popular of the latter, was Man Singh and today there is a temple of Man Singh in his honor in the village of Khera Rathore, near Gwalior. His fore fathers were also rulers of some areas. Maan Singh was like ‘Robin Hood’ for the poor people. The world saw the impressions of Central Indian phenomenon in my friend Shekhar Kapoor’s film Bandit Queen. This film was on the life of the late Phoolan Devi (1963 – 2001), who eventually won a seat in the Lok Sabha (Lower House of the Indian Parliement) in1996!
In the year 1955, as a young boy I saw three dead bodies tied to a charpoy in a vertical position resting on the back side of a Truck. Thakur Maan Singh, along with his son Subhedar Singh was displayed at kampoo parade ground in Gwalior. It was the talk of the town!
The Famous writer and a journalist Mr. Tarun Bhaduri (father of my friend and actor Jaya Bachchan) wrote a beautiful book in Bengali (Abhishapto Chambal –Curse on Chambal) on the lives of Dacoits of The region, which derives its name from Chambal River and has been a safe haven for gangs of dacoits for a number of decades. A popular legend says that this was the birthplace of Kunti, mother of the Pandavas. The Last time I met and saw Dada (Dr. Tarun Bahaduri) was in Breach candy Hospital Mumbai, just before he passed away.
Another memory that comes to my mind about Madhya Pradesh is related to the first death anniversary of my elder brother Ustad Rehmat Ali Khan in 2004. My family members had invited me to perform in Bhopal on this day to commemorate it. I booked the late Shafaat Ahmad khan for the Tabla accompaniment at this concert. After the gap of few weeks Shafaat came to me and advised me to change the date of this concert because the Cricket World Cup was taking place on the same day. As a result, he was of the opinion that no one would come to the concert. I was familiar with Shafaat’s love for cricket. So I told him if, ‘he was interested in the world cup, he was most welcome to stay back to watch it. I would arrange another Tabla player.’
Shafaat said that he had offered this suggestion because he was concerned about my prestige and worried about my humiliation. I said that it was not a regular music festival. It was my brother’s death anniversary! I could not change the date of the concert. I would pay my homage in an empty Hall if that was required. On the said date, on our arrival at Bharat Bhavan, we could not believe it but the Hall was over crowded. I never saw such an audience before at the same venue. In spite of the World Cup, the people of Bhopal bestowed their love and blessings.
I was so sad to hear the verdict on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. My prayers go out to the families of the victims who suffered so intensely and continue to do so. I remember that soon after the Gas tragedy, I had played a ticketed concert where the denominations were very highly priced in New Delhi in aid of the victims. It was organized by St. Stephan’s Collage. I also released an album called ‘In Aid of Bhopal Gas Victims’ the following year with HMV (now Sa Re Ga Ma). I hope that the struggle for justice by the people and the families affected is achieved in time. I also pray that this kind of a tragedy, which has perhaps been one of the biggest industrial disasters, never happens anywhere in the world.