It was some time in the winter of 1994 that the resident editor of a paper I was working for called me sounding a little worried. There was a message to him from the group editor at the head office in Delhi that a massive Jazz Festival was happening in Kasauli, and we at Chandigarh had no knowledge of it.
Amends were quickly made, a cab called, and a photographer and I drove off to the hills to cover the event at the Kasauli Club. It was being held by Baljit Malik and the Indian Air Force stationed in the hill town. I did not know Baljit but for an occasional byline in the newspapers or that he was married to Kamla Bhasin, the dyanamic frontliner of the women’s movement in the country. He was grandson of Sir Teja Singh Malik, one of the enterprising five Sikh builders, who built Lutyen’s Delhi on the ruins of 1857.
When we reached the Kasauli Club at dusk there was not a note of Jazz. On making inquiries we were told that the musicians were in the tennis court. At the court were two flautists shivering in the cold with their flutes in hand and a huge patila of home-made sooji halwa all but frozen. I recognised one of the artistes. He was late Krishan Khan, whose flute used to add melody to the Pinjore Gardens as he moved like a faqir with his pack of dogs and recited verses. I remembered a very favourite line “Teri shehanshahi se hume kya matlub, faqiri ka maza kuchh kum nahi hai”.
Khan complained: “We have been sitting here since afternoon and only three or four people came to hear us. Now we are being told to sing to the birds, leaves and the stars, and eat the cold halwa”.
Baljit was indeed a Tughlaqian Shehanshah. I took on the role of a negotiator with the faqirs, found Baljit and soon all of us were having brandy with hot water in the verandah of the club. I fetched hot tikkis, chanas and bread from the old market, and had a hearty dinner in Baljit’s cozy living room.
Baljit said, “We would have had a great Jazz festival but for some reason the Air Force ditched us!” The housekeeper gave the wages to the musicians and we dropped them at Pinjore on our way back.
The next day I shared the event with the editor who told me to report it as it was and took pleasure in adding to send a copy to the group editor. Delhi did not touch the story but here it was well displayed with a creative headline, “Making halwa out of Jazz”.
I thought Baljit will be miffed, but in a couple of days he arrived in his old Fiat with a big hand-crafted cloth hoisted on his car. He rang the bell of the house, and behind him was a second person, a flautist, making music. He had come to thank me for the “lovely story”.
What followed was a long friendship over two decades with celebrations galore in the Lutyen’s bungalow on Bhagwan Das Road, and many musical evenings in Kasauli where things did not go amiss. I saw my comrade Kamla and friend Baljit suffer much when their bright and lovely daughter passed away. The final end to the marriage was unhappy, but it was Kamla’s tribute to him on Facebook that moved me to pen this remembrance to the inimitable Baljit, a month after he passed away.