Voice of Bal Gangadhar Tilak to be heard again

Bal Gangadhar Tilak was one of the stalwarts of the Indian freedom struggle and had given the ringing call: “Swaraj is my birthright, and I shall have it.” Now, 92 years after his death, the booming voice of Lokmanya Bal Gangadhar Tilak will be heard for the first time Friday, thanks to the discovery here of a long-forgotten audio-tape.

Tilak had given the call at a public rally in April 1916, four years before his untimely death. It served to inspire his colleagues and the next generation of freedom fighters to finally ensure the end of the British rule over India, but he did not live to see the dawn of history which unfolded 27 years after his demise.

Though Tilak has been widely read through his books and newspaper editorials in the Kesari newspaper – and written about over the past century – he has never been ‘heard’ after his passing away, said his great-grandson Deepak J. Tilak, living in the family’s ancestral property, Kesariwada.

Now, thanks to an accidental discovery of a recorded tape, Tilak will be finally heard by the current and future generations, Deepak J. Tilak said.

“It was way back on Sep. 21, 1915, during the famous Kesari Ganeshotsav celebrations, my great-grandfather has organised a music concert in (the sprawling 50,000 square feet) Kesariwada,” Deepak J. Tilak told IANS.

One of the invitees at the concert was a businessman from Karachi in the then undivided India, Sheth Laxmichand Narang.

The well-to-do Narang had an expensive hobby (by the standards of those days) – of recording all the concerts and music programmes wherever and whenever he could.

The Kesari Ganeshotsav was a much looked-forward-to event in Pune’s annual cultural calendar and Narang promptly attended it, accompanied by his recording machine.

Stalwarts like the late Master Krishnarao, Bal Gandharva and Devgandharva Bhaskar Bakhlebuva were performing before a highly receptive audience, Deepak J. Tilak said, quoting from records and the stories he heard from his parents and grandparents.

Needless to mention, Kesariwada was packed to capacity, with the audience demanding encores by the singers.

After Master Krishnarao and Bal Gandharva completed their recitals, it was Bakhlebuva’s turn, but by then the audience had become restless and boisterous.

“There was a lot of noise and disturbance, apparently preventing the master from singing. It was then that a loud booming voice was heard asking the assembled audience to keep quiet or get out,” 60-year-old Deepak J. Tilak said.

It was the towering personality of Lokmanya Tilak who came on stage and said in Marathi: “I want everybody to listen to the programme silently. If anybody creates any trouble, I shall not tolerate it. Such people can leave the place, but the scheduled programme must continue. That is my wish.”

After this chiding by their revered leader, the audience fell silent and the enthralling programme continued undisturbed – and the matter was forgotten.

“A few days ago, everything suddenly came back in a pleasantly unexpected manner,” said Deepak J. Tilak with a smile.

Pune-based Marathi vocalist Shaila Datar was searching for some very old musical records of her grandfather-in-law, Bakhlebuva.

She was referred to one Mukesh Narang, the grandson of Sheth Laxmichand Narang, who has been living in Pune since the Aug 15, 1947, partition.

Mukesh Narang had inherited a treasure trove of old musical records, pictures and other paraphernalia from his grandfather which he shared with Shaila Datar.

In one of the old recordings, she heard the hitherto unrecognized booming voice at the Kesariwada concert, but Mukesh Narang could not identify him.

She then approached Deepak J. Tilak, who also drew a blank since he had never heard Lokmanya Tilak’s voice.

“However, we decided to check out other historical records. We found the reference to that evening’s concert in the Kesari archives, where it was mentioned how Lokmanya Tilak controlled the restless gathering that evening,” Deepak J. Tilak said.

Another reference was traced in a book, “Devgandharva”, on the life and times of Bakhlebuva, which mentioned the events of that evening and how Lokmanya Tilak managed to control the situation.

“Thereafter, in the past few weeks, Shaila Datar and others got down to the task of reviving and resurrecting that valuable old tape – the only authentic audio recording, though unintentional, of Lokmanya Tilak’s voice,” a proud Deepak J. Tilak said.

The family has decided to share this little bit of history with Punekars at a special programme organised in Kesariwada on Aug 24 evening before a select gathering.

The date coincides with the Hindu calendar equivalent to when Lokmanya Tilak’s voice was recorded 97 years ago – and forgotten.

With the voices of Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Mohammed Ali Jinnah and others available, all the descendents of Lokmanya Tilak, mostly settled in Kesariwada, are happy at the development and the small addition to India’s well-known history.