Hundreds wait outside the Jivan-Jankai Ashram near Pashupati to bid farewell to Atul Gautam, the tabla maestro. As family members carry his body to the pyre, the air is heavy with grief.
Doctors pronounced Atul Prasad Gautam dead at dawn on 16 January, four days after he suffered a brain haemmorhage.
Survived by two children and wife, Bandana, Atul's compassion not just as a musician but also a social worker, touched the lives of many Nepalis. Among those gathered at Pashupati on Sunday was his inner musical circle from the band, Sukarma: tabla drummer Navaraj Gurung, sitarist Dhrubesh Chandra Regmi and sarangi player Shyam Nepali. They lived like brothers, and Atul was cruelly taken away from them just as the band was beginning to make a mark in Nepal and abroad.
Abhinas and Sunanda, who arranged Atul's performance with Sukarma for the inauguration of Dharara on Saturday (picture, Atul at right), were this time arranging his last rites. Madhusudan, one of Atul's students, said, "We used to tell him how lucky we were to have a guru like him and he always replied that luck depends on how much you devote yourself to practice." That was Atul, always inspiring aspiring young classical musicians.
A childhood friend, tabla player Sarita Mishra whose house overlooks Atul's now traces the emptiness in the street that her friend walked everyday. Atul's mission was to manifest the knowledge of tabla in all its possible aspects and he was completing a PhD from Banaras under the tutelage of Pandit Pravin Uddav who at one time told one of Atul's students, "This man is learned and famous in his country and yet he comes to learn more from me." Atul completed his Masters in Music from Prayag Sangit Samiti in Allahbad in 1996 where he got a gold medal and many honourable mentions.
Satirist Chatyang Master was in a sombre mood at Pashupati, contemplating the ultimate satire that nature plays on us by giving life and then snatching it away. Atul was in his early 30s and Chatyang had watched him grow into a fine musician, treating music not just as a profession but as a passion and devotion.
A few months ago, Atul told me about his dream to establish himself as not only a tabla player but as a versatile musical academician. He would have accomplished his goal had he lived, but now others will have to fulfil Atul's dream.