May 12, 2011
By TCN News, http://twocircles.net
Boston: More than 26 years later and thousand miles away from Bhopal, the call for justice for the victims of the Union Carbide gas leak is still strong. Hundreds gathered here on Saturday May 7th, 2011 in a benefit concert to raise funds for this noble cause.
Divine Strings, a benefit concert featuring Carnatic and Jazz music, was held on the in Northeastern University’s Fenway Auditorium. Aishwarya Venkataraman, an ever smiling eighteen year-old violinist took center-stage to enthrall a crowd of well over two hundred with brilliant artistry.Aishu was accompanied on the Mridangam by her father Prof. Vinod R. Venkataraman, Marc Rossi on the piano, Bob Tamagni on the drums, and Bill Urmson on the electric bass.
The event helped raise money for the survivors of the Bhopal Gas Disaster. This disaster happened twenty-six years ago in India, killing thousands of people and injuring half a million more and is the world’s worst industrial disaster. The concert was organized by volunteers of the Boston chapter of the International Campaign for Justice in Bhopal (ICJB).
During the Carnatic half of the concert, Aishu displayed her years of classical education, playing a complex set of traditional compositions with great finesse and ease. Aishu’s sole accompanist for the Carnatic part was the brilliant percussionist and mathematician, Vinod Venkataraman.
Vinod played the Mridangam, a two-headed barrel shaped drum. The diverse audience was rapt in amazement as Aishu would search for a soul note to transition seamlessly from one ragam to the next.
The first half ended on a soulful note when the organizers screened a short film about the ongoing disaster in Bhopal. The suffering of the Bhopalis began over 26 years ago when Union Carbide employed cost-cutting measures resulting in the leakage of methyl isocyanate (MIC) from the Union Carbide-owned plant on December 3rd 1984. To date, Union Carbide has not cleaned up the site. The effects of this corporate negligence are still felt twenty-six years later, as toxins from the site have crept into the soil and water in Bhopal. Children in Bhopal are still born with birth defects and most Bhopalis still do not have access to clean drinking water.
DOW Chemical (Union Carbide’s current parent company) refuses to compensate the victims. The film also showcased the work of Sambhavna clinic in Bhopal, a free medical facility operated by survivors of the gas tragedy and volunteers. At Sambhavna, patients are not only treated but also educated and equipped in such a way that they can help others afflicted with similar disorders. Sambhavna clinic also has a research unit, which has produced rigorously tested data published in leading medical journals like Lancet and the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
The final segment of the evening showcased Aishu and the Jazz ensemble composed of Marc Rossi, Bill Urmson, Bob Tamagni and Vinod Venkataraman, who mesmerized the crowd with a mixture of Jazz and Carnatic arrangements. Their outstanding rendition of “Watermelon Man” left the audience gasping for more. The next piece was Freedom Jazz dance followed by a sublime piece called, “Ascending Dreams”, a composition bringing the piano and composer Marc Rossi's nimble fingers into focus, Bob Tamagni on the drums and Vinod Venkataraman on the congas provided apt percussion support, adding to the rhythmic texture of Aishu’s speedy yet controlled violin melody. Bill Urmson transitioned seamlessly between Jazz and Carnatic sections on the electric bass.
There couldn’t have been a more befitting way to end the beautiful Boston evening than to play Raghupati Raghav Raja Ram – Mahatma Gandhi’s favorite song, a song that prays for peace, harmony and healing to the world. A message that will certainly bring joy to the hearts of the Bhopalis in whose honor the concert was organized.