Dubai: Emirati Singer Yasser Habib, who had become an instant sensation among Indian expats by singing Mahatma Gandhi’s favourite bhajan ‘Vaishnava Jana To’ in 2018, joined the 213th birth anniversary celebration of Indian freedom fighter Veer Surendra Sai in Dubai on Saturday.
Expatriate group GOOD (Global Odias for Odisha’s Development) organised the event by strictly adhering to specific regulations set by local authorities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
It was the second consecutive year that the group organised the celebration in honour of the freedom fighter who is said to have been held captive by the British for 37 years on January 23, the day he was born, back in 1809. Habib joined the limited number of attendees in lighting the traditional lamp and paying floral tributes to the legendary freedom fighter.
The singer said that he was very happy to be a part of such a unique celebration.
“He was amazed to hear of Veer Surendra Sai’s 37 years in captivity and compared it to that of Nelson Mandela who spent about 27 years in prison. He was glad that he was approached to be a part of this good cause. He offered his help and wanted to contribute to the spread of Veer Surendra Sai’s legacy across the globe. This was very much appreciated by participants who were clearly enamoured by his humility and approachable nature,” the group said in a press release.
Habib’s rendition of ‘Vaishanava Jana To’ was played out and his version of the popular song definitely struck an emotional chord with all the people that were present. The group also honoured Habib on the occasion.
GOOD member Priyadarshee Panigrahi said: “This is probably for the first time in recent memory that an eminent non-Indian voice [Habib’s] has spoken about Veer Surendra Sai and his exploits.”
Another highlight of the evening was the special video address by well-known poet from Odisha Dr Haldhar Nag, who is an awardee of Padma Shri, India’s fourth highest civilian honour. “An electrifying atmosphere was created when Shri Nag recited the last verse of his great poetic work ‘Sundar Sai’, the organisers said.
Audio visual presentations on Veer Surendra Sai’s life and times were made. Memorable occasions like his first rebellion (when he was only 18-years-old), his escape from Hazaribagh Jail and subsequent leadership of the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny in the Central Part of India were mentioned.
GOOD senior member Captain Soumya Ranjan Patnaik said Surendra Sai has always been under-rated as a freedom fighter. “His inspirational legacy needs to be propagated.”
GOOD founder member Rajat Rath emphasized on the strong need to collect all relevant information and papers available today, on Surendra Sai. “Many important documents and records of his life continue to languish in the archives of the neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh in India. An effort to collate, restore and preserve them is needed.”