Blind songwriter sings of God’s vision

By Caroline Anderson*

KATHMANDU, Nepal–Sheshlal Rajbansi and two fellow Rajbansi** believers write songs in a room of canopied beds guarded by mosquito nets. The men sit cross-legged as the warm morning light seeps through the sheer green curtain. A picture of the Annapurna range in the Himalayas hangs on the wall.

Sheshlal works through a tune, fiddling with the drum and humming a few notes. The songwriting team starts discussing the downbeats and timing of the song on which they are working.

At a recent music workshop in Nepal, participants were encouraged to write new music in their own language. This Rajbansi blind musician (left) composes and rehearses a new song with one of his team mates.

Sheshlal Rajbansi is almost completely blind. His inability to see doesn’t hinder his worship. He sings the loudest during the group worship time during the workshop in Nepal. Since his sight is limited, he can, “sing and worship without distractions”, he says. Photo © 2014 IMB/ M. B. Harris*

Sheshlal, a former Hindu, sings a few lines, lifting his chin slightly toward the ceiling, allowing the muted light to illuminate his face. His knees rest on the drum and he marks out the beat for the newly penned song.

He’s almost completely blind.

The contextualized music workshop last fall, which Sheshlal attended, brought believers together from people groups throughout Nepal for times of instruction, worship, songwriting and recording.

His inability to see doesn’t hinder his worship. He sings the loudest during the group worship time during the workshop in Nepal. Since his sight is limited, he can sing and worship without distractions, he says.

This was the second workshop Sheshlal and the Rajbansi believers attended. Music is a very important part of Rajbansi culture, according to Sheshlal.

Ethan Leyton,* a International Mission Board ethnomusicologist in South Asia, led one of the sessions and helped the groups record their songs.

“Music is a part of their culture,” Leyton says. “This workshop isn’t introducing worship for the first time, but giving it a deeper meaning, a place.”

Leyton explains that the worship songs have a deeper meaning because they’re composed in the native language of the people groups and not Nepali, the national language. Most of the Christian songs are in Nepali.

Sheshlal is excited to be writing music in his own language.

“Yes, we have Nepali songs and we’ve translated Nepali songs into our mother tongue and that has great benefit,” Sheshlal says. “But written songs written in Rajbansi song style, music style, and mother tongue, really has a great benefit to the believers and to our neighbors who are not yet believers.”

Sheshlal wrote the majority of the songs they’ve produced.

At a recent music workshop in Nepal, participants were encouraged to write new music in their own language. This Rajbansi blind musician (center) composes and rehearses a new song with his team.

Believers from the Rajbansi people group write down the lyrics to a song the group just composed at a recent music workshop in Nepal. At all hours of the day and night during the workshop, Sheshlal Rajbansi, center, says the Lord gifted him with song lyrics. This time the lyrics came in the afternoon. Photo © 2014 IMB/ M. B. Harris*

At all hours of the day and night during the workshop, Sheshlal says the Lord gifted him with song lyrics.

This time the lyrics came in the afternoon.

Wholehearted worship

“It’s in my mind already, it’s coming,” Sheshlal says, describing the songwriting process. “It’s in my mouth, I’m going to sing it and they are going to write it down.”

An older Rajbansi man with glasses scrambles to write down the lyrics bursting forth from Sheshlal.

In between stanzas, Sheshlal cracks his back. “I was not sick and disabled [always],” he explains.

Several years ago, Sheshlal went to bathe in the river — customary for many in South Asia. He says poison or chemicals must have contaminated the water because his right eye began hurting and he lost sight in that eye. He soon also lost vision in his left eye.

Sheshlal’s parents took him to witchdoctors but that didn’t help. He visited doctors in Delhi and they weren’t able to help him. He had surgery on one eye but that didn’t help either.

“I was desolate. I took poison to end my life,” Sheshlal admits. A Christian heard about Sheshlal’s sight problems and traveled to his village to talk to him.

“God wants to do a work in your life, and He can heal your eyes, but I don’t know exactly what He wants to do, but He wants to do an inner work in you and give you peace inside,” the Christian told him.

“What good is that? How can that be? I had so many questions,” Sheshlal says. But after some time, he committed his life to Christ and agreed to attend discipleship training.

“Even though I couldn’t read, the Lord enabled me to get a very high grade, even past what some of the others had.” Sheshlal says.

A brother in Christ who had been studying for four years asked him how he was able to do so well.

“It is just lodged in my memory,” he says. “So in this training time, I also learned what it meant to live as a believer.” Sheshlal said he learned how his blindness could be a witness.

“God gives purpose in life, even to those who have lost major abilities in their body,” Sheshlal says. “I have been able to share hope and Good News to people all around, not only in my immediate village area but in numbers of districts going [on] for five, six years,” Sheshlal says.

Sheshlal Rajbansi doesn’t use his limited vision a s a crutch or excuse to stay home. He recently attended a music-writing workshop in Nepal where he composed the majority of his group’s songs. Photo © 2014 IMB/ M. B. Harris*

Sheshlal Rajbansi doesn’t use his limited vision as a crutch or excuse to stay home. He recently attended a music-writing workshop in Nepal where he composed the majority of his group’s songs. Photo © 2014 IMB/ M. B. Harris*

Sheshlal said God spoke to him and told him, “Son, never do I want you to allow people to feel sorry for you because of your disability. I want them to look on your life and know Me, what I’ve done in you and what I want to do in other people’s lives.”

Now, Sheshlal doesn’t use his disability as a crutch or an excuse to stay home.

He uses it to encourage others who may be in the same desolate place he was, intending to end their life rather than to live a life disabled.

“God gives us purpose in life,” he told a man whose arm was cut off at the shoulder.

Sheshlal believes music brings such encouragement and enables people to have a way to express their feelings to God.

Sheshlal often travels on the back of friend’s motorcycle 20 days a month to share his testimony and the songs he and other Rajbansi believers wrote at their first workshop.

Rajbansi believers held two outreach programs in their village after fall’s workshop. Sheshlal continues to sing of God’s vision for people to know and serve.

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*Caroline Anderson is an IMB writer who serves in Asia.

*Name changed

**In Nepal, individuals’ last names are often the name of their people group.

 

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