By Richa Gupta:
My Hindustani vocal music book is over ten years old — it is dog-eared, has sheets falling out, and the ink of the first few pages is beginning to fade. Yet, I have never treasured a book so much. It occupies a special place on my shelf and in my heart, for I have formed an emotional attachment with the many ragas that have been written down — but it is not as strong as the attachment, I have formed with the old lady who has taught me these musical pieces.
The world is growing more competitive by the day, and I constantly find myself overwhelmed by the amount of studying and homework that needs to be done — which is why I look forward to my singing class more than any other class in the week. The small brick-enclosed room with its straw mats spread out, acts as a sort of haven for my exhausted spirits to breathe deeply and recover their strength. Once away from the perpetual pressure to showcase my competence and knowledge, I find respite in the calm, unflustered atmosphere of my Hindustani vocal class, which is taught by a woman who is the reason, I have been learning this art for over ten years.
When I first moved to India, I had joined a myriad of classes in addition to vocals, such as painting, drama, tabla and robotics. I had started learning all with the same heart and state of mind, but the only class I continued attending with ardor was Hindustani vocals. I was initially interested in all, but it was the difference in the educational methods of my singing teacher that refused to let my interest and zeal diminish. When I had first joined vocal class as a little girl of six, I was entirely new to Indian culture, and the unfamiliarity rendered me unable to speak in another’s presence. But this class was different — the kind and vivacious demeanour of my teacher led me to open up and helped me overcome my shyness. In the process, she passed on her passion for Hindustani music to me, and I now practice it as often as I can.
In contrast to her counterparts, my singing teacher lays emphasis on the aesthetics and beauty of Hindustani vocals. Apart from teaching me a new raga every week, she details the vibrant descriptions of the various forms and thaats, which serve to kindle in her students, an interest in the history, context and underlying meanings of the songs. She encourages us to read and broaden our knowledge regarding the famous singers, and sometimes makes us listen to audio tapes of the mellifluous songs in class. With her melodious voice, she brings forth the harmonies of northern India to our little class in the south. Being a native of Bengal, my teacher also introduces us to the lyrics of popular Bengali folk songs and helps us learn the rather complicated words and match them with their lilting cadences. I have my Hindustani vocal class only once a week, but the amount of knowledge I retain in a single lesson is undoubtedly larger than that remembered in the numerous academic classes I attend. At first, I believed it was because of the passion with which I regard the Hindustani stream of music, but now I know it is due to the wonderful and enlightening methods employed by my teacher.
I believe the common impression that states that people work better under pressure, is an absolute myth. Without the cloud of tension and strain pushing me to success, hanging over me, I’m actually able to concentrate and develop a tangible love for what I’m learning. My teacher places no stress on us to take and pass exams with flying colours; rather, she organises monthly functions in which we present the new songs we had learnt for the admiration of our audience, which typically consists of our parents and other enthusiasts of Hindustani music. Moreover, my teacher’s classes revolve around developing a feel and appreciation for the sheer beauty that silvers the tunes we learn. To her, there is no such thing as committing lyrics to memory – it is all about singing from the heart. Furthermore, the tranquil ambience of my Hindustani vocal class serves to alleviate the stress that amasses during the week—I let go of it all when I sing the words of the delightful songs in ragas of ‘jaunpuri’, ’tilang’, ‘rageshri’… the list is endless. And this is all because of the aura of serenity my singing teacher infuses into the air of her class, and is the reason her lessons are my favourite hours of the week.
And now I know — passion is not always inborn, but can also be created, and there is no better person to do so than a splendid teacher whose aim is, not for her students to reflect on her abilities, but to reflect on the magnitude of her enthusiasm and spirits.