Interview with Ms. Swarnima, a budding Hindustani Sangeeth Vocalist

Q. How would you define a Gharana?

A. Gharana is like the origin and abode of an inexhaustible river that comes from the heights of mountains and the depths of the earth. The river for example like our revered Gangotri sustains life and nourishes all those who come to it to quench their thirst, so is music like the crystal-clear water, sweet and brimming with minerals, whose very special contents what we call gayaki or nuances is the hall-mark of a Gharana that unfolds in an unbroken tradition down the generations. The shishyas or students follow these traditions with a discipline and religiosity keeping alive the style. You see, the Gharana is the foundation on which a musician has the freedom to accentuate its beauty and flourish with a style that reflects his education, riyaz and talent.


Q. With which Gharana are you associated?

A. My search for musical training took to me various guru's starting with the Agra Gharana that had a leaning towards Gwalior style of singing and most importantly the Rampur Moradabad Gharana that has now taken prominence in my vocation as I would like to carry forward my musical journey in this tradition, which is a confluence and amalgamation of the above mentioned Gharanas.


Q. Tell us about your initiation into music and training in this art form?

A. As they say, there are no short cuts to success. Choosing a vocation that is a deviation from the backgrounds from which one comes from is more challenging. The same applies to artists who come from a non-musical background. So I did face challenges and my own share of struggle while in search for a guru and knowledge about the art.

I started my basic training with Pandit Vasudev Rao Deshpande of Agra Gharana in Dehradun, followed later by learning under Vidushi Smt Shubha Mudgal for a couple of years. I have also been the student of Pt Batuknath Diwan ji of Agra Gharana, who is acknowledged for his collection of rare thumris and semi classical forms of music. For the past six years, I am learning the nuances of classical music in the Rampur Morabadbad style, under the guidance of the great Sarangi maestro Ustad Sabri Khan, who is an institution in himself and excels in the Gharana, which is also known as the Saini Gharana.


Q. As a musician what kind of fitness regimen do you follow?

A. We performing artists are ever on the move and so exposed to the vagaries of changing weathers, eating habits and time schedules, so fitness plays a pivotal role in our lives. To keep myself in top form I practice yoga specially pranayams, swimming and a brisk walk twice a day.


Q. Can you tell us about your childhood and early experiences as one wanting to pursue music?

A. My family hails from Dehradun, the capital of Uttaranchal, known for its scenic natural beauty, inviting hill stations, the majestic Himalayas , rivers and shrines. My father is a Geo scientist, which gave us the opportunity to travel to his place of posting in the country. My family laid much emphasis on education as a result of which my two sisters are into academics. I was a good student and was always a topper in school. However, my parents noticed my talent in music and put me in various schools of music like Bhatkhande and Prayag Sangeet Samiti etc. It was later that they realized the importance of Guru Shishya parampara. It is their understanding, support, love and blessings that brought me this far in my career. After my marriage my husband and in-laws have given me tremendous confidence to build on and expand my creativity. It has taught me the value of counting ones blessings.

Q. According to you, what are the qualities required for a great artist?

A. I believe a great artist is born, not made. One has to be gifted. Your talent can be honed by a good guru , but just concerted effort is not enough. Hard work is mandatory which includes quality riyaz. Many students get their doctorates in music and are well equipped in the technicalities of music yet they are not great singers. To some extent, visibility is also important, which is also a need in today's highly commercialized environment. However, ultimately quality prevails and a good dollop of luck, I feel, makes the journey fruitful and worthy in all respect.

Q. What is your philosophy about life?

A. I certainly believe in life with a purpose, which fulfills our inner craving to do and achieve something we believe in that makes us happy and even touches the lives of people around us in a meaningful way when we cease to exist. Being a woman, I specially feel strongly about the freedom of expression and the power to take our own decisions, be respected and accepted in society as an individual and as a professional. These factors play an important role in my philosophy about life.

Q. What is your ultimate goal?

A. For me life is not a definitive end or destination but a journey where the quest for refinement in music and all other aspects of life evolves with each day and the search to acquire in depth knowledge of my craft continues till my life's last day.

Q. Which are the countries to which you have travelled for performances?

A. With the grace of God and blessing of my Gurus and elders, I have toured 33 states of the US for ‘Ravi Shankar Festival Of India', and also visited Canada , Bangladesh , and Germany for performances at a young age.

Q. Can you single out any special experience that has left an impact in your career?

A. Yes, the tour in America for ‘Ravi Shankar Festival Of India' is an experience that I would always cherish. It has been a great learning experience working with the Indian icon of classical music, Sitar maestro Pandit Ravi Shanker. I was touched with his affection and care when even after the tour ended, Panditji carried forward the Guru-shishya tie by giving me some prestigious platforms to perform in India . I shall be ever indebted to him for this kindness.


Interview by
Ms. Madhu Sen


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