I’ve been asked plenty of times, “Why Music?” I have never been able to answer this question convincingly enough because I’ve never put a thought to why I chose Music.
I come from a liberal Bengali family, where my parents made it very clear that they’ll support me in every field I chose as long as I was happy.
Music has been an integral part of my formative years. I grew up listening to Hindi, English and Bangla classics. My father loves listening to music and my mother has the voice of a nightingale. My mother is not a Bengali, but a Garhwali, which again is a culture immersed in performing arts. Both sides of my family are inclined towards arts; so naturally, it was an integral part of my growing years.
My musical journey began back in school when, at the tender age of 4, my music teacher noticed my singing talent. She approached my parents and told them that I have a very good voice and must get proper training. My parents were delighted to hear this, and thus began the journey to find me a guru. It was quite difficult because all gurus have an ‘age criteria’ to take in Shishyas (students).
Exasperated, my parents approached my school’s music teacher and requested her to take me in. She also had an age criterion but was ready to make an exception. In this way, I became her youngest shishya.
I was doing pretty well in my classes, got good grades in my music exam, but slowly, I got bored. I wouldn’t practice at home (which is very important) and then get scolded by my Guruma. I’d come back home and start crying and tell my mother I didn’t want to continue. I have to admit here, it’s tough for young children to build interest in classical music as it requires a lot of discipline. On one such day of bawling my eyes out and throwing tantrums, my mother just convinced me to go for another class, after which they’d decide whether I had to continue or not.
As usual, I hadn’t practiced enough and my Guruma could make that out. That day, she said something to me which got etched in my mind forever. She said, “There are people out there who are born with 10% talent, but they bring themselves up with 90% practice. You are born with 80% talent, and all you need is that 20% practice, to make it worth it.” I was moved. Since then, I’ve never questioned anything about why I was learning. Yes, I was still lazy when it came to Riyaaz. I’d practice like crazy for an important performance or exam, and then just laze around when nothing was coming up. But that statement built a new relationship between me and my Guruma. It’s been 15 years now, and I’m still learning from her. I was once her youngest Shishya, today I am her oldest.
I loved learning music, I loved every bit of it. But as I got into the teen years, the pressure of being “cool” started building up. My peers would constantly make fun of me and ridicule me for the kind of music I was into. I brought lot of prizes for my school, yet whenever I’d be on stage, I could see my classmates sniggering in the corner. And then my music came in the way of my studies. Teachers were worried that I won’t score well in my boards because of the number of competitions I was attending. The pressure was real, yet I never thought of quitting. I knew it would be music that would help me out in the end. And that is exactly what happened.
I scored good marks in my boards, but not good enough to get into DU. That is when my certificates and competitions came in handy. I got into DU through the ECA quota. Up until this point, music had always been important for me, but I had never considered it as a career option. I was studying Life Sciences, hence, wanted to go into research.
In DU, I became an active member of the music society of my college. Three years of graduation were mostly spent on society practices and fests.
That’s when I realized that science was not my calling, and that music was my forte. I decided that I wanted to learn music further. My parents, as usual, were very supportive.
Finally, I got selected in Pune University for M.A Music, and everyone was so proud and happy. But since the very beginning, I faced troubles. At last, due to certain issues with my result and the course structure at Pune, I chose to withdraw my admission within 2 days of reaching Pune. Although my parents didn’t say a word to me about it, I came back with a feeling of guilt that I had let my parents down, that I had wasted their time, energy and hard-earned money.
After coming back to Delhi, I was absolutely clueless as to what to do next.
My father then sat me down and had the “career talk” with me. He suggested, “why don’t you continue with your masters also from Gandharva (where I was pursuing my bachelor’s)? Do you want to become a professor only?
Do you really want to lose all your creativity? Why don’t you do something different and work towards having a music school of your own?” And this opened up a whole new perspective for me, which I never thought before. I contacted my Guruma and told her I wanted to continue with masters from Gandharva itself and she welcomed me with open arms. But this wasn’t a regular degree; it was more like an open schooling system. I was literally sitting at home doing nothing other than attending a class weekly.
All of this made me anxious. I knew that my mental health wasn’t at its best but I didn’t know what exactly was wrong, either.
After a year of sitting at home, I decided I wanted to do an internship to keep myself busy. While searching for internships, I got a job offer from a well reputed school in Gurgaon. I hesitated at first, but my father encouraged me to take it. I took it, but was unhappy with the work environment, and also the fact that I was forced to teach something that I myself had never learned. Two months passed, but nothing seemed better. So, I decided to speak to a therapist on an online platform, and that’s when I found out I had anxiety. But thankfully, I was told that I was quite aware of my conditions, so wouldn’t require medications.
I took it, but was unhappy with the work environment, and also the fact that I was forced to teach something that I myself had never learned. Two months passed, but nothing seemed better. So, I decided to speak to a therapist on an online platform, and that’s when I found out I had anxiety. But thankfully, I was told that I was quite aware of my conditions, so wouldn’t require medications.
I started to become more optimistic. That’s when I got a text from a school junior that there was a vacancy at the school where her mother worked and whether I was interested in applying. I talked to my parents, and like always, got their support.
So, I went ahead, got called for an interview, did a demo class and finally, got the job!
Today, I’m at a happy place. I teach at GD Goenka Public School, Gurgaon, I love the people and the environment, I’m also pursuing my masters, I’m mentoring a college music society, and my anxiety is a lot better. I’ve learnt to deal with life, one day at a time. And I’m thoroughly making the most of it, inspite of its challenges.
To all the artists out there, the only thing I want to say is, never give up your art, never quit it, even if you don’t want to make a career out of it. You never know what surprises life can bring your way. Embrace your talent, keep practicing, keep creating.
- Anukriti Sengupta
Indian Classical Vocalist
Visharad (B.A) in Hindustani sangeet