A Dermatologist’s Memoirs of Music : The Music Yatra of Dr. Poorva Shah

Tanpura — My constant companion and indispensable accompaniment to my vocals. Be it at a Performance or a Riyaz.

If you were to ask me, what music means to me, I would probably answer, “There is no greater love of life than the love of music.” Such has been the impact of music on my life. Apart from being a Dermatologist and a professional Kathak Dancer, the facet of being a Hindustani Classical Vocalist is one I am truly grateful for. For it distinctly signifies the labour of love I have toiled for the most part of my life. Today, with immense passion, I wish to share the same with you. The journey of my life with Music as a driving force. With all its highs and lows, the art form of Hindustani Classical Music has always been my anchor point and has graciously smiled upon me all through the years.’

The Beginning:

Ever since I can remember, music has played a major role in shaping my life and has been a constant in all phases of my life. I have been learning music since I was only 5 years old. Hailing from a family, driven by Classical Art Forms, my induction in Hindustani Classical Music was hardly surprising. For me, it was natural. In fact, it was an initiative by Ma, my grandmother who is extremely fond of Hindustani Classical Music. This also allowed me the ability to appreciate classical art forms of music from a very early age. I started off with learning ‘SugamSangeet,’ a form of light music, from Kadekar Guruji. It was perfect to instill the love for music in my 5-year old self. Apart from singing, my lessons with him enabled my skills in playing the Harmonium. The curious student in me pushed me to self-learn this reed instrument. My fondest memory of playing the harmonium was having my grandmother or father assist me in pumping the Bhata(bellows) while I would play the keys! I was so tiny that whilst sitting down I could barely look over the harmonium!

Me at the age of 12! Performing at a public event! As a child, and until today it has always been a privilege to have my Guru, Shri. Sudhakar Chavan ji, accompanying me on the Harmonium during every performance.

My Foray into Hindustani Classical Music Form:

At the age of 7, I started my lessons in Hindustani Classical Music from Guru Shri. Sudhakar Chavan. Be it the technical aspects or the artistic aspects of vocals in Hindustani Classical Music, I owe my knowledge in music and a lot more to him. In the years to come, I was to achieve esteemed milestones such as Visharad under his precious guidance. Needless to say, that he remains, till date, my guru and mentor in music.

It would be unfair to say that I had been devoted to learning Hindustani Classical Music, on my own, right from my childhood days. Yes, I had a keen interest, was a sincere learner and could appreciate it very early on. Yet it was the elders of my family who instilled the virtue of devotion to Hindustani Classical Music in me. One of my most vivid memories as a child were my classes at home with Guruji; some even at 11 o’clock at night. He would arrive home after I had fallen asleep. I would be woken up every time upon his arrival. I was never excused. Some sessions would go on for 45 minutes; while some would even last for 2 hours.As a child, I found this practice quite inexplicable and bizarre. Although every member of my family was involved in my development in music, it was Papa, my father, who played a key role in disciplining me, only to ingrain this beautiful art of Hindustani Classical Music in me. Such was their dedication. They, along with my persistent Gurus have played an important role in instilling the same in me. Interestingly, they took such keen interest in my lessons, that every session of mine with Guruji was accompanied by my family; synonymous to a small, informal mehfil of our own! They were my very first audience! Such was the encouraging environment created by my family suitable to learn music.

From my younger days, giving a small Baithak Performance. Almost a decade old photo, I was still studying at Medical School during this time.

The Journey Continues:

It’s been 24 years now. I still continue to learn music under Guru Shri. Sudhakar Chavan. Learning, in any art form is unceasing. So is the case with Hindustani Classical Music. Learning it is truly only an endless journey. It’s a journey of growing together of two individuals. Not only of the shishya (disciple) but also of the guru (master). To develop oneself into a good Hindustani Classical Music artist, it is paramount to have someone to show you the path; but spoon-feeding is a big no-no. Consistency is the key to sustaining what you have learnt over the years and for newer avenues to open up. Thus, the benefit of continuing to learn under a guru is unparalleled.

In my own personal journey of music, I have learnt that change is the only constant. Maturity, Sensibility and Gravity to understand and handle the music you are learning and reproducing it is constantly evolving. These are important, as ultimately, it is the mental strength and ability that helps one learn, progress and perform effectively in this music form. This, according to me, forms the real learning process. To elaborate further, it is an enlightening experience to look back at your understanding of music when you were a child and see how strikingly different it is from now or even 5 years ago. For instance, the very first Raag that I learnt and commenced my journey with was the quintessential ‘Raag Yaman.’Over a period of time, I had moved over the basics and learnt Yaman in a different format of Bada Khyals. Today, when I revisit Yaman, it is a completely different, more complex and a more sophisticated approach. This comes from inspiration your Guru gives and recognizing the possibilities in his given set. Add to this your ability to play around with permutations and combinations of Alaaps and Taanasto create your own sound and version of that Raag, without stepping out of its framework. Thus, my journey did not end at just milestones like Visharad. The road ahead of these foundations is what the true learning journey comprises of.

One of my cherished memories from The Sawai Gandharva Festival is that of having had the good fortune of meeting and interacting with the Late Pandit Firoz Dastur (center)at its year 2000 edition. In my opinion, he defines the word ‘legendary!’ He was over 80 then and performed that year.

The Bitter-Sweet Equation of Music & My Life:

All said and done, this journey wasn’t all hunky dory. It did come with its share of personal struggles and sacrifices. As a school going child, or even a Dermatology student in college, I have experienced my fair share of peer pressure. When my friends were out enjoying fun activities, I was busy with attending lessons or rehearsals in dance and music. I still remember turning down my enthusiastic friends’ requests countless times, for joining them in recreational plans, because I could not miss any of my sessions in learning dance and music. At times, I was even judged for being overtly involved in art forms that not many understood. Thus, despite being from a younger generation, I remember how difficult it was being torn between two distinct perspectives and sensibilities. I may have given up my social life; but I was always headstrong in pursuing my passions because I knew I loved them. That is where I derived my strength from. Another upside was that I had always been appreciated for my talent and skills in Classical music; so much so that I got opportunities to perform very early on as a child. This helped me tremendously to stay loyal to my chosen art forms. The reward was; by the time I became a Post-Graduation student in Dermatology, I was already a full-fledged performer in these Classical art forms.

I am not certain if I can ever attain the heights that the stalwarts of Hindustani Classical Music have long before attained. However, the one thing that has certainly motivated me to continue pursuing the art was surprisingly a dreaded thought. Sometime in my post-teenage years, a thought occurred to me that I grew wary of. A dreaded thought of turning 50 and thinking, “I used to be a singer. In my younger days, I was a Hindustani Classical Vocalist. But I had to give it up to focus on my practice and my family.” How could I let go of something so easily? After all, I had invested so much in it. My time, energy, focus and most importantly my heart and soul.Not to mention, the intangible efforts that my gurus and my parents had put in my art forms would go in vain. Hence, the answer for me was always to go on. To go on withstanding the plateau phases, but never to stop. It is my good fortune that I have been able to pursue my music with the same rigour, despite a high-flying career as a Dermatologist and the duties of raising a family. The much desirable balance would not have been possible without the resources and the support system my family has always extended to me.

Favourites in Hindustani Classical Music:

Standing behind me are my two constant pillars of strength and support, since my childhood, my father figures, The Late Pandit Shrikant Deshpande ji (L) has been my Dada Guru while Ustaad Usman Khan Sahab (R) has been my Sitar Guru. Here we are at a music recital with Noorjahan ji.

Hindustani Classical Music consists of a plethora of Raags. But which is my favourite one? My favourite Raag is Raag Bhairavi. For the simple reason that it strikes a chord with me! According to me, it is one of the toughest Raags which is so easily identifiable. Such is the character of Bhairavi. Its peaceful melancholy and the emotions it evokes truly appeals to me. Be it Kishori Amonkar, Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, Girija Devi, Veena Sahasrabuddhe, attending my favourite artists’ performances were always a bliss! Especially to listen to their renditions of Bhairavi.

The Road Ahead…

To conclude, the road ahead is to continue learning. Not only to be a professional performer. But,to be a better performer. When I was younger, I felt that I would be truly satisfied only if I gained tremendous fame as a performer. Little did I know that my thoughts were to evolve. Today, my ultimate aim is to become a better Hindustani Classical Vocalist. Not only from my own perspective; I aim that my Gurus feel equally same about my singing. That would be the ultimate reward and satisfaction! Any other forms of accolades, applause or standing ovations would be secondary. I wish to learn as much as I can without missing out on this golden phase that I am in now.

In this regard, the thoughts of India’s foremost and acclaimed Hindustani Classical Vocalist, and my idol, Kishori Amonkar’s words resonate with me.

“What you get from my music now is what you didn’t get ages ago. There is so much more the hraav (stillness). I know my track and I know my destination. Whether I will reach there or not, I don’t know, but I will do this till I am alive.”

Taking a cue from her words, I strive to achieve the same.

Khalil Gibran rightly said, “Music is the language of the Spirit.” To me, music has been a doorway to opening the endless possibilities through which my soul could express itself. I consider it as a gift that was bestowed upon me, which only multiplied in its manifestation having far reaching effects on all spheres of my life.

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