A Quiet Achiever

DN Singh

Sniti was about five years old the first time she heard the word ‘music’. It happened on a day in the grip of the nagging June solstice in her native town Bolangir, in western Orissa, an interior district that had catapulted itself to distinction for many wrong reasons. She uttered a few lines of a song sang by Lata Mangeshkar...

Even as a toddler she was seen as chanting whenever there was any good music around, preoccupied and restless. Music, perhaps, was within her. The little and frail child had always woken up to the sultry mornings of Bolangir, searching for the respite in the din of the town, wadding through the clouds of imagination, a child of her age could hardly have cherished. Right from the age of five Sniti had started singing. Singing to herself, virtually serenading to the burning desire within to know music, to explore the secrets of the magic. She was selective in picking up songs that she used to listen. Songs of the greats like Lata Mangeshkar and Asha Bhonsle had a predominant influence on her choice.

She had at times sat on her nani`s (grandmother) lap listening to fairy tales, like any other child of her age. But her with mind full of those musical scores, often fantasising the notes swarming into the room like the autumn leaves. “It kept weighing on me all the time that how do I know about the notes,” recollects Sniti.

Then she did not know what the word ‘music’ exactly meant. She was not old enough to understand its nuances. But she was always moved by the effects of the melody, the rythms, the beats, silently appreciating its creators. When she grew older, Sniti slowly understood the way the lyrics were being uttered by the singers. But, yet the notes kept bothering her. Her quest for the notes lingered over years till she came across Dr Raghunath Sahu, a classical maestro then working in Bolangir. But he straightaway refused to undertake the assignment of teaching Sniti due to professional preoccupation and bad health. Sniti was rattled for a while, feeling alone in the solitude of despair, as if stuck to a surface like a crushed greesy wrapper and fluttering in the breeze of Harishankar.

She was different, her tender psyche surging through the surfs in the ocean of music. Behind the frail frame and the fearful eyes of the child, there was a strength that was boiling in the saturation of creativity, a desire to conquer her ignorance in the field. Her mind trailing for miles along the bank of river Harishankar that flows along Bolangir. At times her mind running and flying above the parched surface of her native, scarcely distinguishable from the pains it had deposited within the last few years of tribulations in the shape of poverty.

Who knew that from the bosom of this obscurity there shall emerge a little girl to wear the mantle of a distinguished singer in the country`s most popular musical platform and make the pundits in the field to stand up from their chairs to cheer for a voice that they found unique among comity of the present day Indian singers. “After many years I have heard a voice that is different,” was the concluding remark of none other than AR Rahman after Sniti`s soulful recital of `Aye heirat-e Aashiqi...` on ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’ stage.

Being the younger child of the family Sniti was more close to her mother who must have read the leanings of the child. Yet they could do little other than keeping her spirits up. In a family where the rest of the members had other preoccupations, Sniti in her quest for music had felt the terrors of loneliness sometimes. A child who was shy to the hilt, had chosen both the compulsion to live in the fringes of a closed society’s values and prejudices, and also chosen the hazards of falling in love with the music. That was in a place where she had little to hold on to. Yet she stood like a living sentinel in the middle of the road to learning.

For some time she remained incognito in her own world, confined to her little room, and suddenly fate smiled on her, on the day Dr Sahu accepted her as his disciple and started initiating her into the world of classical music.

"When he heard me for the first time, thank God he readily agreed to teach me," remembered Sniti. She had the first taste of music the day her Guru presented her with a dairy full of musical notes. The little nightingale-in-the-making of Bolangir was immensely elated and she had nearly spiralled out of control, consumed by the ecstasy of confidence.

Once a tempestuous love affair with music, Sniti slowly realized the cordial charms of the intricacies. Time passed and often she would silently convulse within with laughter at her past problems, which she had seen as mounting ones but today became forgettable. The shy and extremely introvert individual Sniti could be seen sometimes flitting around alone enjoying the liberation from the servitude of her ignorance. Dr Sahu`s magic made the difference.

Then she came to the capital city of Orissa, Bhubaneswar, where another challenge was waiting for her. The more she learnt, the more she was weighed down by her childhood dreams. She strived to keep them alive. “I had always dreamt of being on the stage of Sa Re Ga Ma Pa,” said Sniti, adding "I did not know how to go there".

She then went for a degree in MBA which claimed a good deal of her time. That came in the way of her `reyaaz ` in the morning. Her frailty made her ponder as to how to divide time between the two tasks. A complete vegetarian, Sniti had occasional bouts of weakness but she kept herself warmed up with other creative time-pass like reading Urdu poems and Net-surfing. She would never submit to any such difficulty as she had already submitted herself to music, and that is what kept her going.

Away from parents and her moorings left behind in the native town, she faced some initial roadblocks during her days in Bhubaneswar. At that time her elder sister Swati Mishra, who had also learnt music, stood as a pole-star for Sniti. She had realized the inner desires of her little sister, her lonely journey along the psychic terrains.

It was a lazy afternoon in late April 2010. While browsing through the newspapers Sniti stumbled upon an ad regarding an audition by the Zee TV for its famous `Sa Re Ga Ma Pa` programme. A girl who had remained intimate with the pain of losing out for few years, the ad suddenly made her ready to fathom the ultimate secrets of melody. Till late night she had to study and before dawn she had to get ready for the `reyaaz`.

She faced the audition on May 20 of last year. Her sister gave her the much needed moral succour and she made it to the final audition at last. “More sayan to hai pardesh mein… kya karun sawan ko (when my sweetheart is away, the monsoon has little meaning for me)” - the flow of Sniti’s voice forced the two judges at the final audition to stand up and clap after the first line only.

That performance made it amply clear that Sniti was like an insect encased in amber and once liberated she can fly faster than a bird, as if her talent was being baked inside the cake pan of eternity. Though a bit nervous during the initial phase of the the competition, she later came out with full-throated ease and went on to share eternity with her mentors.

Noted musicians and other celebs of the country were left enthralled by her voice texture and its originality, its pureness, free from the effects of other voices. Knowing well that the race to the top was being fought tooth and nail by all, Sniti hardly staked off her lot for a reward for her competence. She always came with her number, sang and resigned to her seat without a wrinkle on her face. But her numbers like ‘Aye heirat-e ashiqi...’ left the mentors and Rahman admiring through their eyes.

Either a serious number like `Soor mayi aankhion se...` or ‘Ye hosla kaise jhuke...’ or romantic ones like `In aankhon ki masti ke, mastane hazaron hain...’ or the tough classical numbers like `Laga chunri mein daag...`, Sniti had left the moments for her rivals to envy.

Each episode Sniti dug the foundation for the step ahead and earned her place fair and square, no matter what was the final outcome. Every performance of her had renditions spiced with something of her own. As if she drips her heart’s blood into her singing. The mentors had spoken it in many ways.

Sniti doesn’t like being conspicuous and it was always evident on the stage. She elegantly held back and waited for the mentors to know her.

The programme was a wonderful opportunity for her which she had never wasted. She was knocked out by the SMS voting no doubt but from that evening, as if one of the most melodious note was brutally terminated, she perhaps lived much above the rest in the eyes of the mentors.

She has an irresistible grace in her simplicity and a sense of power of unbounded tenacity as a student of music. What she needs is the right place to be and the opportunity to sing her heart out. She had surely failed to snatch a win from the jaws of the defeat in ‘Sa Re Ga Ma Pa’, but she had undoubtedly rendered many to envy. Can she grow one day to be idolized? It is a challenge before Sniti Mishra.