New Delhi, April 05: Vivacious and young, Meeta Pandit is quite a contrast to the typical image of an Indian classical singer. This scion of the Gwalior gharana knows what she wants to do - take classical music to the young generation.
“There have been times when I have been told to wear make-up and look older in order to fit into the image of a classical singer. This so-called typical image of a classical singer is precisely what I have been trying to break in order to reach out to the youth,” Meeta told reporters during a chat at her south Delhi home.
“Why does a classical singer have to look old, wear a big bindi on her forehead and always be adorned in a silk sari? My music speaks for me, nothing else. Such stereotypes have to be broken so that the youth identify with Indian tradition and culture,” the 30-something singer said.
Granddaughter and disciple of Padma Bhushan Krishna Rao Shankar Pandit and daughter of the legendary singer Pandit LK Pandit, music is much more than just a passion for Meeta. She has recently been awarded the Ustad Bismillah Khan award.
“I am a Maharashtrian, belonging to Gwalior, though born and brought up in Delhi. But I can’t identify with anything or any place more than music. I have been learning music since I was three…we were and are still a household which eats, drinks and breathes music,” she said.
An expert of such genres of music as tappa, bhajan, thumri and sufi, she admits that unlike others she has never led a “normal” childhood.
“As long as I can remember, our home used to always buzz with conversations on classical music. During the day, my father’s ’shaagirds’ (disciples) used to come and in the evenings, his friends - all singers and musicians - used to fill the house.
“In contrast to such an ambience, the outside world used to seem so different. And because I used to have my ‘taalim’ (lessons) in music during my free time, I never had the opportunity to mix with other kids my age or go for movies or shopping…and basically do what others used to do,” she said.
“It used to be depressing, but I am not complaining!” Meeta laughed.
Although her first public performance was at the age of nine in Bhopal, it was after a concert in Varanasi when her father decided that she was ready for the world of music.
“I was 15 when my performance at a concert in Varanasi got a huge response. Until then, my father always felt I should take up a profession that gives me stability in life. You see, music is not an easy field to follow; it’s very unpredictable
“But after that, he felt that probably I was ready for the world of music,” she said.
Her life took a turn when her elder brother Tushhar died at the age of 27.
“Tushhar had it in him to carry forward the family’s legacy. He was very talented and was doing his PhD in Hindustani classical music when he met with a fatal accident. That suddenly changed the course of our lives.
“Not very sure if I would like to take up music full time, I was until then doing my graduation in commerce from the Lady Shri Ram College and preparing for an MBA. But after that I changed my mind. I did my masters in music and then completed Tushhar’s Phd, all by the age of 27,” Meeta said.
Since then there has been no stopping her. After winning national awards like “The Golden Voice of India”, “Sur-Mani”, “Yuva Ojaswini” and “Yuva Ratna”, she was conferred upon the Ustad Bismillah Khan award in March this year.
She also conducts music workshops in France twice a year, besides teaching a host of disciples at home.
"My aim now is to reach out to the masses, the youth especially, with classical music. As a part of the effort, I do a programme, ‘Swar Shringar’, a music appreciation series, on WorldSpace radio.
“I also used to do a breakfast show on DD1 in which I used to pick out old melodies of Hindi movies and sing the ragas that those songs used to be based on. Both these initiatives have been received well by people,” she said.
“We have to understand that with changing times, we have to evolve. By restricting ourselves to a stereotypical image, we are alienating ourselves from the youth who don’t identify themselves with Hindustani classical music,” Meeta added.
Married for just a month to a man who is not a musician, Meeta is still getting used to the fact that she has tied the knot.
“I was performing two days before my marriage, a week after that and more or less continuously ever since. I am still getting used to the fact that I am married! What if I were not a singer? I would have been a very dull person!” Meeta laughed.