Subhadra Desai is a contemplative artiste of Hindustani classical vocal music whose music is characterised by a graceful voice and meditative timbre. Deeply inspired by the vision of Pt. Kumar Gandharva, she sets for herself a high ideal of perfection that is complemented by a commitment to purity of purpose and form imbibed from her guru, Pt. Madhup Mudgal. Subhadra was initiated to music at an early age by Pt. Vinay Chandra Maudgalya and Smt Padma Devi at Gandharva Mahavidyalaya, New Delhi and graduated to Sangeet Visharad. She received the Sahitya Kala Parishad scholarship in 1990. As a post-graduate of Sanskrit, Subhadra draws close to the well-springs of Indian tradition and invests her rendering of devotional music with a tangible intensity that moves her listeners. Her ability to assimilate creatively her academic and musical training is also evidenced in her lecture-demonstrations to audiences. Subhadra has performed at prestigious national festivals and other fora, notable among which are Pt. Vishnu Digamber Jayanti, HCL Concert Series, Swaralaya, Teen Murti House in New Delhi, Uttradhikar-Bharat Bhawan, etc. She is an empanelled artiste with the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, Government of India and is a regular performer on All India Radio and Doordarshan. Her awards include a gold medal for outstanding achievement at the Korea Spring Festival in 1999. She is the first recipient of the prestigious Mani Mann Fellowship for Hindustani classical vocal music (2005), under the aegis of Sanskriti Pratisthan, New Delhi. At present Subhadra continues to receive guidance under Pt. Madhup Mudgal to achieve greater rigour and a finer artistic insight into her music. She has completed her doctoral research on the musical heritage of the Valmiki Ramayana.
In an exclusive interview to Organiser she gives her observations on life, music and her hopes and aspirations.
At what age did you start singing?
I started at the age of five.
Did you encounter any opposition to your singing or was it encouraged by your parents?
My parents encouraged and nurtured my talent and pursuit of learning music. Later my husband supported me in pursuing classical music professionally.
How far have you been educated? Has training in vocal music ever proved an impediment to your studies?
I have completed my Ph.D in Sanskrit. Indian classical music has never been an impediment to study Sanskrit; rather, they have complemented each other. My understanding of Sanskrit enriches my appreciation of Indian music because Indian culture, as any other culture, is a composite whole and not a collection of fragmentary parts.
How many hours do you devote to riyaz (practice)?
For every musician, most of the waking hours are devoted to music in various ways such as practicing, learning, teaching, listening, assimilating thought processes and giving performances. It is the same in my case.
Has keeping aside time for daily riyaz affected your social or marital life?
I meet my close friends once in a while but do not like to socialise much. With my spouse, I feel completely secure. In fact, he would like me to devote even more time to my music.
Don'tyou ever feel like eating sour or spicy food, which is supposed to be harmful for the throat?
I love spicy food but abstain from it prior to a performance.
Does the presence of a crowd help you to perform better?
To me, it does not matter if there is only one listener or a large crowd; the only thing on my mind when on stage is the raag, which I am going to present. At that point of time nothing else matters. At this stage I am not really affected by stage fright.
You must have been praised during your recitals. What have been the most memorable moment for you?
Praise and criticism are part and parcel of an artiste'slife. I don'tthink they should be taken too seriously. However, one of the great moments that I cherish is when my guru gave a nod of appreciation after one of my recitals. Nothing else can match that. Appreciation from Smt Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, and from erudite scholar, thinker and MP, Dr Karan Singh, also made me feel extremely humble.
Whose singing style has inspired you the most and maybe made you emulate him or her?
I am greatly inspired by Pandit Kumar Gandharva. I have always tried to comprehend the underlying essence of his music, but never tried to emulate it.
Has there been any change in your choice of your ideal singer over the years?
Would you like your daughter (if you have one) to take to singing or do you find it futile?
I have a son and would like him to grow up in a happy and healthy atmosphere and develop and pursue his own aspirations. However, my husband and I would always be there to guide him. It would have been same if I had a daughter.
Do you sing semi-classical songs or classical only?
I specialise in khayal and bhajan. I also have thumri in my repertoire but seldom perform it.
Do you like listening to light music and have you ever tried singing ghazal and khayal?
I do not like listening to present-day film music, modern ghazals, Indian pop music and the so called fusion bands. However, I love old film songs of Lataji, Kishore Kumar and Manna Dey, and Ghazals sung by Begum Akhtar. No, I do not sing ghazal.
What gives you strength in times of adversity?
Faith in God and confidence in my inner strength.
Which is your favourite raag and why? Has it ever happened that you have felt off-mood before a recital?
Some of my favourite raag are Bhoop, Shree, Marwa, etc. The innate and sombre emotion of these raag deeply move me.
Before each recital I try to focus on my chosen raag, which leaves no scope for mood swings.
Many classical singers scoff at semi-classical music derisively. Do you also feel so?
It all depends on a person'sown choice/liking/preference.
I might not like certain styles of music prevalent today, but would not ?scoff? at any of them. My ears and heart are open to all kinds of music but what I essentially look for in music are melody, purity, and tangibility.
It is very unfortunate that there is a lot of noise in the name of music in today'sworld.
Do you feel a sense of fulfilment at this stage of your life or do you want to achieve still more?
It is too early to comment on that. In Indian classical music, it takes a lifetime or even more to attain real fulfilment and thus a real sense of achievement.
What kind of emotions you experience when singing classical music?
While singing, I am completely focused on my music?the raag and its swara.
Do you feel that classical music is getting affected by Western influence?
Fortunately, our classical music is too vast and deep to be really ?affected? by any influence. However, I have certain reservations on the use of classical raag in so-called-fusion music.
Would you like the present generation of young women to take to music and the arts?
Women of the present generation are mature enough to decide whether they want to take up classical music as a profession. It is one'spersonal choice.
I would only like to point out that it requires a great amount of dedication or perseverance and tenacity in addition to good talent and a sound musical upbringing in order to pursue classical music as a profession. Also, the amount of hard work one puts in is not always proportional to the end result.