THEY MADE a maiden foray into a traditionally male-dominated citadel. Joya Biswas, Smita Reddy and Sukanya Ramgopal took up a profession which few women would have liked to experiment with. Despite social and cultural hiccups they moved on with their passion, strumming melodies as prolifically as their male counterparts.
For Sukanya Ramgopal, who hails from Tamil Nadu, playing the Ghatam (clay pot) involves a lot of physical and mental innovation. “ Ghatam is an accompanying instrument for Carnatic music and so is not very popular.
My home was close to my Guruji’s home and that is how I was introduced to this instrument. Initially nobody encouraged me. Even my parents and Guruji Padmashri Vikuji were apprehensive but I had to convince them.”
Acknowledging that Ghatam was a difficult instrument to play for women she said, “ I am keen to teach girls. But unfortunately, there are very few takers, probably because it involves too much of permutation and combination of hand movements. I am the first and the only woman to play Ghatam in the country.”
Smita Reddy, the first woman flutist hails from Ujjain and has an innate desire to play the instrument on an international arena. “I have been blessed with encouraging parents, husband and in-laws. My father, a tabla player, motivated me to learn flute and I have been playing the instrument since 14 years of age.”
Smita met her husband Mahendraji during one of her teaching sessions with her Guru Hari Prasad Chaurasia. “Both of us understand the language of music and our common flute vocabulary has helped us build good communicative skills.”
Observing that playing the flute involved ‘breath synchronisation’ she said,
“This can be attained by practicing Pranayam and daily Riyaz.” At present she is busy with her three-year-old son but says, “When I play flute, I feel very close to God. If any woman comes to learn flute, I will be more than happy to train her.
I am also planning to start classes for women.” oya Biswas, known as the ‘First Lady of Sitar’, had her first brush with the strings of sitar as an eight-year-old. “My parents had never dreamt that I would take up Sitar as a profession. They wanted me to become a lawyer but fate had other plans in store for me.”
Conceding that women discrimination existed in every sphere of activity she said, “When I started my career there was nobody to boost me.
Then I was put under the training of Pandit Ravi Shankar. This was the turning point of my life. My Guruji then persuaded my parents to take up music as a profession.”
Maintaining that women percussionists should be given ‘equal’ opportunity like their men counterparts, Joya said, “Instrumental music is a male dominated terrain. I had to struggle a lot initially. I have been in the profession for last 50 years but it is for the first time that I have been called to perform at Bhopal.” Three women tied with a common thread of musical harmony.
Smita Reddy, Sukanaya Ramgopal and Joya Biswas performed at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya on Thursday.