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Staying in tune

Pregnancy and the sarod do not go together. However, Sharan Rani, the first woman sarod player, chose to violate the norm, writes Kumkum Chadha.

india Updated: Sep 07, 2007 00:19 IST
So familiar | Kumkum Chadha

Pregnancy and the sarod do not go together. However, Sharan Rani, the first woman sarod player, chose to violate the norm. In the process she suffered three miscarriages. In advanced stages of pregnancy, she not only lifted the bulky instrument but also practising for hours at a stretch causing medical emergencies.

Sarod being the only instrument that demands it be pressed to the stomach for the right notes to flow, always poses a challenge for women. Contrast this to playing the sitar, which is placed away from the body, or the violin which rests on the arm. But Sharan Rani did not believe in the easy way out. This is substantiated by the 78-year-old. She vowed to remain unmarried for the sake of her “one and only love” — sarod. And when she finally said, “I do” to businessman Sultan Singh Backliwal, there was stiff resistance from both families. Hers because he was not from their community and his because “ladki naachti, gaati hai”. But the ‘ladki’ like the ‘ladka’ were adamant, so betrothed they were. Once again, sarod played the spoiler when their honeymoon was cut short after the government summoned her to go to Nepal to perform.

Sarod also mellowed her passion for jewellery and saris. Bangles jingled and rings distorted the music. Colourful saris were a distraction on stage. Despite her fondness for ornaments and clothes, Sharan Rani wore chaste white and floral jewellery during performances, a rule she follows to date. As her training in sarod advanced, into the cupboard went her finery where they have remained ever since.

As a child, she often created a stir when she wore her father’s achkan to school. A rebel, she formed an all-girl band to protest against the taboo of girls performing in public. Her initial training in sarod was on ‘auto’-mode. The five-year-old Sharan Rani discovered the sarod lying in a remote corner of their house in the walled city. Intrigued, she ran her fingers on it. The sound mesmerised her and she declared, “This will be my companion for life.”

As a child, Sharan Rani abhorred nicknames. Consequently she never had one nor gave one to her only child, Radhika. But when it came to a pseudonym, she welcomed it. In her prime as a musician, people started referring to her as ‘Sarod Rani’. She concluded that she had finally arrived. Today, she tells you how she has lost her real name to the one the stage bestowed on her.

Once, tabla maestro Kishan Maharaj dangled a rifle at an impatient audience threatening to shoot if they dared to disturb him. And her "ignorant audience", recalls Sharan, often praised her brilliant “sitar” performance.