Male chauvinism, gender stereotypes and struggles to balance home and passion for music are some of the major challenges identified on Thursday by leading Indian artistes in classical music from India, Britain and the US, shedding rare light on their path to fame.
The unique symposium on ‘Women in Music’ at the Nehru Centre brought together performers such as Meeta Pandit (Gwalior gharana vocalist), Swati Natekar (vocalist), Jyotsna Srikanth (violin), Priti Paintal (western classical piano) and Manju Mehta (sitar).
Hailing from music families with prominent siblings (Pandit Ajay Pohankar, brother of Natekar; Pandit Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, brother of Mehta) or generations of male exponents (such as Meeta Pandit, the sixth generation of the legendary Pandit family of Gwalior gharana), each of the eight performers narrated their struggles and the support they received from families.
“I lived in a joint family of 25 members and had to practice on the terrace early in the mornings. The family always came first; we have to sacrifice for children. The atmosphere was not always favourable for women in Rajasthan”, Mehta told the audience.
Organised in collaboration with leading arts organisation Sama, the event featured Indian and Indian-origin artistes who have been performing at various London venues as part of the organisation’s ‘Women in Music Festival’.
Natekar, Srikanth and Supriya Nagarajan (vocal) narrated their experience of moving from India after their husbands got jobs in England, while Paintal (of Delhi origin), recalled how race and class continues to affect non-white and women performers in Britain.
Srikanth said: “There is lot of gender bias in music in south India. Men do not want to share the stage with women who accompany on violin or mridang or tanpura. They think it is below their dignity to perform with women”.
A former banker, Nagarajan said she did not regret giving up her profession to focus on her passion for music, and recalled balancing family commitments and mentioned work on her latest international project focussing on lullabies.
London-based arts promoter Suman Bhuchar told Hindustan Times: “I found this symposium really interesting listening to the stories of how these amazingly talented Asian women made their mark in music and dance. As women they always had to juggle family and their own career desires”.
The artistes included Krishna Chakrabarty (vocal), Preetha Narayan (violinist), Nahid Siddiqui (dance), Deepa Nair Rasiya (vocal).