Indian musicians hail their greatest teachers
On Teacher’s Day, leading names from the world of music in India, including Sonu Nigam, Shaan, Salim Merchant, Pankaj Udhas, Kailash Kher, Akriti Kakar, Kavita Seth and Shekhar Ravjiani, remember their gurus
From personal experiences or a project to music teachers and parents, several people or situations can be a source of learning. The same goes for our country’s celebrated musicians, too. Ahead of Teacher’s Day (September 5), a few leading Indian musicians reminisce about their gurus or what’s been their greatest source of learning over the years.
‘My guru resides in me’
I have had a long professional journey, 44 years to be precise. So you can imagine how many people must have touched my life as teachers besides my parents. Over the years, I have come to a stunning realization -- my guru resides in me. That is why I always say when the student dies, the master dies, too. So, as I go through every moment of my life, generally very aware, I have started looking at everyone who appears in my day-to-day life, like a teacher.
‘Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan saab is my greatest teacher’
My guruji Ustad Ghulam Mustafa Khan saab is my greatest influence and teacher. I was already an established playback/indi-pop singer when I became his student. But over the years, thanks to the music discipline that he instilled in me, I could sustain my voice and stay committed to my music. My only regret is I didn’t approach my guruji earlier in my life.
‘Chak De! India taught me to never give up’
I’ve learnt from a lot of people, but my experience with my gurus Ustad Sultan Khan saab and Ustad Zakir Hussain has been phenomenal. Apart from learning music, I’ve learnt to be a certain kind of human being from them and that learning is priceless. Also, doing the music of Chak De! India (2007) was a massive learning experience for me. It was extremely challenging and we almost gave up. But it taught me to face the challenges and never give up.
‘Radio was like a guru for me’
As a kid, I saw my father, an ardent music lover, play an instrument called the dilruba and he always wanted his children to train in music. He was my first teacher. My mom was an amazing singer and she was also a huge influence. While growing up, radio was our only source of entertainment and it was like a guru for me. I fell in love with Lata (Mangeshkar) ji, (Mohd.) Rafi saab and Mukesh ji’s voices and they became my teachers. Till date, Lata ji remains my greatest guru. I imbibed so many qualities of her singing. I also considered Begum Akhtar and Mehdi Hassan saab my gurus, as they inspired me to sing ghazals.
‘This is life, our biggest, strictest teacher’
For me, life has been my biggest teacher. The only thing that remains constant in life is change and I have learnt to embrace it fully. There have been so many ups and downs in my career and personal life. But learning to flow, be in the present moment and acknowledge the lesson that experience wants to teach me is what keeps me going. The pandemic took away what I, as an artiste, loved the most -- live concerts! But we adapted to the digital world and are finding new ways to reach our music lovers. This is life, our biggest, strictest teacher.
‘I continue to learn every day that I teach’
My teachers have changed over the years along with my evolution as a musician. It began with my parents, as they saw that spark in me and found the right people to ignite it; my gurus, who built a strong foundation for me; my family that keeps me grounded and the students at my music school, from whom I continue to learn every day that I teach. But life, to me, has been the greatest teacher of all. The failures, hardships, disappointments, doubts and fears -- I have learnt more from all of these than all my successes put together.
‘My guru wanted me to be a playback singer’
My greatest teacher has been my first guruji Byomkesh Banerjee in Delhi. He taught me basics of classical music, a varied mix of Rabindra Sangeet, dhrupad, khayal gayaki, nazms, bhajans and ghazals. We even studied expression and diction for classic Bollywood songs. He always wanted me to be a playback singer. He would maintain a notebook; write the notation himself of every raga bandish/bhajan or any piece of music that I learnt from him. Those diaries are closest to my heart.
‘God has taught me so many things’
My first teachers were my parents. In my 15 years of music career, God has taught me so many things and I consider my life his miracle. Every challenge or failure has taught me something. I believe each project that I have worked on has taught me something new. Each song -- from writing and composing to singing -- is a learning experience for me and my band Kailasa. Everything that we now make for the PMO and Niti Aayog under our production house becomes learning. My music encourages me to stay honest to my work and live life simply.