When Shalini Mohan performs with Lagori, the Bengaluru-based folk rock fusion band, or Allegro Fudge on stage, she usually keeps the audience hooked on with her meditative postures.
The slightly upturned boyish face, the hint of a smile, the petite frame holding the bass guitar like her life depends on it, a tattoo covering her left arm, a leg going up in rhythm and balance from time to time, she stands there playing the bass and breaking multiple stereotypes.
She’s one of the very few women bassists in the country, and not one who remains hidden behind more colourful vocalists, or the main members of the band. A skilled software engineer, she left her high-profile job with software product-based company SAP Lab to venture into music as her life’s journey, something that provides her daily bread, spiritual growth and a sense of fulfilment.
“I had planned this beforehand by learning and making myself better at what I did, and fortunately it has been a smooth journey till now,” says Shalini, who doesn’t regret quitting her job at all. “I learned from people, from sessions on YouTube, I practiced hard, and I collaborated with established names while I worked at SAP Labs.”
An animal welfare activist, a sketch artist and a Sudoku addict, Shalini didn’t know, until she read it on Wikipedia, that she is the grand niece of celebrated flautist T R Mahalingam, who founded the contemporary style of playing the flute in Carnatic music. “It made sense and I understood why I was so drawn to music. Music was always there throughout my life. I used to play the piano and sing in the church choir. And I was looking at doing something to bring music in my life in a big way,” she says.
“It struck me that there is no tomorrow. I saw that I had a bit of savings to hang on to, I had my contacts and I have made a start. I knew it was time and quit.” She believes that with advancements in technology and evolution of social media and Internet, chasing one’s dreams in arts, music or in the unusual choices are not that difficult anymore.
Becoming a bassist was an accident for her. “Just after finishing my engineering, there was a programme on the campus and the band realised that the bassist hadn’t showed up,” she says. Shalini was handed a bass guitar, given a few instructions, and placed on stage. “I loved the sound of the instrument and discovered that whenever I heard a song or liked a music earlier, without knowing, I would always hum the bass note of it. That’s probably how you find your calling,” she says. “I started taking music seriously. My roots are deep in Western music. Even though the foundation is so different, it is essentially the same. I am sure, at some point, I will take up my uncle’s music and imbibe it in mine.” Her preferred bass guitar is a five-stringed Warwick.
Shalini has proved herself as a person of talent and has collaborated with important names. She had an enriching experience of life and music working on the Shah Hussein project in collaboration with Vasundhara Das. She remembers her journey from that project. “I was playing Bollywood music at that time and got to know her well. She had plans to do something in Sufi music, and the project was collaboration with the great Rajasthani musician Mukhtiyar Ali. It was a brilliant experience.”
Later, Shalini worked with artistes Nirali Kartik and Kartik Shah, who brought together Maatibaani, an online project to highlight women musicians from across the country.
Shalini is now focused on her project, The Ginny and the Bottle, where she sings and plays the bass. “Singing has been very important in my life and I want to reach some place with it,” she says.
She’s single and independent, financially and otherwise, living in her own home in Bengaluru, with four dogs that have been rescued from various parts of the city, and she’s living a life she wants.