Sajan Sankaran and Ankita Athawale break a lot of conventional beliefs. While one is a BTech degree-holder from IIT-Bombay, the other is an engineer from Pune, who later pursued an MBA from HEC Paris. Together they are harnessing the power of the internet for an initiative of a different kind. The Dhrupad singers are giving online lessons on the principles and intricacies of the style of Hindustani classical music that is believed to be the oldest one to have survived until today in its original form. The response to the online workshop is yet evidence that the future of Dhrupad is safe, believe the duo.
“Life took me to software programming, business school, theatre and management. All the while, I secretly harboured a desire to learn music,” says 37-year-old Athawale. She remembers how her teachers in engineering college discouraged her from learning classical music because it was “so late in life”. Sankaran too was introduced to Indian classical music at the age of 20 when he attended some concerts in Mumbai. “The first time I heard Dhrupad, I was awestruck at the depth of its impact on me,” says the 28-year-old musician. “The desire to learn was immediate, though I never imagined pursuing a full-time study in it,” adds Sankaran, who was in his final year at IIT then.
Both Sankaran and Athawale wrote to the Gundecha Brothers, asking them if they would teach them the intricacies of Dhrupad. Surprisingly, the duo immediately got a positive response. Sankaran says, “I was pleasantly surprised when I got a reply from Pt Ramakant Gundecha, saying I was welcome to their Gurukul.” A month later, he got an email saying that the musicians were visiting Mumbai for a concert, and asking whether he could meet them. “I was surprised that the maestros remembered me. I knew then that this was to be my path,” he adds.
Sankaran’s family was far from convinced. “We come from a middle class background, and after getting into IIT, my career was supposed to be ‘set’,” reveals Sankaran, who lives in Bengaluru when he is not training at the Dhrupad centre in Bhopal. He got mixed reactions from his peers too. “Many of them commended my courage, while others advised me to learn music only as a hobby,” he adds. Similar conflicting thoughts bothered Athawale too, who took a break from work for a year, to pursue music.
Athawale, who divides her time between Hyderabad and Bhopal, does sometimes wonder about where she would have been if she had taken the route of her contemporaries. “There are things that I miss—the opportunity to travel the world, the camaraderie with colleagues, creating something tangible, and the pay cheque, of course!” she says, adding, “But what I find in and through the music is so rewarding that I don’t think of it as a bargain. This feels like the only choice I could have made.”
Seven years into the vocation, Sankaran has no qualms. “I knew before getting into this, that this path would not be as lucrative. We need a lot of patience and dedicated practice to build ourselves. The standards are unreasonably high. While the moments of frustration do come, they also go,” he says candidly. What also remains undiluted is the value he attaches to his years at the IIT, which, he says, helped him grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.
The duo are giving online lessons on Dhrupad that is the oldest Hindustani classical music to have survived until today in its original form