Friday, December 23, 2005

Pulling the right strings

Permission to reprint or copy this article must be obtained from The Hindustan Times

Rahul Sharma is the poster boy of the santoor

Shevlin Sebastian\Mumbai

When Rahul Sharma was in his twenties, he was struck by a sense of meaninglessness. He felt that life was maya (illusion), nothing made sense and so he went to find solace in the Osho ashram at Pune. “In fact, I wanted to leave everything behind and go and meditate in the Himalayas,” he says. But thankfully, for world music, his father, the famed santoor maestro, Shiv Kumar Sharma, told him he was being escapist. “My father said I was here for a mission and I must fulfil it,” he says.
And fulfil it he has. In the past nine years, this 32-year-old has brought out an incredible 28 albums, collaborating with such well-known musicians like Richard Clayderman and Peter Gabriel’s Real World label. He is now all set to take part in the Festival of India, a joint cultural programme by the Indian and Russian government, at the end of September in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Sitting in his neatly furnished office on Pali Hill, Rahul looks handsome with his long locks, broad forehead, sharp nose and pink complexion. Clearly, he is the new sex symbol in classical music. When I ask him, whether women are attracted to him, his face turns an apple red and he breaks out into an embarrassed laughter. Finally, he says, “Women appreciate talent in any field. They think you have something extraordinary. Painters, musicians, poets and writers—they exude a persona which is attractive.” Throughout this explanation, the redness remains and it makes him looks like a kid.
Rahul came to music only at the age of 13, unlike the children of other famed musicians. “My father never forced me to learn and my mother was not keen that I become a musician since my father had a hard struggle before he made his name,” says Rahul. But while studying in Scottish Church school, he used to take part in the choir and when he returned home he would play the same tunes on the keyboard or the harmonium. When his father saw that the inclination was there, he introduced the santoor to Rahul. When your father is your guru, the relationship can become complex. “My father is an extremely soft person,” he says. “He rarely scolded me but I would resent the long absences. Sometimes, he would be gone for four months or so. The credit goes to my mother, who brought up my elder brother [a senior entertainment executive] and me in a grounded manner. Of course, when I grew up and understood my father’s life all resentments vanished.”
Today, Rahul travels ten months of the year, performing in India and abroad and, so far, he has travelled to 40 countries. At the end of the month, he is going to Berne and Geneva and following that he is off to Moscow and St. Petersburg.
To be successful, apart from stage presence, you need to move into a high zone of concentration. What helps is the right ambience, the proper lighting, and a perfect sound system. “If it is a packed audience, I also feel inspired,” he says. “I remember playing at night in front of the Sphinx in Egypt, before 3000 people and the feeling was incredible: is this really happening? When you reach the zone, you become a medium for the music. Sometimes, you are surprised at what you have played and you wonder how you have done it.” However, the human being that he is, he is irritated by the ringing of the mobile phone or of people coughing. “If one person starts coughing, soon, there is a chain reaction,” he says, with an exasperated shake of his head.
Meanwhile, cough or no cough, the albums are coming out, in a relentless flow. Upcoming albums include one called White. “The colour white is beautiful,” he says. “Snowfall is white, Christmas is white, a mother’s milk is white.” He is also bringing out an album called Samundar (Ocean), on time travel and Maya. “So what are your future goals,” I ask.“I want to make a name for myself and create a fan following. When people go to a music store, they should ask for a Rahul Sharma album.” “But isn’t that a maya goal?” “It is a maya goal but I am not caught up in the maya.” “Isn’t that a contradiction? I mean, you are bringing out an album saying everything is maya.”
“Life is a paradox,” he replies, with a smile.

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