Finding Harmony in Music - Life of a Student

"Ma'am, I'm getting confused with this composition," - is what I tell my teacher... but will she see through me as she always seems to do? I have put a timetable as she told me to... and I strike out everything I've done according to the time-table, as she advised me - except one - violin practice... I really do want to practice, and I can't explain how fulfilling it feels when she sees that I've practiced and she heaps praise on me... but I can't seem to get over that little bit of laziness to take out my violin, set the tanpura, put the mat to sit on and all that - it just feels like so much work! It's so much easier to sink into the couch and watch TV!

As my thoughts wander off to my favorite TV program, I hear her asking me, "How many of you in your (school) class play the violin? – or, for that matter, the flute or the veena?" I tell her that I don't know of anyone else who does. She asks how many play the guitar or keyboard. I tell her that almost everyone else in my class plays either or both. She asked further how many students in my school play any Indian instrument. I told her there could be 4 or 5 others, but I was unsure. And then she asked me how many students there are in my school! - I groaned because I really hate math! - she asked how many students there were in my class and how many sections there were in each class, and within no time, she had calculated that there should be around 1000 students. I'm still figuring out the math behind her calculation - this teacher is really a whiz! - but now she came to the part that hit home that day... My teacher told me, "Do you realize how unique you are? In your 8th Standard of 110 students, you are the only one who plays the violin. In your school of around 1000 students, you are among just 5 or 6 students who play Indian instruments. Doesn't that make you absolutely unique? You are playing something so different and learning it only because you want to learn. No one forced you - on the contrary, you literally forced your parents to put you in violin class..." Something was starting to burn within me. Her next statement was to tell me to write the following, next to my violin practice in my timetable - I am so unique; I play an instrument, and that too, one that so few people play!

As usual, I completely forgot all this when I got into the car to go home, when my brother started talking about what happened in his tuition class that day.

But the next day, when I was at school, something clicked. That fire that had started burning in violin class the evening before was rekindling. I don't know how I got through the day at school.

I went home a changed kid. As soon as I got home, Mom asked what had gotten into me because even before I sat to have my snack - I'm usually ravenous by the time I get home from school - I was climbing up on my table to add those words to my timetable. I clearly remember that I just gulped down my milk and snack and shot off to grab my violin and sit to practice, literally like one possessed! I didn't even do my homework and narrowly escaped a severe admonition the next day!

The next morning, I was up half an hour earlier than anyone else at home. Much to everyone's surprise, I woke up to my alarm and practiced for half an hour before getting ready for school. This happened the next day, and the next, and the next... There was no turning back. Every morning, I would wake up just before my alarm rang, and I would spring up to brush my teeth and sit to practice!

When I reflect on how my classes took a turn after that day, I am so thankful that my teacher, who could have scolded me or rapped me on my knuckles, instead chose to guide me in such a different way. Her words have always echoed in my ears ever since then. Gradually, my practice time grew from half an hour to an hour in the mornings - much to the chagrin of my family as they had to put up with me playing the exact phrase over and over until I was somewhat satisfied, which could happen in a day, or may take a month or more! My favorite TV channels changed to YouTube violinists' and other classical musicians' channels. And I looked forward so much to the days I didn't have homework and to holidays when I could spend hours together doing my practice. My brother tried his best to dissuade me from carrying my violin on our family holidays, but I was adamant - my violin comes along, or I stay home with it, and they go! - there was no choice then!

How vividly do I remember that time after all these years? I do wish I could go back” to those carefree days. My violin has been my constant companion ever since. It has won me many a competition. It has led me to wonderful friendships. It has seen me through my tough hostel days. And it has been there when things were going smoothly. At my loneliest, most homesick, and trying times, it has been my solace - and much more! - my violin always cheers me up, even if the Raag I am playing is serious, simply because the music tugs at my heartstrings and gets me out of any dull or sad mood I may be in.

At this point in time, I'm utterly confused. My parents have given me the go-ahead to pursue this passion of mine, leaving aside my degree in Environmental Science. My teacher once quoted the words of a great musician, “Not every good musician achieves fame and fortune.” My music bandmates keep advising me that today's rude world may not be a place for someone timid like me. I admit to my naiveté that I’m not sure whether they are saying this just because they don’t want me to leave their band – but I want to explore the depths of classical music, not just play film songs and jam as we do in the band. When I watch musicians play, they are just so engrossed in what they are playing; at the same time, they still connect with their audience – I dream of doing the same. I would like to teach, too, and I hope to make a difference in someone's life, as my teacher did. But she still tells me that I should perform as well since it will keep my level of playing “up there” where it should be. But the 20-year-old in me also wants to go out there, join the rat race, and work - after all, I've spent so much time and effort towards this degree. My seniors tell me that once I start working, the corporate world today will not allow me to do anything except work and work. All people seem to do these days is work the whole week, party, and sleep the whole weekend. That definitely is not what I want to do! – Oh well… I guess the path will show itself to me when I’m done with my course. All I know now is that the true love of my life right now is my violin – and it will always be my best friend!

Smt Laavanya K Kharat is a Hindustani Violinist & Violin Teacher at Shivanjali's Temple of Fine Arts Coimbatore. Laavanya had her initial violin training in the Western classical style, but has been training in, performing and teaching Hindustani Shastriya Sangeet (classical music) on the violin, for the last 14 years. She's a student of violin maestro Padmabhushan Smt Dr N Rajam, and learns vocal music from Shri Kedar Kharat, Hindustani vocal teacher at Shivanjali. Laavanya holds a degree in Psychology and English Literature, and writing is one of her many hobbies.