By: VIKAS DOGRA
He is all of 21 and making waves in music circles across the country. And for the record it’s not the la-Indian Idol kind of waves, it’s the applaud he is receiving from the serious most Indian classical music fraternity. This young Himachali is Shimla based sitar player Gagandeep Hothi.
Gagandeep has been strumming the strings of sitar for the last 17 years. He was initiated at the age of four into playing sitar by his father R K Singh, himself an accomplished sitar player. After the initial toddling, the young lad has been “searching for his soul and an individual identity” with sitar under the tutelage of world-renowned sitarists Pt. Budhaditya Mukherjee and his father Pt. Bimlendu Mukherjee both exponents of the Imdadkhani Gharana.
His favourite vocalists include Ustaad Aamir Khan, Pt. Bhimsen Joshi and Ustaad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan. In his soft spoken manner he talks of the rich heritage of the legendary Ustaad Vilayat Khan in ang gayaki, and hopes he would be able to evolve his own style one day. He has been experimenting with the teen taal for which he claims the inspiration is the rich heritage of Himachali folk. “Music flows from nature, and there is no better school than the lap of Himalayas to inspire creativity,” says Hothi.
At the age of 10, Hothi was awarded the prestigious National Scholarship by the Ministry of Culture, Government of India, for sitarwadan. Gagandeep stood first for three consecutive years in the competition (junior section) organised at the prestigious Harballabh Sangeet Sammelan held in Jallandhar. At the age of 12, he created history by wining even the seniors’ event. As the winner of the senior competition, he was invited to perform the following year along with other renowned artists. He won applause and appreciation from the connoisseurs, the media and eminent musicians. Since then he has been performing almost all across the country – in Himachal, Chandigarh, Punjab, Jammu, Haryana, Delhi besides Ahmedabad, Kolkata and Mumbai.
What impresses most is the contrast he sets with others of his age. I am not talking about his Reeboks and denims. It’s when he starts talking, you know he is confident and surefooted, yet humble and down-to-earth. Imagine a young turk looking you in the eye and saying – It’s not the money, I play for the love of music. I want to get the audience back to this rich heritage… the tough way, not the pop-remix route. He either ought to be a master bluffer or be it. My guess is, he is the second variety – he is it.
Presently Hothi is doing his MA in music from Himachal Pradesh University, Shimla. He was second in the state in BA (final-year) exams of the university last year – this despite a rigorous six-hour a day practice regime. Of course, for fear of hurting his fingers, he avoids all sports. But he has no regrets. Rather it fills his heart with content he claims, “We live until our breath is constant, we play (or sing) until we practice (riyaaz) regularly.”