Priya Purushothaman – Hindustani Vocalist

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Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya

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Photo: Hari Adivarekar

A couple of weeks ago I made a long overdue trip to Kalkeri Sangeet Vidyalaya, a school tucked away about 40 kms from Dharwad, Karnataka. KSV gives children a free education, food, and accommodation with a strong focus on Hindustani classical music as part of the curriculum. Most of the students come from rural parts of Karnataka.

I reached the school at around 6:45 am, and was lured in by the mixed sounds of students singing paltas, playing bansuri, sitar, and harmoniums. Students were dispersed in different corners, doing their morning riyaz. The campus is very simple and completely immersed in nature – atop a small hill, with cottages scattered around for classes as well as student hostels. In the center is one large common area, an open space with a covering where the students gather to eat their daily meals and where the school hosts their monthly programs. In the morning, after the students finish their early riyaz and get ready for the day, they are in their music classes until 1 pm. It was great and unusual to see this entire chunk of time being utilized exclusively for music, and academics for the latter half of the day.

I really shouldn’t have been surprised at the tremendous attention span of these children, but coming from urban-twitter-facebook-internet-dictated attention capacities, I was blown away. During my time at KSV, I conducted a two-day workshop on Nature and Song with a small group of students. Through this theme, we explored the ancient connections between nature and Raagsangeet, and the ways in which nature inspires and informs music to create art that captures the beauty that we are surrounded by but often miss. In each session, of about 3 hours, the students were so focused and involved – not a trace of restlessness or distraction for young adults and teenagers. It was very heartening and said so much about the many advantages of remaining isolated from so much noise that clutters urban lifestyles.

To say that the students are passionate about Raagsangeet would be a huge understatement. For many, it defines who they are and is just an extension of themselves, like a limb. Unawares, many of the children run along singing their heart out or hum while swaying on a  swing. There is a constant musical thought running through their minds. They have a completely unpretentious and sincere respect for their gurus, which isn’t some formal lip service or protocol that they have imbibed. They feel it from deep within, and admire them. For that matter, they admire Hindustani musicians in general, the way many kids nowadays would fawn over Shah Rukh Khan or Justin Bieber. I’d never been to a place where Hindustani music was considered so cool – in so many cities, we find people trying to convince listeners, students and patrons that this art  is worth sustaining. In Kalkeri and Dharwad, it stands very much in the center of the culture. When I performed at KSV, it was the first time I had ever sung for an audience that wasn’t comprised 75% of senior citizens. Seniors were in the minority, and youngsters filled the space.  And they were excited to be there.

Whenever there are concerts in Dharwad, interested students take the bus to Dharwad to attend. While I was there, about 15 of us and a couple of volunteers went to Dharwad to hear Sri Kumar Mardur. The students could not get enough of the music, and even though it was nearing 10 pm and they hadn’t eaten anything since lunch, they had to be forced to leave to catch the last bus back to Kalkeri. They could have sat for longer, engrossed in the music.

I could go on about KSV – the wonderful energy and untouched spirit of the students, the unaffected love for music, the commitment and dedication of students and staff (who keep a school of 200 students running against all odds). I can’t wait to go back sometime soon and work with the students some more – the eagerness with which they learned and  the joyfulness with which they received the knowledge was one of the most fulfilling experiences I have ever had.

For more information about the school, and to make donations, please visit www.ksv.org.in. The school gets many applications for students that they cannot accept because they don’t have enough funds. It is possible to sponsor a child’s education, or to donate for other specific areas as well. Please consider doing so – it has the power to change a child’s entire life and future.

Also, for a touching photo essay about the school by Hari Adivarekar, visit here.

A picture from the performance, courtesy Prashant Harogeri.

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