At the conclusion of Hindi intensive course, us students returned to Delhi to begin our formal coursework and move into our respective flats. I shared a large flat on the first floor in north Delhi’s Model Town with five other students. Since I was attending one of the largest universities I personally had ever seen, I figured that the logical way to pursue my goal of acquiring and learning the Indian slide guitar was to search out the music department, the faculty of music as it’s known at Delhi University (DU), and ask for a teacher there.
So I set out on a late morning in July 2007 with one friend to find the faculty of music. My friend wanted to begin studying the Tabla, a popular Indian percussion instrument. The temperature was 108 degrees Farenheit with 100% humidity that day. We knew because DU keeps an electronic board near the entrance reporting on temperature, humidity and air pollution parts per million. Problem was, like so many large institutions, nobody in one department knew where any other department’s location was. So, no one in the History department could direct us to the Music Faculty or any other department other than their immediate neighbors for that matter. The campus is sprawling and wide interior lanes exit off into courtyards with classroom buildings and also forested parks. So we wandered from courtyard to lane, to lecture hall to library asking everyone we met where the music faculty might be.
A couple hours later, exhausted and dripping with sweat I finally asked the guard standing in front of gate with a garden and auditorium behind, “Do you know where is the music faculty? Music faculty kahan hai?” He jerked his thumb backwards, indicating that we were standing in front of that very entrance.
Triumphantly, I walked through the entrance of the main building and right up to a reception desk, confident that all of my hard work searching and struggling through the heat would shortly be rewarded. I announced at the desk,
“I’m want to learn the Indian slide guitar.”
The receptionist shook her head dismissively, saying, “No, sorry. Here we teach sitar, vocal and tabla. Mostly these instruments. I can’t help you.”
At that moment my heart sank and I turned away from the desk, my heart sinking. Just I was in my mind giving up, a wild haired middle-aged man in a traditional kurta-pyjama came striding down the hallway. In a deep voice, he called out as if on cue, “I am Pandit Subhash Nirwan, greatest tabla player in the world, I will help you!”
In shock, I stuttered for a moment before recalling some my Hindi lessons for a correct response.
“Oh, shabash, sir…Good job,” I responded. ***
My friend and I were both stunned by this vibrant and powerful figure and within moments of our introductions, he had invited both of us to his home where he would give my friend her first tabla lesson and introduce me to his son, who had performed with an Indian slide guitarist some time back and could probably be of help. We found ourselves piling into an SUV driven by one of Pt. Subhash Nirwan’s students; they all called him Guruji.
At his home, Guruji and I played some music together and he explained that he would have me meet his son, Suraj, who could bring to the Indian slide guitarist Dr. Ranjan Kumar; someone Guruji respected as a great musician and who would be a suitable teacher for me. That fateful day marked the beginning of my profound journey of studying and performing Indian music on the Indian slide guitar. Since then, I have been traveling to Delhi to study and stay with my guru, Dr. Ranjan Kumar, and also the Nirwan family. Thanks to their love and guidance and the tremendous work ethic instilled in me by these inspirational musicians, my learning and performance continues to grow to this very day. Thanks to the blessings of my teachers, I am able to travel around the world performing this beautiful music for all who will listen.
Shabash – Means ‘good job’ – used in the context of congratulating a child by patting them on the head.
Kya bat hai – Literally translates to ‘What a thing it is!’ – used in classical music concerts to show awe and admiration of a particular moment in the music; amazement