BORN TO ‘PLAY’

Nikhil Ballal

How was your childhood?
MD-Since music and dance were in the
family I inherited these performing arts even
before I was born. They were in my genes
and music to me was a natural phenomenon
like breathing. Music was one of my organs
like eyes,nose,ears and of course
heart. Music was in my blood. If
children played with toys, I played
the tabla. For me it was not a mere
toy but sheer joy. Since my father
was a theatre person, mother Mrs.
Manjiri Deo a classical dancer and
grandfather a kirtankar it was a
perfect environment for me to grow
as a an artist.

When did you decide to become
a table player?
MD-I never aimed to become a
tabla player. My passion and love
for tabla grew so much that it didn’t
left me with any other option. After
watching a show of Pt. Gopiji
Sauthaliya my parents decided to
make me a tabla player who can
also assist them for dance shows.
There is a huge difference between playing
normal tabla and playing it for a dance show.
My parents took me to Pt. Gopiji’s
bunglow which is at Khar.
As soon as I played a piece, Gopiji said “Beta
aap Table ko sulaah rahe ho! pehle aap usko
jagao!” He meant that I should play more
rigorously and with concentration. My self
proclaimed celebrity status came crashing
down in a second! I started taking tabla
lessons under him. Initially playing tabla
continuously for two hours was a painful task
and even If I stopped even for a second
panditji would yell at me. According to him the
riyaz was nothing but ‘sowing time’ to reap a
good ‘harvest’. Later I started taking training
from his brother Pt. Brijraj Mishra of Banaras.

How did you become a professional
tabla player?
MD-“Aandho mein Kaana mat bano” -Pt.
Gopiji’s this line transformed me completely.
He meant that one should never be complacent.
His persistence prompted me to be the
best. Classical music is a lucrative career only
for deserving few. Many are still struggling to
make a modest living. After completing my
graduation I was not sure to continue playing
tabla as a career.Moreover, Indian musicians
don’t get support from government as their
foreign counterparts. As a result I applied for
the post of music teacher in SNDT college.
Dean of the college Dr. Prabha Tai Atre with
whom I did many stage shows told me that                                                                                                                                    I had a potential to achieve Pt.( pandit)
before my name instead of Prof(professor).
My parents assured me of monetary support
which motivated me to pursue this career.
They wanted to see me as a good tabla
player some day! I knew I had to live up to
their expectations. I increased my riyaz(
practice).As it is said there is no gain without
pain due to excessive riyaz I also had to
undergo severe neck and back pain. At an
early age I got spondylitis. In one of Ashatai
Khadilkar’s program my fingers and
shoulders started paining so much so that I
was not able to perform after the interval. It
was then that I realised that musicians should
also exercise like sportsmen. Their body
also undergoes the same wear and tear as
any sportsman does. It is not a joke to play
tabla for three hours!. But with regular work
out and a particular fitness regime I have
developed a good stamina.

How many shows have you done so far?
MD-I have lost the count now. I have
travelled all over the globe. More than 25
times I have toured America. Recently I got an
opportunity to perform in Sydney opera
house.

How has been your experience over the
years?
MD-I was lucky to share a stage with many
great artists such as Natraj Gopikrishna, Pt.
Birju Maharaj, Dr. Prabha Atre, Begum Parveen
Sultana, Ustad Dilshad Khan, Pt. Jasraj, Late
Pt. C.R.Vyas, Dr. N. Rajam, Ustad Raiskhan,
Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, , Pt. Shivkumar|
Sharma, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, Pt.
Ramnarayan, Pt. Satish Vyas, Rahul Sharma, Pt.
Ronu Majumdar, Ashatai Khadilkar. A pat on
the back by none other that Ustad Zakir
Hussain is one of my treasured moments.There
was a time when I use to wait endlessly to get a program.                                                                                                          There was a phase when I was
doing riyaz aimlessly. Frustration and
depression had taken the better of me.
However I took them in my stride convincing
myself that was part of the game.

How are audiences different in different
areas?
MD-I have done shows in almost all parts
of India and also in major countries of the
world. It is challenging to perform in front of
different people. Their tastes, preferences
and style of applauding or appreciating are
so different that any musician would
easily get confused. In western
Maharashtra, as soon as we began
the show they start applauding and
cheering( kya baat hai waah waah)
whereas in America there would be
a pin drop silence they would only
clap after the show ends. In
Australia we find many expressionless
audiences which make us
nervous and doubt our playing skills.
In somewhere in Europe
audience keeps clapping for more
than 20 minutes after the show.
Artist goes in the wing again he has
to come back accept the applause
again return to the wing and after
few minutes again has to appear on
stage to receive a final round of
applause. We did these more than
five times and finally the applause stopped.

How is the young generation equating
itself with the legacy of classical music?
MD-They are aware of the great legacy. They are
seriously working to carry it forward.The future is good.
Classical music is now presented in a different way
due to which it is getting more popular among the
young generation too. Musicians have not only
changed their attire but have simplified the music for the
understanding of common man.
I keep on experimenting classic music while teaching
and also while performing. Like for instance the other
day I was teaching a raga to my students by giving them
example of a boy who is insisting everyone in his
family to buy mangoes. (aae..aae.. amba aan….
Aae… aamba.. aanna..). This
helps them understand the rhythm , sur and
taal. I see many new youngsters joining my
institute every year. We are trying to simplify
the subject.

How to understand classical music?
MD-Classical musical is meant for ‘class’. It
is just like an abstract art, little difficult to
understand. But if one gives a patient ear to
this music then he can definitely decipher the
deep meaning hidden in every raga. Also it is
scientifically proven that hearing of classical
music has good effects on health. It gives you
serenity and tranquility. Many doctors
nowadays suggest pregnant women, blood
pressure and hypertension patients to listen
classical music to get peace of mind. Music
therapy is the in thing today.

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