Rajni Shivaram, Vocalist

It has never been easy talking about any of this, mostly because I don’t really know where to begin.Nevertheless, I want to put this out there so many more people can read this and know it is possible to go after something you love when you are surrounded by nay sayers!! All of us are moulded by our experiences, by what we go through, by our trials and tribulations. Some of us, for better or worse, are faced with a lot more difficulties. We do one of the two things. We either succumb to pressure and our escapists in our own  way or we rise above all of this, fight it out with everything we’ve got. It’s what Mr Walter Bradford Cannon, described as a “fight or flight” response.

Now, my story doesn’t begin with how I’ve been a fighter all my life. I never was. I am guilty! To have succumbed to peer pressure, societal pressure and all of its variants. I made the wrong choices, chose to go against what came quite “naturally” to me. Singing did come quite naturally to me. I also bought into tales of how singing was a “talent” that one possessed as opposed to a skill that can be honed. However, I didn’t put in the effort and I’d quite easily get annoyed when my Mum would ask me to sing in front of people. Life seemed to take quite the “regular” path. I finished my Engineering in BioTechnology, and went on to do my Masters in BioTechnology from BIT MESRA. Engineering, because I wanted to prove I could be an engineer when people around me thought I wasn’t smart enough and I continued doing things only to prove people wrong. Never once did I do anything for myself. BIT MESRA was where it all begin. The first time I stepped outside the comfort of my home in Bangalore, to pursue my Master’s degree in Ranchi. The culture shock was a lot to take in.Bangalore, is like an oasis in the middle of chaos. It keeps you in a very comfortable space. You feel India isn’t all that bad, you are amidst “cool” people. Your dreams are shattered. You stop being delusional once you are forced to step outside of your comfort zone and once you see pain and suffering in its realest forms. Bihar and Jharkhand made me see all of that and more. A different kind of people, but, people who smile with all their heart despite all that they go through. Their basic amenities are not met, and yet, you’d not see a hint of sadness on their face or them complaining about anything. The two years that I was there, I didn’t have much to go on, but, Music was something that kept me alive.

I’d make time for Music, because it was essential for my survival. It kept me sane for the most part. In my mind, I couldn’t make peace with the fact that people in these parts of the country, could settle for much less and still find happiness, when we city dwellers are constantly cribbing about what we don’t have, when we seem to have it all. Also, different is not something we come to accept readily. They are very different. Some of them haven’t really experienced freedom. Most women are married off at a very early age and forced to accept it as their fate. I’m not sure I could deal with all that was going on around me which is when I took to Music. I would practice every day. It kept me very happy. A lot of things stopped bothering me after that. The more I sang, the happier I became. I started loving the place a lot more as well. The politics stopped bothering me. Everything did. I was in a zone that brought some peace and acceptance along with it. BIT MESRA, also exposed me to a lot of things that would later come to change my life. I became a part of AIESEC. I wanted to move away from the things I was comfortable with. I went to Indonesia on an AIESEC exchange program to teach kids English for 2 months, which would again present its culture shocks. Some of my juniors from college were talking about becoming entrepreneurs, working on their start ups at an age when everyone is looking for conventional jobs. These boys gave wings to their dreams and saw something bigger than themselves. These were the moments that changed my life for the better.

My Journey as a Musician

At the end of my two years, I had to make a choice. A conscious decision, to go abroad for my PhD or choose Music. I chose the latter, with all my heart. I was also willing to let go off everything “stable”and everything that came with the label “no risks”. I joined Nathaniel School of Music, because it seemed like a good enough place to start, grow one’s contacts and also meet some like minded Musicians. At the end of my three-month course, I was quite clear in my head, I wanted to sing the Blues. It was something I connected to the most. I approached one of the pioneer Blues bands of the country, “The Chronic Blues Circus”, who accepted me graciously. I joined CBC by the end of 2015 and I have sung with them over the last two years. I learned a lot. We gigged across all possible venues in the city. Now, I have a band of my own, Midnight Poppies and we mostly play our original Music. I’ve been fortunate enough to have played over four shows in California, earlier this year.

I’ve never shied away from learning. Music has made me a much better and kinder person. It is something that has brought me closer to that infinity I call God. It has helped me connect more with myself. I’ve learned to accept and love myself for who I am. I have been able to do all of that, courtesy, Music. I have always cursed myself for not being a certain “acceptable” way. Now, all of that has changed. More importantly, it has helped me appreciate different kinds of beauty. In a country that appreciates only one kind of beauty and dictates norms, it brings me immense pleasure to stand up for something I believe in. The Music I believe in. Every one has a kind. There is no right or wrong. However, I honestly don’t believe in giving up on singing the Blues to do something that doesn’t touch my soul. Over the two years, I’ve had to change a lot of my decisions. I now am a Music entrepreneur and a Musician. A lot of people have asked me to sing varied stuff! I’ve been adamant too. I don’t do something unless it gets me. It has to be something that has me all heart and soul, for me to be able to express myself well enough. Which, again, says a lot about me a person. I continue learning and I have taken up Music much more seriously than I used to. I’ve been rejected way too many times and written off by a lot of people. When I approached people to help me with singing, they have always ignored me or brushed it away, a very Indian mentality, because of “competition”. Maturity comes with the understanding that you needn’t ever be insecure about your art, because that is something nobody can take away from you. The truth is also that, at any given point in time, there are a lot of people that are going to be better than you. All we can do is focus on ourselves and get better. And, I’ve learned, the more you give people, the more you get. Be it money, kindness, love, time, patience or knowledge.

There are too many artists that have inspired me. Neil Young, K. D Lang, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Cyrille Aimee, Al Green, Bill Withers, Maggie Bell, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Erma Franklin,Danielle Nicole, James Brown, Annie Lennox, Joss Stone, Ray LaMontagne, James Taylor, Jimmy Reed, Otis Redding, B.B King, Albert King, The Allman Brothers band, Liane La Havas etc. I’m sure there are a whole lot of names I’m missing. This is just to give you a rough idea as to the kind of Music I love listening to and going back to, when I feel a little lost. Each of these artists give us a piece of themselves, for us to hold onto. Long after they are gone. That’s the kind of mark you’d want to leave. Be anything but mediocre. Stand up for what you believe in, even if people around you tell otherwise. Also, as glamorous and cool as this profession looks, it just isn’t that. It takes a lot of effort, patience, perseverance and determination to do something you absolutely believe and love. Just like with anything else. The glamour and the glitz associated with it, only makes it harder to get there. But, get there, we will, yes?

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