Voices of substance

They faced adversities and crossed many hurdles to pursue their passion for music. Sangeeta Yadav speaks with the contestants of SaReGaMaPa who have not only wowed the judges but also the viewers

Sachin Kumar Valmikan

Sachin Kumar Valmikan

For 23-year-old Sachin Kumar, one of the top nine contestants of SaReGaMaPa, pursuing music as a profession was tough. A music teacher in a small town Lakhimpur in UP, Valmikan had to quit his studies to support his ailing father when he was just 13. “My father was a sweeper in an office which was in front of my school. He was the only bread earner and when he fell ill, I took over his job. I had to quit studies since the classmates and teachers made fun of what I did,” Valmikan recounts who got his love for singing from his mother.

While working, Valmikan enrolled himself into a music school but had to leave that too because the school increased the fee for Rs200 to Rs350. “It became very difficult for me to shell out that extra Rs150. Myguru was sympathetic but he said that rules were rules. That day I took a vow that no child will be deprived from learning music due to lack of money,” Valmikan says who today teaches music free of cost to children who can’t afford to pay.

There was a time when he wanted to give up music altogether but his parents wouldn’t let him. “My mother used to make me sing in marriages and bhajan-kirtans. My father, who used to also play the dhol in a band during marriages, bought me a keyboard  for Rs2,500 to keep me going” he says.

Then life took a turn for the better when he got a job as a music teacher. “I was hired with on a salary of Rs5,500 per month. I used to give Rs3,000 to my family and put Rs2500 in the bank. It was this saving that has helped me to come this far in the show,” Valmikan says who has given several auditions, over the years, to come into this show.

“When I used go to various cities for the auditions, my parents used to give me Rs1,000 that they would borrow on interest. There were times when there was no food at home but he never deprived me of money,” Valmikan tells you adding that Shankar Mahadevan and Kailash Kher have been his biggest inspiration.

“I’ve learnt music watching him. He is my idol and I wish to work and learn from him. I can relate to Kailash Kher’s life and struggles. When he can achieve his dreams through sheer determination and hard work, why can’t I?” Valmikan asks.

Jagpreet Bajwa

Jagpreet Bajwa

He lost his vision when he was just six months old due to retinoblastoma eye cancer. Neighbours were sympathetic but his parents thanked God for giving them a special child. Meet 21-year-old Jagpreet Bajwa from Vancouver, Canada, who is one of the top  nine contestants in the show. “I first got to know that I was blind when I was five. Teachers told me that you are special as you can’t see as others. I started crying as I couldn’t understand what she meant by that. I thought everyone was like me,” Bajwa recalls.

Listening to his mother singing, Bajwa developed love for music. It also turned out to be a healing therapy. “I’m blessed to have such parents who left no stone unturned to make my life comfortable. My mother used to sing lullabies and play songs by Kumar Sanu, Kishor Kumar, Mohammad Rafi, etc. Music became my medicine. It taught me to sing as well,” Bajwa says.

He was just six when he sang at the Canada Day celebration. It was a turning point in his life. He also won many classical singing competitions and bagged Red FM title in Canada. But the biggest achievement was when he was awarded Community Leadership Award for his volunteer work to  raise funds and community service. The Governor of Canada also awarded him Queen Elizabeth Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work.

“People started looking up to me as an inspiration and I used to give a lot of motivational speeches in schools. The children, who used to bully me, became my friends. I worked in the production unit of plays. Pankaj Udhasji, who was the judge of one of the competitions in Canada, told me that God has taken eyes from you but he has sent you to spread music in this world. I felt really special,” Bajwa says who learnt classical music from ustad Davinder Singh Hundal and can sing in 11  languages.

“This happened through my training in western and Indian classical music. I can sing in Hindi, Panjabi, Sanskrit, Tamil, English and Italian, Spanish, German, French, etc. I listen to a lot of world music. I try to cater to all genres of music but my favourite is singing romantic numbers,” Bajwa says whose aim is to not just win the competition but also win the hearts of people through his singing and open a music therapy school.

Tanvir Hussain

Tanvir Hussain

Twenty five-year-old Tanvir Hussain may have got eliminated from the show, but thisqawwali and sufi singer but it has deterred him from his goal of making it big in life.

“I’ve grown up watching my father singing qawwali in the busy market streets and at dargahs. My uncles were mygurus and taught me to play the table and harmonium when I was five. It was much later that I went to a music academy to learn classical singing. During my school vacations, I used to accompany my father to various performances. I’m just taking the family legacy forward,” Hussain says who hails from Phillaur, Punjab.

“Qawwali is not popular in the State. Summers used to be the peak time for performances but there was not much work in winters. My father used to borrow  money from others in winters and return it in summers to run the house. But our earning was meagre. My father would be paid Rs5,000 to Rs10,000 per show that was then distributed in eight to 10 family members,” Hussain says who had auditioned forSaReGaMaPa in 2010 but couldn’t get selected.

“I was lucky that I got selected this time round. The show has given me an identity now. Earlier I was known by my father’s name. Now my father is known by my name. I get standing ovations for my several performances.”

“The best one was when I sung Bhar do jholi meri ya Muhammad… It touched hearts of many. I was crying and Sajid Wajid came on the stage and said ‘yeh gaana tumne score paane ke liye nahi gaya hai. Balki ebadat ker di jisse hum marks nahi de sakte. Yeh manch ibadat ka manch ban gaya hai.’ One of the jury members even gave menazraana,” Hussain recalls.

Hashmat and Sultana

Hashmat Sultana

For the first time in the history of the show, the rule for selecting contestants was changed by the makers of the show just for two sisters Hashmat (22) and Sultana (16), who won the hearts of the judges through their singing.

“We’ve never sung alone and we pray to allah that we continue to do so. When we were competing for top 24, we feared that the judges will select only one of us. But when they selected both of us, we couldn’t believe our ears,” Sultana says.

Though the sisters didn’t make it to the top 10, they have no regrets and insist that being on the show was a memorable experience as they learnt a lot. But coming from a small city Hoshiarpur, Punjab, the sisters faced a lot of roadblocks.

“People used to tell my father not to educate us. But he was very passionate about me taking up singing as a profession. He and my uncle are my gurus. Sometimes we used to walk 10 km to the dargah and ask the secretary to allow us to sing for few minutes. Sometimes they would relent, sometimes we returned disappointed. I remember my father’s face when he used to tell others that ‘meri beti bahut acha gaati hai. Aap ek baar usko sunn lo’. Some people showed interest and some didn’t bother. But my father never gave up,” Hashmat recalls who signs sufi songs.

Her sister, Sultana, sings Bollywood numbers. “I learnt music by listening to the likes of Ustad Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Gulam Ali. The performance on which I got eliminated, I felt that I couldn’t put my soul in to that song,” Hashmat tells you.

They have also sung a song with Samira Koppikar for an upcoming untitled movie. Not just that, they are getting offers to perform in Canada  and the US as well  who now along with her sister earn enough to run the house.

(The article got published in The Pioneer Newspaper – http://www.dailypioneer.com/show-time/voices-of-substance.html).

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