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30 days to the stage

Sitar artiste Niladri Kumar takes up a challenge to prepare 12 girls from a Vasai orphanage for a classical concert

At the Vasai centre of The Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity Orphanages, the excitement is palpable. A group of 12 girls, aged between 8 and 15, is eagerly waiting for Niladri Kumar — one of the country’s most prominent young sitarists and the inventor of the Zitar (a hybrid between a sitar and a guitar). However, here Kumar is not the performer, but the teacher.

The 12 girls from The Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity Orphanages, Vasai, will share stage with renowned artistes like Taufiq Qureshi, Vijay Ghate and Rashid Ali at the end of this month. Pic/Nimesh Dave
The 12 girls from The Handmaids of the Blessed Trinity Orphanages, Vasai, will share stage with renowned artistes like Taufiq Qureshi, Vijay Ghate and Rashid Ali at the end of this month. Pic/Nimesh Dave

Along with keyboardist Prince Mulla and music director Arjun Nair, Kumar is training these children for a concert that will be held at the end of this month at Shanmukhananda auditorium, where they will share stage with renowned artistes like Taufiq Qureshi, Vijay Ghate and Rashid Ali. This will kickstart the Kumar’s first nationwide Stay UPRooted tour.

NGO Vision Rescue’s Social Group Exploreyou has been training talented underprivileged children in various parts of the country since May, 2013. And for their Mumbai debut, they have joined hands with Kumar who has taken up their 30-day challenge to coach 12 girls from a city orphanage and make them concert ready.

“Arun and Prince (who is part of Kumar’s troupe) have done all the ground work — from zeroing in on the orphanage and selecting the children and giving them basic training,” says Kumar. Despite their lack of formal training, the children have bowled Kumar over with their talent.

“They can pick up songs just by listening to them,” says Kumar, emphasising that the idea is not to overwhelm them with the strict regime of classical music but to let them enjoy it. “I am working backwards with them. We are teaching them songs and, through them, imparting knowledge about various aspects of music.

For example, I once asked them to slow down the tempo of the song. They looked terrified by the term. But, while singing they tap their feet or click their fingers with the beat. So, when I pointed out that what they are doing spontaneously is what ‘tempo’ is all about, they were amazed,” explains Kumar.

For the children, who have hardly stepped out of the orphanage premises, singing in front of such a huge gathering will be an exhilarating experience and their enthusiasm reminds Kumar of his own. “I was elated to see my name for the first time on the paper.

I was hardly six years old. Then, was all about showing off to my friends. I want these children to feel proud of their talent. If not anything else, this should be a memorable event for them. If one of these kids choose to take up music seriously, I will be happy to help.”

The 41-year-old sitar maestro has already spotted a promising singer among the group — the 15-year-old Ruby. “I love to sing and would keep humming. I never got any classical training. It was a spontenious thing. These sessions have showed me how to use my voice more effectively. I would love to pursue singing and also help others learn music,” says the shy girl with a robust and confident voice.

Kumar is contemplating starting a scholarship to hone such talent. “It cannot be a one or four-concert thing. The idea is to bring long-term change.” And in order to gather funds for this, he is auctioning his first adult sitar. “It is a part of me.

I would have never thought of parting with it, had it not been for such an initiative,” says Kumar, who will be playing the 100-year-old sitar for one last time during the concert. The bidding will open on December 15 with former Union Minister Kapil Sibal quoting the first price.

Where: Shanmukhananda Hall, Comrade Harbanslal Marg, Sion
When: Oct 30, 7.30 PM
Entry: Rs 200 — Rs 2,999
Call: 24078888

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