Shubha Mudgal on her musical journey — It is the ease with which she carves out a niche for herself in popular music while not letting it affect her classical roots that is at the heart of her image. But she is very particular with her choice of songs when she performs.

It was winter, some time in the early '80s and we gathered to listen to Vidushi Naina Devi in the eastern U.P. town of Benares. Accompanying her on the tanpura was a young student of hers. The student, duly ushered by her guru to sing along, mesmerised the audience even though her vocals were merely backing the lead. Later, when the programme ended, Nainaji introduced the student as Shubha Gupta of Allahabad, daughter of famous Hindi cricket commentator and professor of Allahabad University, Skand Gupta.

From that day on, I watched her rise to become the celebrity she is today. Today, she is Shubha Mudgal, a singer largely regarded as the epitome of versatility in Indian classical music. At Epicentre, Gurgaon, to perform recently, she spoke at length on her journey through music and the ups and downs of life.

Shubha was candid when asked why she kept herself away from any gharana tag. “As I have learnt from various gurus from different gharanas, I would not do justice to them if I confine myself to just one,” she explained. As she spoke about the impact her teachers had on her, the interruption of an appraising audience member made it evident that humility was an equally remarkable virtue she has imbibed.

No blurring of genres

It is the ease with which she carves out a niche for herself in popular music while not letting it affect her classical roots that is at the heart of her image. But she is very particular with her choice of songs when she performs. She is categorical in not mixing up genres in performances, even though she receives numerous requests to sing popular numbers by the younger sections of her audience. How did she achieve harmony between the different genres? “I made it a point not to mix up the issues,” she emphasised.

And rightly so, people have yet to see her blur the lines of style.

Social issues

Shubha along with her husband, Aneesh Pradhan, is relentlessly working upon social issues, equally. They composed poetry written by various unknown poets from the period of the freedom struggle rousing nationalism, in an effort to acquaint modern audiences with the sentiments of our forefathers. Asked about any such project in the near future, she said, “We are working on a few topics.”

Not a copycat

Shubha maintains the purity of the raga even when she sings semi classical folk songs like Chaiti, Kajri, Jhula, Baarah Maasaa. When a famous music critic praised her for not being a copycat, she again, as a sincere student, replied “My gurus always wanted me to sing that way. I am trying to follow the instructions of my gurus.”

As a parent

Her only son, Dhawal, is a lead singer in a famous Delhi-based band. Asked if she feels comfortable with her son's choice, she, unlike many traditional and orthodox musicians, said, “I enjoy listening to him. I never pressurised him to stick to a certain genre, and it's good to see him singing the way he likes to.”

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