As Ashok Gurjale’s baby, his music institution, Aarabhi turned 15 recently, he tells Vishnupriya Bhandaram about how music and practice built up to this crescendo

You think twice before knocking on his door at 3 ‘o’ clock in the afternoon, through the grills of the door, you can see Ashok Gurjale nodding off to the oddly rhythmic tone of afternoon news headlines on the telly.

One cannot blame the man for taking a quick nap — after all his day starts at 4 a.m. when he starts his violin practice.

“I usually grab a few winks of sleep in the afternoon before I head for class,” he says.

His students too follow suit and in fact are required to give him a missed call as soon as they wake up at 5 a.m; he takes us through 37 missed calls he received that day.

“It is to inculcate a sense of discipline. Music eludes those who lack rigour and discipline,” he says.

It is very evident that Ashok Gurjale runs a tight ship and it is one of the reasons that his violin school, Aarabhi is one of its kind music school in the country and has been running successfully for the past 15 years. “I am very strict,” he assures us.

Ashok used to accompany his mother to her violin lessons begrudgingly but it was only a matter of time before he picked up the instrument and mastered it.

“I was never interested, but my mother’s teacher insisted that I play and I have not looked back since,” he says.

He learnt under late Nori Srinivasa Sharma and went on to learn under late Marella Keshava Rao. Ashok also studied at the Government Music College in Ramkote and professionally he completed a B.Sc.

For 15 years, Ashok did what others did, meander through life with goals such as finding a ‘good’ job to lead a ‘settled’ life. Even in this quotidian pursuit of life in Chennai, Ashok never let go of music.

“It was almost automatic. I used to get up in the morning and practise my music, that never took a backseat,” he says.

In 1998, at the age of 44, Ashok decided to quit his marketing job and expand his horizons by taking up music teaching as a full time profession. The school started with five students, four of whom couldn’t afford to pay!

“It is never about the money but about what my students learn,” he says.

Growing from a modest number, Aarabhi is now a home for close to 150 music-lovers, young and old. Teaching people of all age-groups, Ashok explains that his aim to teach a certain respect and regard to music. “I wish to inculcate a desire for learning in them,” he says.

There are a lot of fancy schools who ‘tailor’ music lessons according to the needs of students but at Aarabhi, Gurjale believes in the ‘old-school’ method. You have to attend the lessons at the school and there is not way out of it and there are no holidays either.

“It is always good for a patron to come to music, rather than the music (teacher) to go to the student. It helps in retaining the music later,” he feels.

Students of Aarabhi and Ashok Gurjale together have performed close to 230 concerts in the last 15 years. Ashok has more than 1000 concerts to his name alone.

If we ask him about the success mantra for his school, Ashok takes us back to the D-word — discipline. “Many of my relative’s children also study in the school, in fact I even taught my daughters. Doling out a certain discipline keeps everyone at the same level. I do not allow late-comers into the class. See…you cannot cajole them into learning, you have to be strict. I insist upon the rituals of learning music because it automates your system,” he says.

For a tough master, you’d expect disgruntled students but Ashok explains that a certain friendship has evolved from his strictness. “Students come to me and discuss their problems with me, things they probably cannot even share with their parents. I am fortunate,” he smiles.

It is no surprise that a violin musician like Ashok Gurjale has an extensive collection of more than 60 violins, of which 55 violins are used in the school. “I have a passion for good instruments,” he smirks and pulls out an old violin and renders, ‘Brovabarama’; “Only one boy from my school is allowed to touch and tune this violin,” he says.

Ashok Gurjale is also extremely well versed in Western Classical music; he has enormous experience in conducting and composing symphonies with an orchestra of more than 110 musicians. Ashok has played for many music composers in the Telugu film industry like MM Keeravani, SA Rajkumar, Koti, Manisharma and Sreelekha but his mind is set towards the betterment and development of Indian Classical music. Ashok feels that it has been grossly neglected in our state.

“Everybody is so busy trying to be an engineer or a doctor that we forgot about the arts,” he says. Frank in his approach, he tells us how unlike in Tamil Nadu, true patrons of Carnatic music are fewer in Andhra Pradesh, “I would like to change that,” he says.