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Freedom to responsibility...

Nageen Tanvir, now on the threshold of a solo career in music, grew up surrounded by the beauty of various arts but has now found her calling in music, finds ANJANA RAJAN, speaking to the artiste who was in Delhi the other day... .

Nageen Tanvir explains a finer point. Photo: R.V. Moorthy

WHEN NAGEEN Tanvir sings you know it is a true voice, one that has found its vocation. The robust tone - coming out of a person slightly built, with eyes that constantly widen in wonder at the amazing things of this world - can surprise you with its solidity. But actually there is no paradox between the mature voice and the innocent face, since Nageen describes herself as both: firmly anchored in her music, as well as drifting in childlike delight through many arts.

Daughter of eminent theatre personalities Moneeka and Habib Tanvir, Nageen has been exposed to different kinds of music and a variety of artistic experiences throughout her life. Bhimsen Joshi, Kumar Gandharva and Begum Akhtar were among the musical stalwarts she grew up listening to. She was also influenced by Carnatic music and the traditions of her South Indian neighbours, from whose kolam-decorated doorways wafted the sounds of Vishnu Sahasranama recitation. Along with the traditions of her father's native Chhattisgarh, she heard the folk music of many regions as he travelled while researching and experimenting for his theatre productions.

Nageen formally began to learn music as a young child with Sharbari Mukherjee. Later she trained under Dipali Nag, who - besides teaching different forms including Rabindra Sangeet, bhajans and Nazrul Geeti - was a patron of artistes and organised concerts at home, so that Nageen heard great vocalists and instrumentalists of the Agra gharana and others at close quarters.

She even learnt Bharatanatyam under Kiran Segal. Yet it is not easy to be steeped in the arts while growing up in a vacuum like Delhi, where every cultural experience becomes intense and strangely lonely. "I felt I was a misfit," she says. "Bachpan gaon walon ki gode mein guzra." - I grew up among village folk - referring to the Chattisgarhi artistes in her parents' troupe.

Seeing Nageen as an open-minded artiste free from the dangers of an insular outlook, it would seem her upbringing was the best kind possible. "Ma baap ne choot de di. Kabhi baandhane ki koshish nahin ki." - My parents left me free and never restricted me.

But, Nageen points out, it also left her undecided. She feels some direction is necessary to draw out one's potential. On completing her course at Baroda University, she could still have ventured into any of various fields. Cultural heritage, sculpture, architecture, physics, aesthetics, music and dramatics - all these and other subjects were part of the curriculum.

After a family friend suggested she learn from veteran vocalist Sulochana Brihaspati, she completed her Masters in music under her and has remained her disciple.

Today Nageen feels she has found her anchor in life through music. Still part of her parents' Naya Theatre - founded by Moneeka Tanvir in 1959 - and singing or acting with the company when required, she is occupied with documenting Habib Tanvir's theatre music and is currently working on a dance music project with Tyaag, a Delhi-based arts group.

No longer the little girl so steeped in the arts she didn't know what to make of herself, Nageen says thoughtfully, "Music is my therapy."

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