Meeta Pandit tells ANJANA RAJAN that following her passion makes hard work fun
I never had a children’s tanpura. I would sit with Pitaji and play the gents’ tanpura for him. My fingers would ache,
but I couldn’t say a word.
One look at Meeta Pandit and you know she is a recently married young North Indian bahu, dressed in traditional finery — the bracelets, the maang tika (tiara) and the auspicious colours all adding up to a traditional suhaagan, the married woman of Indian lore. In fact even as you read this, Meeta is on vacation with her hubby in Southeast Asia. With her busy concert schedule, it isn’t often the young vocalist gets time off. “We haven’t been able to hang out a lot after marriage because of my concerts,” she notes. Guess it’s all part of being more than the ordinary bride. Inheriting one of the hoariest legacies of Hindustani music, the Gwalior gharana, Meeta is a torchbearer of her generation.
She recently received the Ustad Bismillah Khan Yuva Puraskar of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, given to promising artistes under 35. But for this daughter and disciple of veteran vocalist L.K. Pandit, the awards started early — when she was a Delhi schoolgirl and won the Golden Voice of India award.
That, Meeta recalls, was the first time her school — St. Mary’s — seemed to appreciate the art she was born to. “I liked school, but at first I found it very strange that there was a lot of difference between my home environment and school.” She couldn’t share her passions even with her best friends. Like when musical stalwarts visited. “There would be discussions every evening, and as a child, you love to hear them.” In school the next day, though, she had no one to share her enthusiasm.
“One of my economics teachers even hinted to Pitaji that he was not really interested in my scoring marks in class XII,” she laughs. She scored above 90 per cent anyway!
Meeta, whose car dashboard is populated by an array of stuffed animals — “Meet my friends” — is passionate about bridging the gap between the classicists and lay listeners.
Currently hosting a music appreciation programme on World Space Radio, Swar Shringar, she says, “I’m really touched by the response. Letters, emails… People phone yaar. World Space is internationally available. And if someone goes onto Google and types ‘Meeta’, they can email or call me. You feel so nice.”
Earlier she had a slot, Sunehre Pal, in the Doordarshan breakfast show Subah Savere. “I conducted it for one-and-a-half years. We used to get letters by the sackful.” Based on old film melodies, the programme showed the link between classical concepts like raga and popular music.
“Once you brand the programme as being on classical music, people who don’t have interest in it won’t watch. But in a breakfast show, where you have news too, meet celebrities also, you find you’ve heard the music, enjoyed it, and you didn’t even realise!”
At another level, she takes 10 students per year for advanced training. “Besides, I go to Nimes twice a year for workshops.” As for her own training, when exactly it started she can’t remember. “It’s like when you are a fish you just know how to swim. Even when you’re not learning formally you’re hearing the other disciples, and that’s a very important part of learning. The ear plays a very important role.”
As a nursery student she caught her mother’s attention, singing all the school songs, and was initiated into the classical mould, says Meeta, who also loves experimental work and collaborated with French pianist and Western classical composer Allie Delfau some years ago. Lessons with her father would be on weekends and particularly intensive during summer holidays. “Sometimes we would go to Gwalior, and sometimes Dadaji (Pandit Krishnarao Shankar Pandit) would come to us,” she says. Growing up surrounded by musicians, she “loved the atmosphere of the greenroom.” Stage fright was alien to her, but she “was in awe” of the famous musicians she saw at close quarters.
Meeta, who remembers Prabha Attre’s “sparkling white sari,” is particular about her own wardrobe too. “Dress and grooming is important for me,” she says. “I like to take special time to see accessories to match the dress, jewellery, watches, shoes.”
To protect her voice in winter, she looks for “something that keeps me warm, looks nice along with my dress style.” Silks are too hot for the stage in summer, when she prefers georgette saris.
Fitness is important for a singer, she feels, and loves swimming, besides walking jogging and gymming. Meeta learnt yoga from her father. “Lots of pranayam” and the Surya Namaskar are part of her daily routine.
“I consider myself lucky to have my passion as my profession,” says Meeta. “So I have never felt a burden. It just naturally flows.”