Shifting Gears Life & Style

Music makes it all worthwhile for Harini Rao

In the middle of an animated conversation, Harini Rao confesses with a hearty laugh, “I think I spent the best years of my life studying the wrong things.”

There was a phase when she was chasing deadlines as a chartered accountant at a reputed multinational firm. Both her parents were academicians, so a strong foundation in academics seemed like a natural progression. “I spent a lot of time pursuing a number of courses and took my time to complete my CA. I didn’t know of anything beyond a corporate career,” she recalls. But somewhere deep within, in spite of all the perks, she wasn’t really happy.

If the topic is about people who’ve switched tracks before finding their true calling, Harini has done that shift twice — from a corporate career to designing terracotta jewellery, and then becoming a singer and music teacher.

The interest in music had always been there. Her mother Girija Rao was and continues to be a multifaceted person and had a great influence on her, “She was an academician, has authored a book on child psychology, she paints, was a Bharatanatyam dancer... but nothing excited her as much as listening to music.”

Starting young

Harini inherited the interest in music and was enrolled in Hindustani classical music class quite young. “A grand old Maharastrian lady who lived next door, taught music and discovered that I enjoyed singing. Her husband was in defence and she encouraged me to sing for special events,” she recalls.

Music remained a hobby as the family moved to Pune for a brief period before returning to Hyderabad and finding a guru in Swati Phadke, with whom Harini trains till date. “I was in class III when we returned to Hyderabad, and I spotted a board about a music class outside a house and went in and met the teacher myself. She was chopping bhindi and found it amusing that a child would walk in and enquire about classes. She asked me to fetch my mother, and the sessions began.”

It wasn’t by design that Harini was initiated into Hindustani classical but it turned out to be beneficial, since Hyderabad doesn’t have many Hindustani classical performers even today. In meeting deadlines at office and at home, designing jewellery, music took a backseat. The money was good, but the void didn’t go away.

Harini’s identity as a singer came much later. Before that, it was the corporate humdrum. Then, she chanced upon a terracotta jewellery making class and learnt it on a whim. This was a few years before all things handmade were considered niche and exotic. “I would make a few pairs of earrings and gift them to friends. I didn’t think anyone would pay for it,” she says. Some of her friends thought it was made with play dough, the kind that children use.

Music makes it all worthwhile for Harini Rao

At a fair conducted by her office, she displayed a few pieces. They were sold out and she began receiving a steady stream of orders. Before she knew it, the terracotta jewellery line ‘Hearth Treasures’ grew by leaps and bounds. Orders came in from stores across India and abroad. She took up more than she could handle. In meeting deadlines at office and at home, designing jewellery, music took a backseat. The money was good, but the void didn’t go away, “Though designing is a creative pursuit, it felt like work.” She sat back and pondered if it all this was worth it. Her dad told her that even if she made half the money and had ample time, there would be time for music... and life. She quit the MNC.

It wasn’t easy, she confesses. She had withdrawal symptoms, she would hang out with former colleagues at the office cafeteria and even asked her boss if she would be taken back. By and by, music helped her find her feet and the days didn’t seem long and drab any more.

Harini devoted her time to music and designing jewellery (she now designs only on orders), and had her first concert at Lamakaan in 2013. For a year, she accepted any invitation that came her way and performed at different venues. She mostly never got paid. “I wanted to establish myself, so the payment didn’t matter then,” she states.

Brush with cinema

Sometimes, Harini spent six hours a day training. Word got around and she was roped in by Mallik Ram for the short film If Only I Could Fly, in which she recreated the thumri Yaad piya ki aaye, tuned by Vivek Sagar and the Tapeloop team. This was before Vivek Sagar composed for Pelli Choopulu and before Mallik Raam went on to direct the feature film Naruda Donoruda. “A lot of people had listened to that song and told me they liked it. It felt good,” says Harini.

Eventually, she sang Oka Lalana for Srinivas Avasarala’s Jyo Achyutananda, composed by Kalyan Koduri. But Hindustani classical is her mainstay. The Hyderabadi audience, she avers, likes her pro-millenial approach of curating songs to a theme than the conventional approach of dwelling on a raga.

Now, Harini coaches music aspirants and through her Rageshree Foundation, also invites other vocalists to conduct workshops and perform. These days, her classes begin at the crack of dawn. Road ahead? She hasn’t thought of long-term plans but is content with a music-filled life.

(The column features people who dared to give up their lucrative career to pursue their dream.)

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2022 3:59:33 AM |

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