Born with an obsession for music and dance, Renu Swamy takes us on her tortuous personal journey of setting oneself as a singer.
Everybody dreams of being somebody or maybe like somebody they idolise. Mum says my first cry was very musical. Others whispered that a singer was born.
Born in Rajasthan, to parents who are both fond of the arts, my biggest encouragement came from them. As a child I did not have any formal training in music but I used to sing all the time. Television and radio programmes were often overlaid by my young musical soundtracks. Any get-together was not complete without my singing. I enjoyed the attention.
But then, studies took over with the expectation of passing with flying colours. Singing, dancing, dramatics and sports took second place in extra-curricula activities. At thirteen I got the chance to sing for an audio album through my music teacher. My family was really proud of me. At fourteen came the offer of a role in a television drama series. We were going too fast and the breaks were applied. Father said that I was too young to enter in the world of glamour. Education had to come first. I was left disappointed.
Declining the offer, however, raised several questions. I couldn’t understand why those around could love music and other art forms but reject the idea of making a livelihood from it. A distant relative mentioned ‘society’. Singing and dancing was fine for self delight but not as a career.
Confusion filled my young mind. Questions arose about my entire relationship with music and dance. I dreamt about music. It was the food of my soul. While my classmates and cousins talked about becoming doctors, engineers, accountants, lawyers and the like, I wanted to study music. I was dreadfully apprehensive and awfully afraid of the unknown future.
Naturally, out of this turmoil, I ended up taking commerce with maths! Those around me were happy. My family convinced me that while I studied accounts and economics, I could also be associated with ‘my music’. But, after the assignments, the projects and sport there was little time left for musical pursuits. Discontent brewed.
And while I achieved success academically first in India and later in England, the musical embers were kept warm with staging shows, plays, mimes and other artistic activities in spare time.
But after years of teenage frustration things came to a head after completing my studies when I started formally learning Indian classical vocal. With growing financial independence, I learnt different styles from great musicians: khayal from Pandits Rajan and Sajan Mishra, thumri from the renowned Purnima Chaudhar. Currently, I am learning from the eminent Indian classical singer Chiranjib Chakraborty in London. My soul was alive again as music was all around me once more.
Now, my family wants me to find a good job, get married and settle down and I am on the same crossroads again. Questions are once again arising. I am a graduate today but it doesn’t mean anything to me without my music. If only part of the time, effort and money spent in studies were invested in music, I could have been in a position to pursue a career in music.
So after all these years, I have decided to follow my heart to pursue my passion. Taking this decision has not been easy. It is risky, but I am happy with my life and my learning and progress in music. I had to break this chain of starting with an art form in childhood and then giving it up. For me talents should be nurtured, polished, practised and displayed to the public. There is a famous saying that ‘Artists are born, not made’, and if God has blessed you with a talent, it should be respected, cherished and developed.