She did her under graduation in English but changed faculties, from Humanities to Performing Arts, to do a Masters in Music. But she insists that she was into music from a very young age. Born in Jammu, this classical singer finds it fun if she could sing for the movies. She is Sufi singer Ragini Rainu.
She describes her father as a beautiful human being. Her father Mr. Charan Singh, according to her, is a loving and caring person and an epitome of goodness. While he is basically a businessman engaged in hospitality and sporting goods, he plays classical Sitar and is a well known musician of the State of Jammu and Kashmir. He respects tradition and at the same time allows space for modern ideas. He is very passionate about music himself and has supported her passion for music as well.
Her mother Jagdeep Kour is a noted vocal teacher of Jammu having served in one of the most prestigious colleges of the State. She has been a huge support all through and is now her best friend as well. Ragini says, “I can share all concerns, professional and personal, with her and go to her for advice as well. She is the one who has given me the basic values and principles and shaped my personality as well. It is from her, my father and my Guru that I draw strength to face the world.”
Ragini has two siblings – a brother and a sister, both younger than her. Her sister is married and works in the corporate sector while her brother is studying in the XIIth standard. She says, “We all share a beautiful bond with each other, which is enhanced by our shared passion for music. These help us, stay connected despite living in three different places.”
She dreads the one question from the media – are you married. She cringes, “Oh no! The same dreaded question again – everybody seems to be asking me this. I am not married and am happily single.”
Initiation into Music: Her love affair with music began at an early age. She elaborates, “I was into music from a very young age. Actually, music is an intrinsic part of our family tradition and so I imbibed it even as a child. Also, growing up in such an environment meant that I was duly encouraged when I showed interest. As a result, my formal training, in music, too started at a very young age. I think I pretty much knew back then that this is what I really enjoyed and that this is what I wanted to do later in life. That said I didn’t want to live a one-dimensional life.” Therefore, Ragini wanted to learn other things and she is always on the lookout for ways to enhance her set of experiences and her understanding of the world around her. She adds, “After all a musician too lives in society and music is a mirror of a society’s culture. I therefore thought of pursuing liberal arts in high school and college. English literature was something that I thought would offer me a perspective to look at things. Literature is very important for a musician for it often helps in understanding the context for the development of a particular music tradition. So in that sense it has provided me an additional world view – and additional prism through which I can view the world around me in a completely different light. It’s all about perspectives!”
Training: Her initial training, as a little child, in the Hindustani (North-Indian) classical vocal started under her parents, both of whom are trained classical musicians. She reminisces, “I had started taking part in competitions by the time I was six years old.”
Later she was trained by Guru Pandit Bhajan Sopori – the great Santoor legend and music composer. He too belongs to J & K and has been the most profound influence on her music. Looking back at her training period, she says, “He provided me a new style of Sufi presentation with all its traditional aspects together with a rich base in Hindustani vocal music with a rich repertoire of bandishes (vocal compositions) and taught me the nuances of Raag vistaar and badhat (systematic exposition of raags that covers their essential grammatical and structural nuances as per the Shastras). He also trained me in various elements of semi-classical and light music such as thumri, kajri, tappa, ghazal etc. Additionally, I studied and learnt the folk music traditions of various states – Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, etc. This comprehensive training has provided a strong base for my music today viz. Sufi vocals, mainly in the traditional Kafi and Ghazal genres. It has also made me a more versatile singer and that adds additional dimensions to the renditions of Sufi kalaam.”
Professional Life: According to her, her life as a singer is a good one. She says, “Well, I have always been into singing. I think by, “into singing” you mean into singing professionally. Well… if you want it in one word – pleasurable! I am always trying to balance various commitments, professional and personal: concerts, tours, recordings, riyaaz (practice), family commitments – there is a lot to do and I derive pleasure in trying to maintain the balance and it is all personally very rewarding. Firstly, there is a great sense of satisfaction as I am doing something that I have always wanted to do. Nothing really beats the reaction that a live audience gives you. It makes my family in general and my parents and Guru in particular, very happy and proud. Therefore, I also feel very good when I do something for them. Then there is the bonus of travelling to different places, seeing new cultures and meeting different people and imbibing their values into mine.”
Asked if she has sung for movies, she replies, “I have never sung for the movies. But I think it would be fun. I usually sing Sufi kalaams. The audience too is different and so is the environment. I may consider singing a real masala-style Bollywood song in the near future. It would be a nice experience and great fun.”
It came as no surprise to her parents when she decided to take up Sufi singing as a profession. She continues, “They were the ones to have introduced me to music and later encouraged me to take up singing as a career. They have always been a quiet source of encouragement and motivation for me. All they were particular about was that I acquire proper academic qualification, a work experience and be independent enough to face any challenges in life in a thoughtful manner.”
Problems faced by newcomers: Regarding problems faced by newcomers, she opines, “First and foremost – as with any artistic endeavour – there are simply no guarantees. So one must have faith in his / her own self. Tasting success may take time or, for that matter may not come at all and therefore one should be adaptive enough to fit in a new role permanently or until you attempt again. If you are well educated, aware, strong in your belief and behaviour, you will be able to overcome the sense of insecurity in the eyes of the parents, well-wishers, etc. who would prefer that their children take more secure and ‘safer’ professions. With the increasing popularity of Bollywood this has changed somewhat so parents are more forthcoming with respect to film related arts. However, for other musicians it is still a time where new challenges come every day!”
She says that she would divide the problems that newcomers face into two broad groups. Firstly, issue of survival/subsistence during the initial years as you seek to establish yourself. The cost of living today is high and so the need to maintain an alternative work profile to support oneself.
The other issue faced by newcomers is more behavioural and attitudinal according to her. She elaborates, “We today live in age of instant gratification and fame. There is so much of drivel that is uttered, by way of PR and marketing, and that is absolutely disgusting. Many newcomers claim becoming pandits and ustads even though they barely have their basics in place. However, I believe this is a line of no short-cuts, especially when it comes to ability and artistic excellence. One has to go through the motions and work diligently to become proficient. Getting way-laid by the fame and money may not be the right attitude. It is as simple as entering any field or career is not as difficult as sustaining and growing in that field. We see this very often when we see talented young artists who get a break, through various shows, but get face decline afterwards. One must fight the temptation to go in for short-term success/fame to ensure greater success/fame and excellence in the longer-term.”
Is a Godfather Required: She is not really sure about this. She says, “Godfather – I don’t know because I and the Gharana I belong to have never had one. But made marks like those who set out with a clear mind, commitment and intention to excel. Godfather may open a couple of doors for you but unless you have intrinsic ability and can add value there is no way that people will work with you over time. I believe that more than a Godfather, to become a really good artist you need a good Guru, lots of riyaaz, great discipline and healthy dose of professionalism.”
Ragini and Religion: For Ragini, a religion is ‘the philosophy of life’. She reveals, “It builds faith, trust and strong conviction and is the pathway to disciplined thoughts and actions. Religions are actually above the ‘isms’ and all propagate and teach just one thing – Humanism. Nothing can be more beautiful than being blessed to be able to enjoy the creation of the Mother Nature; the magic of the Almighty; the designs by the God. I am reminded of a beautiful poem by John Stuart Blakie “… all powers, all laws, are but the fair, embodied thoughts of God, all things are full of God”. It’s rather flabbergasting that HE created me and I created the religion to create belief in HIM. But let us enjoy and imagine HIS feel and create a meaningful existence. This is what I would call a good religious practice, love and be loved. And the rituals are a means to purify our minds so that we can enjoy the positive vibes around us.”
She then explains about her unshaken faith in God. She says, “I have faith in God and believe that our life is a divine design. But Karma remains at the top and as Allama Iqbal said Khudi ko kar buland itna ke har taqder se pehle Khuda bande se ye poche bata teri raza kia hai. The Bhagawad Geeta also teaches us that Karma designs the destiny too. Our Life, thus, is a plain sheet which we can paint with our Karma. The religion is the guide to this painting. The concept of God is very easy to explain but difficult to understand. It’s said Kaam Krod Lobh Moh Aharnkaar Tyago, Jagao Re Bhai Jagoo. And once we awake, then it’s just the beginning of the spiritual Journey. Naad, the sound ultimate is what a person endeavours to enjoy in spirituality. In my view every human being is entitled to enjoy the spiritual domains and experiences but many spend years in questioning its existence.”
Ragini and Spirituality in Music: She links spirituality and music in an interesting way. She says, “Music is a tool for devotion since ages and for me my music is a part of my Bhakti of the almighty and his creations. Sufi songs are written by great Sufi saint who lived their lives in devotion and in oneness with the almighty. The intricate poetry in itself is charged with the spiritual power of the past Masters and saints. It’s the rejuvenating tool for the soul. Sufis and saints have always loved and preferred listening to music as it helps in their ultimate elevation.”
She further adds, “As musicians when we sing these charged Qualams which are full of passion, love and mysticism, it generates subtle magic and the creativity reaches its zenith creating a state of human mind close to ‘Zikr’. The essence of Sufism is the Ultimate Truth and practicing Sufism means experiencing this Truth. I have been brought up in a deeply spiritual and musical environment. And I wish to create a harmonious environment through my music and serve the humanity by spreading the message of truth, peace and love. I believe that an artist’s work should take the audience to the stage of catharsis. At the same time my performances are my full blown self expression. There have also been moments at times while performing when everything seemed to have dissolved around me and it felt like a trance like stage.”
Future Projects: She is looking at big concerts in the future. She says, “Largely concerts are my focus. I am just about to go to U.K for concerts, where I am presenting some traditional and unique Sufi kalaams, and am keen to have audiences hear authentic Sufi music, and for them to draw correct view on Sufi music. Once back I will continue concerts and album recordings. I am also looking forward to connecting with diverse audiences and taking my music and my Gharana to newer frontiers. I wish to have a contended and meaningful life, and contribute something new and memorable to the field of Sufi music and my connoisseurs.”
This article was first published in Eve’s Times magazine and has been reproduced here with the permission of the editor, Swati Amar.