On musical child prodigies

The astonishingly talented children whose Hindustani classical videos have gone viral

A grab from the 2012 YouTube video of Jayantika Dey.
A grab from the 2012 YouTube video of Jayantika Dey.

Children are considered to be endearing thanks to their innocence and lovable qualities, and children who are prodigiously talented in music and the arts can easily win over even the hardest of hearts. In recent years, Facebook and YouTube posts featuring child artistes showing immense talent in Hindustani classical music have been doing the rounds. Comments on these posts have also, not surprisingly, been generous and gushing. Who could possibly resist or not be amazed by such pristine voices and such small but nimble fingers negotiating the complexities of Hindustani raagdari music with such apparent ease and dexterity?

Young Anubhab Khamaru’s Yaman, rendered with wide-eyed innocence in a breathtakingly charming voice, shows his rock-solid training by acclaimed vocalist and guru Ajoy Chakrabarty. Khamaru’s YouTube video has more than 69,000 views and has also been widely shared on WhatsApp groups, some of which have built a legend of sorts around the young singer by misidentifying him as the grandson of the legendary Bhimsen Joshi. Nevertheless, his earnest singing leaves listeners smiling, and a bit misty-eyed.

Prodigiously talented Jayantika Dey from Varanasi, whose rendition of a vilambit composition in Raag Kedar is enough to turn anyone gooey-eyed with affection for the little pig-tailed wonder, whose unabashed smile at the waah-waah she richly deserves is as much of a delight to watch as it is to hear her lovely voice and open aakaar. Once again, this isn’t just a sweet little face with a charming voice, but a superbly talented little one who has been trained rigorously by her vocalist father Devashish Dey. Now about 10 years old, Jayantika’s pigtails are much longer and her singing is more mature.

Then there’s Unmesh Khaire, who could barely be seen from behind the harmonium he played with such poker-faced skill that one could not help but be amazed. A disciple of veteran harmonium artiste and guru Tulsidas Borkar, Khaire is now in his teens and continues to play with skill and understanding far beyond his age.

The point here is not to provide a list of prodigious child artistes. Indeed, that would be impossible, because there are just so many of them in every part of the country. The question that needs to be asked is what will become of them in the years to come? Are we a society that cares for art and nurtures it? To gush about them and bless them on YouTube and Facebook is one thing, but how many of us would spend even a few rupees to buy a track recorded by such artistes? How many will buy tickets for their concerts? Will our politicians and policymakers think of reviewing the amounts given as scholarships to such talented young people, or will they forever have to make do with the Rs.500 a month that some scholarships still offer? And will they too have to seek day jobs to make ends meet, and be musicians in their free time only?

The prodigies are here. So is the latent genius in many cases. It is we as a society that must pull up our sleeves and do something to nurture talent, put our money where our Facebook posts are, and perhaps also ensure that none of these talented youngsters becomes insufferably arrogant or tragically frustrated, as has happened so often in the past.

Shubha Mudgal tweets at @smudgal and posts on Instagram as shubhamudgal.

Also Read: Shubha’s previous Lounge columns

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