Not having an active presence on the social circuit is one thing santoor player Pandit Bhajan Sopori doesn’t miss. Instead, he focusses on those artistes who have been sidelined or shadowed by the phenomenon of what he calls the “cultural mafia” – a termite nibbling away at the India’s cultural soul.
“A cultural mafia is ruling the country. What has happened because of this is that the talented and hard working artistes who have knowledge but don’t socialise, who don’t go out there and beg for work – their contribution to the cultural scene is zero,” Sopori told IANS in an interview.
“They are self-made artistes with a soul. Their children have refused to take the cultural heritage forward fearing the disappointments they will have to face in future,” he added.
This stark disparity pained the 55-year-old who hails from the Sufiana Gharana of Kashmir – a family whose six generations have been producing music. The kernel of forming an independent music academy germinated from here and this is how SaMaPa – Sopori Academy for Music and Performing Arts, came into being in 2004.
“I was frustrated to see talent dying in this field. A good artiste will come and play, accolades and praise are showered, a few awards here and there. But then what next? Once you are off the sight, you are off the mind,” Sopori observed.
“At the academy, we appreciate talent, encourage young talent, and take the guru-shishya parampara (tradition) forward,” he added.
This is just one aspect of Sopori’s contribution to classical music. He is the harbinger of establishing a cultural link between Jammu and Kashmir and the rest of India. As the roots of santoor can be traced to the Kashmir Valley, credit should go to the Padma Shri recipient for keeping the tradition of Kashmiri sufi music alive.
“It wasn’t an easy journey,” Sopori recollected, adding that the hardships and struggles are slowly paying off.
“I was with All India Radio when I was transferred to Delhi in 1990. For three years, no music was produced from the Valley. When I decided to go back, there was not even a tabla player to accompany me. They were so scared (of the terrorists).”
“I convinced them and we went there, played under tight security and received a warm reception. Local artistes were suffering because there was no work for them. Gradually, we started getting them here or at the musical performances,” he added.
This Sangeet Natak Akademi award winner has under his belt over 5,000 compositions from the works of eminent Urdu and Persian ghazal writers like Hali, Jammi, Ghalib, Daag, Momin, Bhadur Shah Zaffar, Iqbal, Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Firakh Gaurakhpuri, among others.
A child prodigy who starting playing the santoor when he was a mere five-year-old, Sopori consciously stayed away from Bollywood. Carrying the weight of “cultural responsibility” on his shoulders, his decision has massively contributed to Kashmiri music.
“Doing commercial films wasn’t difficult but who would have contributed to Kashmiri music? If I had done one, I would have done it for myself, but music is a concern of our nation,” pointed out Sopori, who offers free-of-cost teaching at his music academy.
And the genuineness of his free-of-cost module can be gauged not only by his humility but the modest and simplicity of his living. His abode isn’t a sprawling bunglaow in a posh locality but a humble government flat that bears the stamp of a typical Kashmiri house.
“I wouldn’t have been living like this, I too would have had a bungalow (if I had gone commercial),” he said smilingly.
“For any contribution to society or a field if you want to open ways, someone has to sacrifice. I think I was the chosen one and I will keep on doing this,” Sopori concluded.