It is seldom that you come across a gifted Artist who has not only pursued multiple interests in the world of Arts, but also excelled in each and earned international acclaim.
Avijit Sarkar is a musician, painter, writer, poet and actor for whom “Art is a way of life”. From popular Bollywood and folk music to devotional music and ghazals, his mastery of vocal and instrumental music has earned him a distinguished place in the world of Music and Performing Arts. He has completed over 1700 live concerts around the world in a career spanning over 35 years.
In the recent years, Avijit has devoted many of his concerts and recordings for charity and fund raising in Australia, where he currently lives with his family.
He has composed music for Australian documentary films, radio and theatre in Sydney and his stories, essays and poetry have been published in leading newspapers and on web magazines. Recently, he launched The Mind Creative, an E-magazine that dwells on everything that falls under the ubiquitous umbrella of creativity.
In an exclusive conversation with LifeBeyondNumbers, Avijit Sarkar shares with us inspiring insights into his transformation from an IT professional to one of the most celebrated names in the world of Music:
From Math to Music
I was born in Calcutta into a middle-class family attached to the fine and performing arts since two generations. My initial education in music began from a very early age – melody from my mother and rhythm from my Dad. I started drawing even before I learnt to talk, however in the midst of financial difficulties; my parents could only really afford to lend me their concrete floor for drawing – not paper and pencil.
When I was 5, we moved to Ahmedabad, Gujarat where I was groomed in classical music under notable teachers. At a Talent Evening in college, I was spotted by a concert financier who picked me up and turned me into a professional vocalist.
While pursuing my Masters in Pure Mathematics, I managed to learn Latin American percussion and drumming and even functioned for a few years as a drummer with pop and rock bands. Today, I remember my college and University days as a blur of intense studying and unending travels for concerts.
It was also during this time that AIR and Doordarshan (which was in its infancy) were looking for musicians and singers and I got into these organisations both as a musician and a singer and continued recording there for nearly seven years.
In 1979, I had a kind of a setback when I realized that I could not complete my PhD due to financial pressures but was lucky to move into the field of software quite easily (algorithmic work comes naturally to mathematicians, I guess!).
This was a decision that would prove to be a life changing one in the future. I worked for some of the largest computer firms in India as a software engineer and executive (including WIPRO and HCL). During my stint in Times of India in the early 80’s, I was asked to sketch for one of their weekly ventures called the Mid-Week Montage. This was the first opportunity for me to get my sketches and social cartoons published.
Theatre & Puppetry
During my school days, I came in touch with Amar Ganguly – an eminent actor and theater director from Bengal and in spite of my reclusive personality, he managed to coax me to train under him. Ultimately I was put on stage (amid severe nervous strain) as the main character in a drama.
Later, while practicing with Mrinalini Sarabhai’s Drama division, I chanced to see puppeteers perform in the next room. I was enthralled by this art and managed to convince my parents to let me join the puppetry division. I got the opportunity to train under an international expert Meher Contractor with whom I spent over a decade; and who put me on the international marionette stage in France and Iran in later years.
It was during my trip to France in 1987 that I decided to move away from India, partly driven by a measure of frustration both professionally and socially. I moved to Australia with my wife and daughter in 1990 and founded Natraj Academy six years ago, where students come to learn music – both vocals and instruments.
Even today, I feel that moving to Australia was the best decision that I made in my life. Australia has given me more than I ever expected and I shall forever remain indebted to this country.
For reasons unknown, the word creativity has always been associated with the arts. My views are a little different – a surgeon with an innovative procedure or a chef with a unique recipe needs to share the creative stage with an actor, an artist or a writer.
The Mind Creative deals with everything creative that stems from the human mind. It has allowed me to get in touch with many writers and illustrators across the world which in itself, is rewarding.
The Music Scene in India
I am from the old school of music. While classical music still has a great position in Indian society, the music from Bollywood has travelled downhill very quickly. Does this mean that there is no talent?
Indeed not. There is enormous talent out there in India. However the music that is being produced is catering to the audiences of this day and age. I believe that the degradation of music in India is driven by the quality of the audiences and not by lack of talent. The light classical forms of music (ghazals, devotional songs, thumri, etc) have lost a lot of ground driven by the taste of the audiences.
The other interesting thing that I have noted is that songs have lost their identity. In the days gone by songs were strongly coupled with characters on screen or singers or music directors. These days, that particular coupling is lost and many good songs go unnoticed.
This is, in my opinion, a very sad state of affairs. The younger generation must be taught and introduced to “proper” music and poetry; else the traditional styles will be lost within the span of the next generation.
The Viability of Arts as a Career
I agree that arts are still not considered to be viable career options (it has never been) in any part of the world. This is a consumer’s world and consumerism is driven by necessity and money. The world of arts and the products from this world are not a top necessity for a fast-paced society.
To make wealth in the arts is always a matter of chance and the statistical truth is that the chance of getting big successes in the arts is still remote. You need to either be lucky, or be at the right place at the right time in life. In my 40 years in the world of arts, for every successful figure I have met, I have come across scores of failures. That is the reality; albeit a sad one.
However, having said all this, I do not want any youngster to shy away from pursuing a career in the arts, if that is their choice of life. There is always light at the end of the tunnel. The only words of advice are – be very perseverant, be ready to sacrifice a lot, be ready to put in very hard work and to always have faith in your abilities. Also, always get a proper education and/or a good teacher because you can only travel a limited distance with natural skills.
That is why I go a little beyond just teaching people how to sing. I train students about presentation techniques, emotional content and poetry; ingredients that are tightly coupled with singing skills.
One Life To Live
I strongly believe that we, as social animals, use a only fraction of our minds and capabilities in our lifetime. In order to do well in multiple areas one simply needs to condition the mind, learn time management and do lots and lots of sacrifices coupled with intense hard work.
In my case, without the undying support of my wife Palu and daughter Anaita, nothing would have been possible.
Life has a lot of to offer and it is for the individual to grab this wealth. From an early age, curiosity has been the driving force behind the knowledge that I have acquired coupled with perseverance and faith in my own abilities.
I also think that I was always prepared to work very hard without losing focus of the end result. I am not a religious man. In fact I believe in quite the contrary. I believe that I will live only once and that I need to make the most of it. In my opinion (for whatever it is worth) humanity is limited by its fear of God and society and much of our rationed knowledge and skills is due to these fears.
Presently, Avijit Sarkar has cut down on many commitments (especially in music), to be able to travel more. He is also working on a book – a set of fictional stories based on the life of Indians in Down Under. Connect with him here.