Even in the privileged sections of society where children have access to the best resources, music and the arts are not considered viable career options. As a result, natural talent is often relinquished in favor of acquired skills so that our children can pursue careers that will ensure a comfortable, upper middle class life for them and their unborn children.
This is the moving story of an individual who relentlessly chased his rather unusual dream, in spite of a childhood that was fraught with adversity and severely lacking in opportunity. While many of us struggle to make time for things we love, this kid built his entire life around his love for music.
Guitarist by passion and Music Coach by profession, 26-year-old Shehzad Ahmed never did give up on his dream. From a small town in U.P to where he is now, it’s been a long, turbulent ride. The madness began when a child came face to face with what was to be the love of his life……
That First Encounter
I was born and brought up in a small town called Obra in the Sonebhadra district of Uttar Pradesh. My father was the sole breadwinner raising seven children on a single income.
In the year 2000, when I was about 12, I went to a friend’s birthday party. That’s where I saw someone playing the guitar for the very first time. I was spellbound. The music, the melody just got to my head. I was so fascinated that the very next day I started looking for someone who could give me guitar lessons and found this one gentleman who agreed to teach me, although he didn’t think I would be able to learn.
For the next few months, he became my God. I was ready to do anything to please him. I would wait outside his house, run errands for him, just be there when he came home for lunch so that I could catch him for a lesson. He was a very busy man. He did teach me a lot but not as much as I wanted to learn. I knew I had to look for a new teacher soon.
Owning My First Guitar
At that time a good guitar would cost around Rs.1000. It was impossible for my father to buy me one so I decided to arrange the money on my own. When relatives came visiting, I would sit next to them and ask for 100 rupees and out of love they would give me the money. My parents were clueless about this.
Somehow I managed to save enough to buy a second-hand guitar and gave 800 rupees to my teacher. Since he could never find the time to go buy a new one, he gave me his own guitar. That was the first guitar I ever owned. I was on top of the world. My one and only dream had just come true.
When people saw me playing, they would say, “You can’t achieve anything with music, you are just wasting your time.” Luckily, my parents always supported me and allowed me to do what I wanted.
Soon I found a new teacher who lived in Banaras, about 120 km from Obra. Arranging his fee and the weekly bus fare was the next challange, so in my summer vacation, I took up a temporary job at a local garment store at a salary of Rs.500 a month.
The school reopened, but I could not think of giving up on my music after working so hard for it. So I went back to my employer and asked for a part time job. They were good people and agreed to hire me back. I would finish school at 4, go home, eat lunch and reach the shop by 5 pm and work there till 10.30 at night. It was all worth it because it paid for my guitar lessons.
Yet Another Hurdle
As the family grew, my elder brother gave up his studies to supplement the family income. Seeing him and my father toiling, I decided to stop going to school and look for a better paying job. Around 2004, I learnt driving from a friend and started working at an engineering plant where they needed people to ferry engineers to and fro. I worked night shifts and continued my education through private schooling.
“It is alright if you can’t pay the fee. But you should keep learning.” My music teacher assured me but soon my dreams took a back seat and reality took over. My guitar started gathering dust.
I studied hard and passed class 12th exams in first division. Then I switched to a new job at Rs.3000 a month. My new boss was a good man and treated me like family. One day, he asked me if I would like to work in the police department. I told him, “I don’t want to do a job forever; I want to do something in music.”
A New Life – Delhi Calling
In 2007, an old friend who was working in Delhi came to Obra to see his family. I was really impressed with his new lifestyle. So I told my parents, “I want to go to Delhi to earn more money for the family.” As always, they did not stop me. So I came to Delhi with Rs.3000 in my pocket. I had to do two things, restart my guitar lessons and learn how to speak English.
On the very first day, I went to Lajpat Nagar and bought a guitar for Rs.1800. It was a lot of money but all I wanted was to get my hands on those strings. Music was back in my life and that’s all that mattered.
I took a conscious decision not to take up a driving job. To have a steady imcome, I began working at Wills Lifestyle and also found a music teacher near my office. But because of the long work hours, I could never find time to practice. So in a few months I quit my job and started working at McDonalds for a lower salary. I had to choose between more money or more time and I chose the latter.
In 2008, a couple heard me playing and asked me to teach their child. I gave my first guitar lesson at Rs.100 a class. Gradually, the word spread and I got more students. My passion was now becoming my vocation. It felt good. I also continued learning on the side. I learnt Western Classical and Rock music and religiously practiced every day.
My music teacher was a genius. But one day he told me he was going to give it up and take up a regular job. That hit me hard. I began wondering why I was spending so much time and energy on something when no one sees any future in it, what would it give me. I kept thinking for days and then I had this thought, everywhere in life, you have to struggle, then why not struggle for something you love.
Not Without My Parents
In 2010, Shehzad moved to Gurgaon. The income from coaching was erratic so he began teaching music in a school. Soon, he started sending money to his parents, opened their bank accounts, and got his home renovated.
My parents have lived a tough life, so I want to make sure they never have to worry about money. I know one thing, if you feel for your parents and take care of them, you will definitely go far in life. To me a real life hero is one who understands his responsibilities. He moves forward but takes his people along. Someone who deserts his loved ones to be successful will definitely feel lost one day.
Whenever I feel low, I call home and speak to my parents. It gives me energy to move on. I want to improve my family’s lifestyle and give my parents a life they have never seen. This is my power. If I don’t do this, I am nothing.
Is This The Life of My Dreams?
Sometimes I sit alone and ask myself, “Are you satisfied? Is this the life you wanted? Are you truly happy?”
In life, everyone reaches a point where one type of work is for your lifestyle, for your family. And then there’s another something that you want to do for yourself, it’s your dream. That’s when you have to decide which way you want to go. When you have limited time, you have to decide how you want to use it.
Sometimes I get offers to open up a music institute, but as of now that is not something I want to do. What happens is while running after money, we miss out on the things we love. It becomes a race and then we don’t know where to stop. Let me not earn a lakh a month, let me earn a little less and figure out where I really want to be. I have finacial security and it is important, it gives peace of mind. But in times to come, I will have to take a call and move on to bigger things, take some risks. Whatever I do, I want to have my family by my side.
If we looked inside ourselves with complete honesty, we would realize we could have done a lot more. When someone says “I can’t get a job”, if they give it some honest thought, they would find a hundred things they could have done differently. If I have not been able to achieve something, it’s because I procrastinated, I had time but I did not use it consciously.
My fight is always with my own self.
Shehzad gave his first guitar to a student who could not afford to buy one. He lives in Gurgaon with his wife and a newborn baby boy. He teaches music at a noted private school and gives personal guitar lessons in the evenings. These days, he is busy preparing for his Grade 8 exam in Music Composition from the Rock School, London. You can connect with him at firstname.lastname@example.org.