Understanding the Sa to Ni of music

Pushkar Lele is one of the young breed of singers proficient in Indian Classical Music as well as Natya Sangeet. His voice has a beautiful melody which is only accentuated by his deep and intricate knowledge in the art of singing. he was a participated in many TV shows like Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Sur-Taal, etc. He learned under the tutelage of many greats like Pt. Gangadharbua Pimpalkhare, Shri. Vijay Koparkar and Vijay Sardeshmukh. He was profiled by INDIA TODAY as one of the 35 YOung Achievers from various fields all over India and has won awards like Sudhir Phadke Yuvonmesh Puraskaar, sanatan Sangeet Puraskar, Pandit Jitendra Abhisheki Smriti Yuva Puraskaar, Sur Mani, Dr. Vasantrao Deshpande Yuva Kalakaar Puraskaar and many more. He is the founder of Gandhaar School Music and specialises in Natyasangeet, Bhavgeet, Tappa, Thumri, Dadra, Hori, semiclassical as well as folk forms.
How and when did your relationship with music begin?
PushkarLele_Pic1I started learning music around the age of 4, even before I knew how to read and write. So music was the first language I learnt! My Aunt, Manda Modak, had given me a small toy harmonium. I used to play the National Anthem and nursery rhymes on it. Seeing the precise way I used to play it, my mother realized that her child is musically gifted. A music teacher named Medha Gandhe used to come to teach my sister and I soon joined her. Due to my sharp intellect and tremendous grasping, I soon overtook her and exhausted the teacher’s material in a small period of time. That’s when my mother thought that I need a good foundation in classical music. Thus, having musically inclined parents helped me begin my musical journey much earlier. Had I been born to a father who was an embodiment of Aurangzeb, and a mother who could not distinguish between the voices of Lata and Saigal, I would have had it! Thank God for that small favour!
Your first performance was at the age of 7. Was that when you realised that music will be your life long companion?
No, I was too small to grasp the turn of events around me then.
You have been fortunate enough to undertake tutelage from many great gurus, Gangadharbua Pimpalkhare, Vijay Koparkar, Vijay Sardesmukh and Satyasheel Deshpande. How was the experience learning under so many exponents of music?
I was indeed lucky to have had the opportunity to have Pt. Gangadharbua Pimpalkhare as my first GURU. I shudder to think of the consequences had I joined some of the few institutionalised musical bodies instead! Initially he was very reluctant to have such a small boy as me as his disciple. But after he heard me sing, his eyes moistened and he declared that I am to go nowhere else and that he himself will train me. I was with him for eight long years. It is thanks to him that my foundation in classical music became rock solid. Vijay Koparkar added the dimension of music as a performing art and enriched me with musical material and contents. He used to live in Dhayari village, a good 15 kilometers one way. My mother used to take me there, come rain, heat or cold, till I got a driving license. Vijay Sardeshmukh ji was a jolt that struck me and brought me out of the stagnancy that I felt I had got entrapped in. It came at a phase when I was battling my own demons with relation to music; a phase of frustration, of disillusionment and hopelessness with regard to the art form that I so revered and was passionate about. While this phase is generally considered a significant milestone in every student’s ‘journey’, the discomfort it caused me seemed insurmountable at that time! Satyasheel ji inculcated in me a habit of academic analysis and looking at things in the right perspective in an unbiased manner as also the ability to articulate and express one’s thoughts clearly.
You gave up your engineering career for committing to music? How did your family and close friends react to this decision?
Indeed the decision of leaving engineering to take up music full-time was a difficult one and a turning point in my life. It took me some time to figure out that I am not born to become another run-of-the-mill engineer and am destined for something more sublime. Many people advised me against it then. But I had decided to listen to only one voice, the voice within me. Artistes have to be crazy to an extent to be able to achieve something in life. So that was a crazy decision, which I now can say has paid off! But this would not have been possible again without the support of my mother. She is my rock of Gibraltar! My father was a cancer patient and almost on the death bed then and to allow one’s only son to leave an engineering course to pursue music needs a lot of grit and the heart of a tigress.
Do you also enjoy any other genres in music?
I do enjoy other music-s of the world. Jazz, Western Classical, Pop, Rock, Fusion and even Bollywood for that matter!
Tell us about your experience with reality shows. Are talent hunts and shows like “Sa Re Ga Ma” helping promote music?
Reality shows are double-edged swords. They can give one instant, but short-lived, global publicity! I never wanted to be part of one and went only on the insistence of Suresh Wadkar since we were paid and invited to be part of it. While my experience was bittersweet, other participants are not as lucky. Channels care two hoots about music or any other talents. They are here basically to do business with the entire dynamics revolving around the elusive TRP ratings, while talent gets promoted on the sides as a by-product! Also, participants as well as their parents these days are not mature enough to handle such zero-to-hero-back-to-zero swings, and many a times lose touch with humility and even with their own inner selves! Some of them, however, do manage to handle the fast changes and come out victorious!
You also started a musical school of your own, Gandhaar School of Music. Tell us about it and your journey as a guru.
I personally feel that there is a GURU in every disciple and a disciple in every GURU. It is the proportion of these factors that varies from person to person. Teaching has made me grow as a GURU and has been a learning experience!
What one sees today is more or less two extremes when it comes to music teaching and learning. On the one extreme, there are scores of private institutions and smaller ones affiliated to bigger institutions, and on the other there are universities. These are extremes in terms of both the content and method. While the former offers an overtly simplistic approach and a rigid curriculum, the latter tends to become too theoretical and esoteric.
There is a great need to find or initiate institutions that offer an alternative to these extremes. These newly found institutions have a role to play in creating well-rounded students who are open, inquisitive, critical and are able to take a comprehensive and inter-disciplinary approach to music.
The ‘Gandhaar School of Music’ is a step in this direction. The school is based on principles of openness, sharing and nurturing individual talent and styles and takes a holistic approach to the education of Hindustani classical music. The school reaches out to both primary and advanced students as well as connoisseurs in their quest for quality music education in specially designed and personalised structured learning and appreciation sessions.
Who are your inspirations? Any artistes whom you adore?
If one looks at the right places, there is no dearth of inspiring people. Different people have influenced and inspired me, not just in music, but as a human being and they continue to do so, the list of them being quite exhaustive! Dr. Arawind Thatte, Pt. Malini bai Rajurkar, Pt. Kumar Gandharva, Pt. Ulhas Kashalkar and many others are musicians I have genuine respect for.
How do you define the musical scene in Pune? Do you think being born in the cultural capital helped your musical career?
Personally, I surely benefited from being a Punekar. I was and still am exposed to the best of music-s, films, theater  art, literature and dance enriching me in every possible way. However, the classical music scene in Pune is fast changing – for the better or for the worst-only time will tell! With diminishing attention spans, stressful lives, bombarding of entertainment through mass media, commercial and consumerist attitudes and an overall complex lifestyle, the quality of classical music audiences, leaves much to be desired for. While there is no dearth of new young performers, organisations/festivals promoting them as well as quantitative audiences, the initiated and knowledgeable body of listeners which the city boasted until a few decades back is fast vanishing. On the positive side, one can find a lot more variety in the musical fare being made available as also the numerous new cultural spaces coming up in the new localities/suburbs of Pune.
We noticed that you attended the Sawai Gandharva last year. Can we expect your performance there this year? As Shivkumar Sharma would define it, “It’s the KumbhMela of Indian Classical Music”.
That’s a question best posed to the Sawai Gandharva Committee! I have been asked this question by a zillion admirers and fans already. I hope the Committee is listening! I, however, reviewed the festival for DNA, which was widely appreciated by artists and music enthusiast all across the world. But sadly, today, in general, talent is not the only thing to become commercially successful in the field of arts. One’s pedigree, PR, marketing skills, mutual business opportunities/strategies and you-pat-my-back-n-I’ll-pat-yours attitudes play an important role. No senior artist wishes to be politically incorrect. In such an atmosphere, mediocrity thrives in turn proving harmful for the art form.
Tell us about different genres like thumri, bhavgeet, natyasangeet, tappa, etc. Most do not understand the difference, but unknowingly love listening to them. Is this why you undertake listening sessions?
There is a huge population of music lovers who love to listen to classical music, but do not understand it much. They also have the urge and interest to take a step further and make an effort in understanding it. Sadly not many performing musicians have reciprocated this interest and made an effort in creating access points for such a large audience base for a better understanding and appreciation of classical music. My teaching, Classical Music Appreciation Workshops and Listening sessions are steps in this direction. I do not see them being any different from wine tasting and appreciation classes!
You are also launching CDs of your own. How are the compositions different from your music that we have heard till date?
Invitation_FinalI am launching two CDs, Smaran-Tarang and Tappe Di Bahar. Smaran Tarang is a unique and first-of-it’s kind attempt of projecting classical music in Marathi. Musicians of the older generation like Pt. Vinayakbua Patwardhan, Master Krashnarao Phulambrikar, Pt. VD Paluskar, Pt. Ramkrishnabua Vaze had composed and noted down numerous classical bandishes in Marathi, but their usage and exposure remain limited and restricted to elementary music schools and never reached concert stage. Hence, this project is a pioneering effort aimed to carrying forward a unique aesthetic idiom.
Tappe Di Bahaar is solely centred around the genre of Tappa, which is a major genre in North India and is believed to have been inspired from the folk songs of camel drivers of Punjab-Sindh region. Tappa requires sharp intellect along with the vocal ability to produce musical ideas instantly to match the speed of composition, so very few attempt singing it. Tappa was on the verge of extinction, but maestros like Krishnarao Pandit, Rajabhaiyya Punchhwale, Balasaheb Punchhwale, Sharachchandra Arolkar, Kumar Gandharva, Rasoolan Bai, Siddheshwari Devi, Rajabhau Kogje, Girija Devi and other preserved this traditional and made it popular again. I selected other cross-over forms as well, like, Tap-Khayal, Tap-Tarana, Tap-Thumri and Tap-Hori.
I hope that that audiences enjoy listening to it as much as I have enjoyed working on them!
How do you see the future of Indian Music? With Bollywood and Western Music being the favourites, do you think the next generation still appreciates the music you are into?
Classical music-s of the world, whether Indian or Western, never had and never will have that mass appeal. It can never boast to have the mass base that Popular music has. Having said that, let me reassure you that there are large number of young classical music lovers and students all across India. I don’t understand why classical musicians are made to feel almost guilty about their choice of music! For the media and ordinary folk, playback and reality shows seem the be-all-n-end-all of musical careers! However, my concern is not just about classical music still finding listeners in the future. My concern is about the near domination of Bollywood music through the mass media. Whether it’s a gym, pub, lounge, hotel or wedding function, all your get to hear is Bollywood music! The resultant is that a youngster’s only exposure to music and films is Bollywood! It is this narrow-minded approach of the market and media that is going to prove dangerous for all non-Bollywood musicians, not just the classical ones. Some of the thinking ones have already started focusing on other means of their music distribution using the power of Internet technology.
How can our readers get in touch with you or know more about you? Any social media presence?
Visit my website , drop me an email on or connect with me on FB/Twitter.

Short and Quick answers

You attribute your success to: Hardwork and the blessings of my Gurus!
If you were not a musician, you would be: Interior Decorator, Landscape Designer, Film Maker, Fitness Gutu Or Dancer
Music for you is: Life
You are a Punekar because: I enjoy my afternoon siesta!