The Sunday Guardian
‘The visually-impaired can see the world with inner vision’
Composer and instrumentalist Baluji Shrivastav is blind since childhood, but he has never let his disability come in the way of his passion for music. He speaks to Priya Singh.
the show you performed in India recently. How did you put together the Inner Vision Orchestra? What sparked the idea?
A. My father often read the Gita to me, and Sanskrit fascinated me, and that is how the inspiration for Atardrishti was sparked. It is based on the 11th chapter of the Gita, when Lord Krishna shows his “Vishwaroopam” ( grand avatar) to Arjuna, and makes him look beyond the obvious. I was excited to choose the Mahabharata because of Dhritarashtra, who himself was blind. When he could be the Blind King, I too could be a significant person. I feel people who have inner vision don’t feel visually impaired, we can see the world with our inner vision. I’ve used few shlokas of the 11th chapter and created Antardrishti-The Inner Vision. Eight musicians performed on vocals, mridangam, tabla, sitar, flutes, violin and piano. It was held at the Royal Opera House in Mumbai and at the British Council Theatre in Delhi. The idea behind Inner Vision was to bring together and encourage the visuallyimpaired from across countries to participate in music. Antardrishti, as a concept, is very close to my heart and the platforms and opportunities given by the British Council have enabled us to reach out to many people and share our music, and to raise awareness of the contribution differentlya-bled people make to society.
Q. Tell us about your collaboration with the British Council.
A. The British Council has been supportive to the Baluji Music Foundation since 2013, and has encouraged and made possible the research and the development of this project. It has been a delight to be part of their 70 year celebrations in India. It is a platform which celebrates the contribution made by the differently- abled to all our communities.
Q. Describe your signature style of composing music. What inspires you to compose? A.
I have had a very versatile musical career. Sound is my primary mode of interaction with the world. While my musical perspective has a firm base in the Hindustani classical tradition, I love to explore music in all its forms. I have had the opportunity to perform and record with some of the greatest tabla accompanists, such as Anindo Chatterji and Ustad Fayaz Khan.
Q. You have worked with many renowned artists from all over the world. How has your journey been so far?
A. Music is a universal language and it is always a delight to meet and work with new people. I have had the chance to work with artistes and bands such as Stevie Wonder, Massive Attack, Annie Lennox, Madness, Andy Sheppard and Guy Barker, and the experience has been beyond great.
Q. What sort of challenges did you come across while putting together the Inner Vision Orchestra?
A. The two challenges I faced, especially while forming Inner Vision, had to do with finding good musicians, and finding musicians from different parts of the world. ReImagine India, the joint project of the British Council and the Arts Council England, helped us find musicians on the streets—musicians who were hidden away. Our greatest challenge is facing prejudice and discrimination. Many people have low expectations of the differentlyabled. We have to work hard to gain the respect which others take for granted.
Q. You are also known for your collaborative work in different genres like jazz, pop and other Western forms. How did you master these styles of music?
A. I didn’t master any art form. I’m an Indian musician and I have mastered the art of improvisation. I can match the rhythms of other types of music. My message to all Indian musicians is to learn improvisation, memorise music and develop listening skills. Open your hearts and minds to other ways of hearing the world.
Q. How much significance does the Order of the British Empire, which you were awarded in 2016, carry in your life? A.
The OBE is like Britain’s Padma Shri. I’m very glad to have been recognised by the British government. I say I have come from village to privilege, although there were many adventures and challenges on the way, both from without and within.
Q. What advice would you like to offer to amateur musicians who look up to you? A.
My message to all the musicians in the world would be that they must understand how to experiment with and explore music. It is not just about learning play and sing. Music exists in everyone and everything, in sound and breath. Linda [his wife] helped me recognise sounds which I didn’t consider as music: the sound of wind, air. Also, all musicians should be respected for their music not for their deformity or appearance. All should be given a fair chance to show their talent and be paid properly and not exploited, especially when they are vulnerable.
Q. Tell us about your upcoming ventures. A.
I have some classical concerts in the UK and I am working on a new album. I am preparing a festive concert with a group of musicians and working, for the coming year, on a tour of Australia. Look out also for my Urdu opera, Sohini and Mahival.