For Love or Lucre?

What drives youth when choosing careers? Love of the profession or just lucre? Parental pressure or pure passion? Dilemmas always existed. But the Covid-19 pandemic which has wreaked havoc on lives and livelihoods has created unprecedented uncertainties for young adults, throwing future plans out of gear in the threshold of their time. Yet, like a breath of fresh air in these choking times, a few young men and women saw in this an opportunity to follow dreams and pursue paths less travelled. One of them is 19-year-old Rajkishore Mukherjee, a first-year college student from Calcutta. Here he reveals why he decided to make music his career choice.

Rajkishore Mukherjee (centre) doing riyaz to accompaniments of tabla (left), harmonium (left, back) and sarangi. (Photo courtesy of Rajkishore Mukherjee)

The Oxford Dictionary defines “lucrative” as that which has the potential of “producing a great deal of profit.” Of course, “profit” in most societies, is essentially pecuniary in nature. However, I have been very fortunate to be immersed in an environment from which I have imbibed other definitions of “profit” — which do not limit it so narrowly. 

It all goes back to my childhood, when I was five years old and took a trip with my grandmother to Bangalore. It was my first time travelling. That’s when my love for the aeroplane started and I decided that I wanted to become a pilot. At the same time, I was receiving my traditional taleem (training in Hindustani classical music). My father and guru, Shri Kumar Mukherjee made sure that I did my kharaj riyaz (daily practice) in the wee hours of the morning and that I caught up with my evening practice. This routine never faltered throughout my fifteen years of schooling at La Martiniere. However, though I loved music, I never wanted to pursue it as a career. Considering it now, no plausible justifications come to my mind as to why I didn’t. That was just how it was.

Then one incident completely changed the course of my life. It was in 2012. Pandit Ravi Shankar had passed away and my father was invited at a commemorative event to remember him. I had the pleasure of accompanying him. Known personalities spoke about the legend, his contribution and the enormous life that he lived. On the way back, in the taxi, as we were approaching home, this was what my father told me: “Do you want people to remember you when you die?”

That was it. Through this single sentence – or rather rhetorical question – my entire perception of what constitutes “lucrative” changed.  It dawned on me that our personal comprehension of “profitability” is quite relative. What might be alluring to me wouldn’t be as interesting to others and that is how this planet functions. Those words that evening changed my rudimentary definition of “profitability”. I decided that I would seek another kind of “lucrative”. My own kind.

Since then, music has been my life and I definitely want to pursue it, not just as a passion but as a profession. I am extremely fortunate that I have parents who encourage me to follow my personal ambitions.

Rajkishore Mukherjee with his parents Kumar Mukherjee and Suparna Mukherjee and grandmother Suvra Mukheree. (Photo courtesy of Rajkishore Mukherjee.)

Perhaps many are deprived of that privilege. However, lack of parental encouragement is not the only reason people keep from following their own path. There are other factors. Fear, for example, is a phenomenon which restricts us, preventing us from doing the things that we would often aspire to do.

Certain questions pop into the mind of a youngster who would want to pursue music as their career.

“Where would this take me?”

“Would I have a secure and sufficient monthly income?”

“How do I get famous and popular?”

 Unfortunately, I cannot answer most of these questions. The mystery of these answers makes a musician have one of the most enticing jobs to ever exist.

We would realise that all that risk would be absolutely worth it when we reach that level of success that we have always aspired to be.

Though the Covid-19 pandemic has disadvantaged youngsters in many ways who confront unprecedented changes resulting in uncertain futures in terms of careers, many opportunities have opened up too.

I think it is a time when we can use the uncertainties to our advantage and take the road less travelled and follow our dreams. There is no denying that a musician is a taker of risks. But I feel that some risk is absolutely worth taking. Otherwise there will be nothing to fight for.

Remember, we live only once and at least I wouldn’t want to lie on my deathbed lamenting what could have been. Take the risk, see where it goes. Even if you fail, it’s worth it. I haven’t won a single music competition. Does it matter to me? No. Because my music, my art, is my language. I know I could be and I am judged because music and art are conveyed in universal languages and notions of how these languages are conveyed differ. But no matter how pejorative these judgments may be, the language remains mine. That feels incomparable.

My prime piece of advice would be, don’t think about the consequences. There’s always a 0.1% chance of a plane crashing, but that doesn’t mean that we would deprive ourselves of the privilege of flying. Learn the discipline which you have wanted to learn for ages, and see where it takes you.

If the great masters would have thought about “lucrativity,” the evolution of Indian Classical music would have come to a standstill.

Consequences?  As they say, ‘Que Sera Sera’!


Categories: Covid-19, Culture, Music, Youth

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