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As Indians, our roots lie in classical music

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Amitabh Bachchan, Nita Ambani, Harsh Meswani, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir HussainAmitabh Bachchan, Nita Ambani, Harsh Meswani, Pandit Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Zakir Hussain

Writer, musician, student, sports enthusiast and businessman- in-making… Harsh Meswani awes Boski Gupta with his honest and sincere responses

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Harsh Meswani is his age. I expected to meet a mature and articulate writer replying with a straight face the same questions he must have answered number of times before. It was implicit that someone who’s written a voluminous coffee table compilation on the upcoming classical musicians would be a seasoned man with shades of grey on his sideburns. Harsh, on the other hand, is all of 18 years of age, and though articulate, replies to questions with candor and innocence only an adolescent can pull off. He’s frank, he’s honest and he’s sincere. All of which is reflected in his book The Torchbearers. Harsh comes from one of the most prestigious and renowned business families of the country, hence it’s taken that the lad is being groomed to join the world of commerce soon. He’s about to join an US university and soon will be embroiled in his managerial studies. However, that does not dissipate his passion for music and sports. He’s already released two albums and is a proficient musician himself, much credit for which goes to his parents’ Bijal and Hital Meswani’s upbringing and tastes. Excerpts from the interview…

The first thing that strikes you when you meet Harsh Meswani is his age. I expected to meet a mature and articulate writer replying with a straight face the same questions he must have answered number of times before. It was implicit that someone who’s written a voluminous coffee table compilation on the upcoming classical musicians would be a seasoned man with shades of grey on his sideburns. Harsh, on the other hand, is all of 18 years of age, and though articulate, replies to questions with candor and innocence only an adolescent can pull off. He’s frank, he’s honest and he’s sincere. All of which is reflected in his book The Torchbearers. Harsh comes from one of the most prestigious and renowned business families of the country, hence it’s taken that the lad is being groomed to join the world of commerce soon. He’s about to join an US university and soon will be embroiled in his managerial studies. However, that does not dissipate his passion for music and sports. He’s already released two albums and is a proficient musician himself, much credit for which goes to his parents’ Bijal and Hital Meswani’s upbringing and tastes. Excerpts from the interview…


What inspired you to write a book on such a heavy subject? 
I was exposed to Indian classical music from a very young age. My parents would take me to concerts since I was 3 years old. I would be half asleep in the crowd, not knowing or understanding what was going on. However, after seeing the greatest living legends of Indian music perform live at such a young age, I gradually grew accustomed to the sound. And over the years I developed an interest and an appreciation for the art form. I started noticing that there was not enough recognition being given to it, and that the youth in particular was unaware of the rich cultural treasures we possess. New artistes were not getting the platform they required. That was precisely what motivated me to write this book.

And you delved into the subject…
I first decided that for the book to really have some kind of impact, the public needed to hear the voices of the musicians themselves. Anyone would get bored reading a long essay on classical music! That’s why I decided to take interviews of artistes and feature their stories in a compelling, engaging manner. Next, I went about selecting the artistes. I decided to keep a tentative age limit and feature artistes who were part of the current generation, since it is they who really need the backing. I initially came up with such a long list that it would have taken me a lifetime to cover them all! So I shortened it down to 24 considering time, the musical diversity (different instruments), and the geographical diversity (all parts of India) of the musicians. I made the interview questions in such a way that artistes present their own life story, their views on the art form and their hopes for the future.

And there was a lot of support too from the fraternity?
My biggest inspiration was probably Ustad Zakir Hussain. I presented the idea of the book to him long before I started writing it, and he said it was a wonderful idea. That spurred me on and motivated me to make this book a big thing. Other than that, legendary musicians such as Pt Shivkumar Sharma and Ustad Amjad Ali Khan were inspirations. My parents played a huge role since they initially cultivated my love for this music and gave me the wings to fly. And then there’s my younger brother Aryaman, who has widened my taste in Indian classical music. I’d also like to mention the death of mandolin legend U Srinivas as an event that changed this book-writing journey. It created a void that could not be filled, and I felt like I owed it to him.

Normally, boys your age even when want to write on music would write on Western or contemporary. You chose classical music…
Just because I listen to Indian classical does not mean I am against Western or contemporary. My favourite type of music to listen to is actually classic rock, and I am a huge fan of heavy metal, jazz, world music and old pop ballads. But I believe that while it is good to explore the world, one must also have an equally strong connection with their roots. And as Indians, our roots lie in Indian classical music. I honestly feel that with the amount of media coverage it is getting, Western music does not need further promotion. It is Indian classical music that really needs our help in this generation.

You yourself are a prolific musician, have composed and released albums. Should we call you a prodigy or you just tend to love music?
I won’t say ‘no’ to being called a prodigy of course, but honestly, I am nowhere near that level. I am just a music lover who likes to compose, improvise and follow my passion. I am not even trained; I play the keyboards purely by hearing. My albums reflect the kind of music I love.

Tell us about your family’s involvement in the book, and also your choices and tastes in life, especially music.
Writing this book was like building a wall, brick by brick. But my family was the cement that held that wall together. Their constant support throughout the process, advice on which artistes to select, our long discussions on editing each and every word in the book… all these factors played a major role in making the book what it is today. My parents helped me so much in getting in touch with artistes, fixing interviews and so many more things. Overall, my family’s contribution was critical in completing this book in such a short period despite all my other commitments.

You are just about to start college. Tell us more about your other choices, subjects and interests…
I’m starting university this August at the prestigious Ivy League College University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. I have been accepted into the dual-degree Jerome Fisher program in Management and Technology, where I get an engineering degree and a business degree from the Wharton school. Apart from academics and music, I am also a competitive tennis player and a huge lover of sports. I have played tennis at the national level since many years and hope to pursue it at university. I love skiing and do it every year in the Alps. I am heavily interested in international affairs, philosophy and
travel as well.

You come from a business family. Have you ever thought about making a career in music? Is another book in the pipeline?
I did once think about taking up music as a career (when I was younger and overly ambitious). But as of now, I think it will always remain my biggest passion and hopefully side-job all my life. I simply don’t think I have the skills currently to reach that level of musicianship.
About the classical legacy, I have also launched a website called the Indian Concert Guide. It is an online community of Indian classical music lovers and gives all information regarding concerts, events and festivals happening in Mumbai. I think the website can develop into a full-fledged platform for musicians and audiences to connect at a deeper level.
If I do write another book, I doubt it will be about Indian classical music! I think I will move on to other ways of promoting the art form. My second book will surely be on a different topic, maybe Indian athletes or something, I don’t know!