International Women's Day interview with Neeraja Aptikar - By Rupa Gopinath
Neeraja is a gifted Hindustani Classical Indian vocalist. Her sweet and masterful voice has delighted and inspired listeners throughout India and Canada. Born and raised in a family of Sanskrit scholars,
Neeraja learned North Indian classical and semi-classical music under the able guidance of Pandit Shivajirao Bharati of Kirana Gharana and Dr. Vikas Kashalkar at the HOD University in Pune, India. She is fluent in several Indian languages and sings in these languages. Her song “Khub teri pagadi” for the movie Sindoor was nominated for the 2010 Leo awards. In addition to her career in music, Neeraja holds a master’s degree in microbiology. She has worked in a hospital as a microbiologist and taught microbiology in a medical institute for 8 years.
Neeraja is also a very successful life skills counselor and a life coach educated in Vancouver, helping the community through stress management workshops since 2013. She is a regular writer for the Sakal news paper in Maharashtra. Neeraja has received many awards and accolades for her music, both in India and Vancouver. In 2002, I was introduced to Neeraja and have since then seen her grow into a fabulous musician.
Neeraja, having come to Canada as an accomplished artiste, teacher, and microbiologist from India, could you please touch upon the similarities and differences that you have noticed when teaching music?
In India, teachers or gurus are very strict and expect you to practice regularly and devote a lot of time to the art. They like to teach only compositions of their choice, while in Canada, children or for that matter any student of music is involved in so many other activities.
Everyone is so busy in their lives that as a teacher, I must be flexible and work with their time and interest, I need to make it interesting and help them to pursue their talents. There are surely many students with high potential both in India and Canada who are very dedicated and passionate about music and will work hard to achieve their goals.
Having given many performances both in India and Canada, how does the audience differ?
In India the audience is more knowledgeable, and I do not see the need to explain the lyrics or raags and taals and I must be extremely careful not to make a mistake. Here in Canada, the audience needs more explanation about the lyrics, compositions, raags, and taals. Also, it’s important to talk about and explain the history of music, as Indian classical arts have evolved a lot from the past to present.
As a woman from India now living in Canada, what is your outlook on women’s life today?
In India today, young women are free spirited, bold and have strong opinions. They question customs and traditions before following them blindly. I grew up in a very highly educated family. My grandfather was a Sanskrit scholar, and in our family, there was no discrimination.
Everyone was treated as an equal, whether a boy or a girl. While today women in India are highly educated and work in top positions, they still face a lot of pressure from society and this causes stress.
In Canada, though the society is more liberal, as an Indian woman, one does face isolation in the community. There is a need for more support and understanding, as it takes a long time to establish your credibility when you are dealing with the challenges of living in a new country. One good thing is that there is surely more gender equality here.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
I would try and be more energetic, for example, by touring around the world to spread my knowledge and experience of music while working with different musicians to create new music.
What do you think about the negotiating power that women have today?
I think women are very good at negotiating, but they should not underestimate themselves and negotiate in a fair and honest manner without any fear or succumbing to any kind of pressure.
Today there are women who are CEOs, vice presidents, professors, artistes, police officers, doctors and women in many other professions who are doing a great job while supporting and building the communities that they live in.
I think women have a lot to offer to society as they are very sensitive, compassionate and kind and I would like to say that I’m very proud to be a woman.