Harmonising Traditional And Contemporary Music, Pragnya Wakhlu Is Presenting A Different Picture Of Kashmir
- IWB Post
- June 13, 2019
Hey you..when I was a child…
Didn’t you show me dreams of butterflies…
shiny rainbows and stars
Oh wasn’t I naive…
… and that’s every one of us, isn’t? Naive as children and brain-washed by the world as we grow up. And like this song of hers, Delhi-based Kashmiri singer and musician Pragnya Wakhlu (35) has the wonderful gift of beautifully grasping such truths of life.
“This was the first song I wrote, that too when I was contemplating quitting my job from IT to pursue a career in music,” she recalls. Pragnya was in America, working at Infosys as an engineer and she quit her job in 2008 to follow her dream.
As the song ended and our conversation progressed, I would later realize that one doesn’t need to find inspirations, they can become one too. Excerpts below:
Were you always Inclined towards singing? Should I imagine little Pragnya singing as well?
Haha! Yep, in fact, I started learning Hindustani classical music from my neighbor who was a music teacher in Pune when I was 5. I was the happiest when I was singing though I didn’t have the slightest inkling that I would one day choose it to be my life. But today, I sing, trying to find the definition of my being in my words.
You were an engineer, Pragnya, with a steady income and a good career. Not many would have the courage to quit.
I knew if I didn’t leave now, I would be like those people stuck in a desireless job which gets you a lot of money, one becomes its slave, finding it hard to quit. Though, I at that time, had no plans of singing or performing. It was just a whim, a thought, “Get out before you can’t.”
And I am glad you did. So what are you up to these days?
I am in Chicago right now. I have come here to perform for the Kashmiri Overseas Association Camp. Here are people who are passionate about the Kashmiri culture, or belong to the community and are equally willing to see its upliftment.
That’s what my aim is, to present the positive, brighter and happier side of Kashmir through my songs in my album Kahwa Speaks. I will be singing while pictures and videos from Kashmir would play in the background.
That sounds wonderful. Why don’t you tell me more about your album Kahwa Speaks?
It is about my dream to show that Kashmir is so much more than just terror, blood and hatred. I want to take them to Kashmir through my words, change their centuries-old perception. I want them to know the diverse cultures in the state, its people, its beautiful valleys, the honesty in the hearts, oh there is so much the world doesn’t know about Kashmir.
The six songs in this album are in Kashmiri but also include English translation and are a mix of contemporary and traditional music, aimed at spreading the message of peace, unity, and harmony.
You have the best of my wishes, Pragnya! So, what’s your favorite song from the album?
Well, I would be brazen enough to say that I love all of them. (she laughs) But the song, “Burning Fire,” is a powerful yet soulful song in Tibetan and English which aims to bring awareness to the critical issue of self-immolations in the Tibetan community which I came to know of when I met a Tibetan refugee in Dharamsala.
Though Pragnya was born in Kashmir, she was brought up in Pune and now lives in Delhi.
You share this amazing, unique bond with your roots.
I would give the credit to my grandparents who lived in Kashmir, whom we visited during my summer vacations. It was during the 90s at the time of cross-border tension when they were kidnapped by terrorists under the condition that the government releases the two terrorists they had arrested. My grandparents were in captivity for 45 days but luckily, the army was able to pinpoint their location and rescue them.
While anybody else would have been scared enough to leave Kashmir forever, they still refused to leave their home state, their roots. That was a very significant event in my life. Their unyielding love made me truly see the place that was just a vacation spot to me till then.
So, what else inspires your songs?
Anything that I see around me that touches me, like in my first album, there is a song called “Flying High” about a bumble bee. You see, if you go by science, a bumble bee’s body is shaped in a way that it shouldn’t be able to fly. But it does, defying the odds. And that’s what the song is about, how even humans can to do the same, beat the impossible.
You can find inspiration everywhere if you look carefully, everything holds a lesson.
That’s indeed true. What would you say have been the challenges that you faced as an artist?
I didn’t study to be a musician nor do I have a godfather in the music industry looking after my troubles. It is difficult to break into the scene when you are coming from a totally different background. Also, leaving my job… well, it was going from a very steady income to a rather variable income, which was frankly difficult to manage at first.
Also, the sexism is at its peak. Not a day goes when I am not told by one of my ‘well-wishers’ that I won’t be able to do it all alone in a city like Delhi, because I am a girl. And though, it has gone down a lot, but still women artists are yet to gain the same respect as their male counterparts.
How about telling me about your most memorable performance till date?
Performing solo at the Kasauli festival in 2012, yep that’s the one! There were personalities like singer-composer Raghu Dixit, Parikrama, Advaita, Shaa’ir and many more. It was like heaven to be performing amongst such a crowd.
Pragnya you were so brave in quitting your job for your dream and many out there are maybe making such decisions this very instant. What would you suggest to them, how should they navigate the road ahead?
It takes guts to take a leap of faith but takes much more than that to give it your 100% as people often quit in between, give up. Please don’t, trust me, it’s only you who will be there to bear the future, either regret that you gave up or rejoice that you gave it your best shot. There are going to be days that everything just goes wrong, remember that they will pass, you have to pull yourself through.