Vijay – one of my first US workshop attendees

Vijay – one of my first US workshop attendees

In my initial years of working in America, my student Sejal and I used to conduct small workshops. At this point, I was a new name to American audiences, so it was usually a small audience (10 – 15). Even though there was small attendance, EVERY workshop I found someone who went onto become a devoted student who did many things for me over and spent great amounts of time with me. It was a sign of how my luck worked so well in America.


Today, I want to recall the story of my third workshop, held in NYC during my first trip to the US. There was a bald, mid-aged guy with a very sweet smile sitting in the front. He took great interest in the workshop and was giving a great response.

After the workshop, he was the first person to greet me. He name was Vijay. He was an engineer living in New Jersey. Originally from India, Vijay had been living in the US for 25 years. As a child, he used to play tabla and continued to play every so often at the local temple, accompanying bhajans or kirtan. We had made ONE advertisement over the radio. Vijay had heard those two lines on the radio and came to the workshop.

“I feel like I have found my guru,” he said to me. “When can I see you again?”

I told him about the workshop that was to be held the next day in New Jersey, where I was staying.

The next day, Vijay arrived with 2 kg of sweets, a huge bouquet of flowers, an Indian outfit and cash to gift to me. The Americans I was surrounded by looked on with surprise and asked if it was my birthday. It was their first introduction to the Indian practice of coming with gifts to offer to one’s guru.

My relationship with Vijay only grew from that point forward. Whenever I went to the US, he was with me every night and he would NEVER come empty-handed. Sweets, fruits, food, gifts, he would always come with something to give. Whenever anything was needed for Taalim, he would be one of the first people to come and help. Vijay has since moved to Atlanta, but we still keep in touch. In fact, a few days ago I received a call. It was Vijay. He was in Ahmedabad. For the first time, after so many years, he got to see my home and all the work we are doing in India first-hand.

The amazing thing is that Vijay is only one of the people that I met during those initial workshops, many more came from those small audiences, but those stories are for another time.

Playing with Pandit Rasiklal Andharia

Playing with Pandit Rasiklal Andharia

It was 1979 or 1980. I was working as the youngest tabla teacher of the city at the Gandharva Mahavidyalaya Mandal, one of the oldest music institutes in Ahmedabad. Our principal, Mr. Ravjibhai Patel, called me and said, “We are doing a national conference of Mahavidyalaya Mandal at Valsad for three days. I am very happy with your playing now and want you to play one solo and one accompaniment during the conference. We will all go to Valsad the day before the performance in the morning train, so be prepared for this event.”

At that time in my life, I did not understand the value of being able to travel with some of the greatest musicians of Ahmedabad and Gujarat. I picked up Jhalasaheb and Ravjibhai in my student’s car and we arrived at the station at 6am to catch the 7am Gujarat Express. At the station, we met up with Pranlalbhai Shah (one of the best violin teachers of that time), Laljibhai Patel (best harmonium player), Neena Shah (Ravjibhai’s student) and many young musicians.

Once we boarded the train, I was amazed to learn that all these senior musicians took great interest in eating snacks at each station. At the first stop, someone got off to get fafda and jalebi; at Nadiad, it was gota; at Baroda, yet another snack and the list goes on. Every stop was a new treat.

The accommodations for all the musicians was in a school and that was quite the nourishing experience. In one corner, someone would be singing, while a couple of beds down, another musician would be playing the violin. It was a great energy to be apart of. I was the youngest tabla player. Everyone gave me love and respect, which just increased my confidence.

The next day, the second performance was my solo. I played pretty well and got a lot of applause from the audience. After my solo, I went backstage. There, I found internationally-known singer Pandit Rasiklal Andharia. He was so impressed with my playing that he made me his accompanying artist for his program the following day. I was not too enthused about the idea, as generally for vocal accompaniment, the tabla player only plays theka.

I thanked him for the opportunity and told him that I was not in the practice of accompanying vocal. I believe he understood why I said no because he immediately said that he wanted powerful tabla in his vocal performance and that I had the freedom to play whatever I wished.

Excited at the prospect, we decided to practice in the morning to prepare and the the performance that ensued is what I consider to be one of the best performances I have given.