As a child, Vinod Kumar had a favourite hiding place. He would crawl under the bed in his small Panchkuian Road house. But then he would give himself away in an instant since he could never resist beating the tabla stored there. At the age of five, he started formal training in tabla as well as vocal music at the Hindi Sangeet Institution, which was established about nine years before he was born, and is now known as the Bhaatkhande Sangeet Vidyalaya. The 66-year-old is principal and director of the Vidyalaya in Delhi, which completes 75 years. The anniversary celebrations were held at Alliance Francaise last week with support from the Ministry of Culture.
The Vidyalaya at the Qutub Institutional area has been affiliated to the Bhatkhande Music Institute University in Lucknow for nearly six decades. It started in 1939 in Rangoon, where Kumar’s father NN Chopra, a musician, worked. However, the World War broke out, and Chopra shifted to Jalandhar. After a three-year break he re-established the institute at his rented house in Panchkuian road. “My father started with just five students, now there are over a 100,” says Kumar, who teaches vocal music. The institute teaches violin, sitar, flute, tabla, Spanish guitar, casio and Kathak. Among some of its famous students are pop singer Gursewak Mann and Bollywood singer Neeti Mohan.
Kumar’s training was rigorous. “I would wake up at 5 am to do riyaz on the tabla and vocal music before getting ready for school. Jagaane ke liye mere father pani ke cheeten munh par maarte the (My father used to splash water on my face to keep me awake),” says Kumar. After school, the riyaz continued from 4 pm to 6 pm. One evening, Kumar’s father found him playing cricket. “I will never forget the beating I got for missing my riyaz that day,” he says.
At the age of 12, Kumar started playing tabla at the Ramakrishna Mission, much to the agony of his mother. “She used to think I would become a saint if I was a regular. But I met several musicians there; among them Pandit Chaturlal, who used to play the tabla with Pandit Ravi Shankar himself,” he says.
Three decades later, Kumar switched from tabla to vocal music, and made ghazals his forte. Over the years, Kumar has performed for personalities like former President Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, former Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, former Delhi chief minister Sheila Dixit and former US President Richard Nixon.