Rupa Neupane came to Kathmandu with the hope of going to a ‘big’ school, different from the ill-equipped one in her village. Little did she know that her parents had planned to get her married off.
“When they dressed me up, I thought I was getting ready for someone else’s wedding. I was just twelve then,” says Neupane recalling her wedding day. “I cried a lot that day. A kid was suddenly burdened with so many responsibilities that she was not aware of,” she adds.
At the age of 15 Neupane gave birth to her first child, a baby girl. This added a lot more responsibilities on her shoulders. “I wanted to study further and build my career.
Whenever I got time I used to read books given to me by my husband, friends, and brothers,” says Neupane. Her desire to study more compelled her to take a distance education course and that his how she finished her basic schooling. “My husband discouraged me from studying any further. He said he was capable enough to keep me happy, so there was no need for me to study,” she says. But she was adamant in doing something on her own.
Neupane, the first female Sarod player of Nepal, recently took us through her musical journey the last time The Week met her at her residence. Sarod is a stringed instrument used in creating classical music. As opposed to the sweet sound of Sitar, Sarod creates deep and weighty music.
Her room was inundated with certificates, awards, and numerous books related to music. And the walls proudly displayed a picture of her, Zakir Hussain and Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia performing together on stage. With the help of numerous pictures, funny incidents, and old memories she made her tough life seem like a beautiful story.
She told us that she had always been interested in music. Hence, after her children started going to school, she managed to convince her husband to let her take vocal classes. During the course of learning vocals, she excitedly went to see her friend perform on stage. “I saw a female friend singing on stage for the first time,” says Neupane. “Men from behind the stage were hooting, whistling and humiliating her,” Neupane exclaims sadly adding that it was that moment when she realized singing was not for her.
“A woman in our society was not accepted for her talent but she is seen an object of satisfaction. I have not been able to gather the courage to sing again since then,” she adds. That day, she was extremely disappointed to see how a woman’s work is not appreciated at home or outside.
However, her desire to get connected with music did not die. She again got keenly involved in music after a few months, when her brother introduced her to the musical instrument Sarod. She tried figuring out ways to become skilled at this instrument through various friends and colleagues. “I was fortunate enough to meet Mohan Sundar Shrestha,” says Neupane. “He was blind and played the Sarod beautifully,” she says adding this was the turning point in her life.
His dedication to music encouraged her to learn this musical instrument even more. Neupane thought to herself that if a blind man could play this instrument even after facing humiliation and discouragement from the society, she was still more privileged than him.
Practicing for hours was essential to excel in a field. However, given the circumstances at home, practicing the Sarod was not easy. “In the process of learning, I realized that practicing for just two to three hours a day was not enough,” says Neupane.
“But my children were young and needed constant care and I did not know when to practice,” she adds. Neupane then took to waking up at two in the morning and practicing for two to three hours before she needed to attend to household chores. She would pick up the instrument again after her children when to school and her husband left for office. In the evening, after helping her children with their homework, she would play the Sarod once more.
After a few years of musical dedication she was asked to play on stage. “I remember the day I was invited to play on stage for the first time,” says Neupane. “My husband was furious but my children supported me,” she adds. Eventually after seeing her performance, her husband realized that music was more than just for entertainment. According to Neupane, just like her husband, people have not recognized classical music in our country. Most take classical music as a hobby and not a profession.
“Like many other classical music instruments, Sarod is an endangered instrument now. Many people don’t even know that it exists,’ laments Neupane. “I have been trying to popularize this instrument for many years now,” she adds. Neupane organizes workshops named Falaicha that aims to get people acquainted with traditional music.
She says our country and cities are becoming increasingly westernized due to which people prefer to pay more than ten thousand for a concert by a foreign artist. However, to promote traditional music many traditional artists like Neupane are ready to play their music for minimal price. Yet many don’t call them. It has been more than 20 years and Neupane is still struggling. She is struggling to make people recognize the importance of traditional music. And she is struggling to encourage our youth to learn this art.
“I request the government to involve traditional artists like us in cultural programs. Foreign officials can be welcomed to Nepal with traditional performance,” she says. According to Neupane, a small step from the government can play a great role in preserving traditional music.