Dhrupad To Shabad, Rupinder Mahindroo Gets Kids Invested In Classical Music

Rupinder Mahindroo reflects on her journey as a singer and teacher of classical music, how she creatively passes down this heritage to children, why her breakthrough as an artist happens at every moment that she creates, and what it takes to be a secure performer in today's maddening world digital.

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When classical music singer and teacher Rupinder Mahindroo, lovingly called Rupi, bid farewell to Uttarakhand's Welham Girls' School after two decades, the principal remarked, "For her, music was more than just an examination subject. While never losing touch with fundamentals, she was ready to take students far beyond the scope of the syllabus. There is a fun side to her and both staff and students enjoyed this, she even joined the students in the school rock band." I witnessed this first-hand as I walked into Rupi's vibrant home in Gurugram. A trained Indian classical singer who has studied vocal music, Rupi has several awards and performances to her credit all across India and internationally.


Former National Vice Chairperson SPIC MACAY, Former Chairperson Uttrakhand, and presently heading SPIC MACAY Gurugram as chairperson, Rupi is shifting the way classical music is received by children. An artist who worked with All-India Radio, she went on to release two Shabad albums nationwide.

Knowing Rupi's zest for creativity and creation, she continues to remain unstoppable as she was when she started her journey in the field in the 70s. What is she up to now? Well, she is passing on the classical rhythm, 'Hindustan ka khazaana' as she calls it, to young children in not just Gurugram but also those in Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities via workshops. While even hours-long conversation cannot suffice Rupi's honest and extraordinary journey, through this interview SheThePeople dives into why no one description can determine the vibrant life of Rupinder Mahindroo; she is limitless and her candid conversations are a testimony to that. 

In conversation with SheThePeople, Rupinder Mahindroo reflects on her journey as a singer and teacher of classical music, how she creatively passes down heritage in the form of music to children, why her breakthrough as an artist happens at every moment that she creates, and what it takes to be a secure performer in today's maddening world digital.

Rupi ma'amm

From Kirtans In Gurudwara To World Stage And Back

Rupi's father, who served in the Indian Army, used to play the harmonium every morning when the family sat together to do kirtan. "That was my very first exposure to music. It was devotional music. We would go to Babaji ka room (a room dedicated to devotion). There was no particular moment when I started chiming in, the sounds of the tabla and harmonium always echoed right from my childhood. While my sisters, who both sang, did not take it in as much, I would take over from my father and start playing the harmonium. I did not know anything about what he was playing, but by ear, I would carry with me the Shabads and the tunes."


With every posting, Rupi would get a teacher to come home and teach her music, and eventually, she started singing in the Gurudwara too. It was in college, right after school, when someone gifted her a Taanpura - that's when her classical training started. "So, once the classical training started, I got hooked onto classical music. At the same time, there wasn't one English song that I did not know. While I also played the guitar for the longest time, Indian music always took priority. Eventually, it was after post-graduation that my journey began professionally."

"It takes guts to embrace Indian-ness and I teach children that too"

Rupi has, in a lot of ways, created a change in the way outreach is done. Apart from initiating the 'Morning Raaga' series of classical concerts held at the Museo Camera, Gurugram, on Sunday mornings for public outreach and awareness, she has made children perform Shabads and Kirtans in Gurudwaras and Temples. "Why not?" she adds, "Kids are performing ragas and songs of devotion with so much love and peace, they should be able to connect with that energy too."

While Rupi started teaching students in school much later, she really began teaching while pursuing post-graduation. On a curious note, I asked her what the major differences and challenges have been in teaching children of today compared to two decades ago. "First, kids don't have any concept of age. It's completely how you communicate with them and sometimes when I'm teaching them a song, to make it interesting I also start rapping. In all fairness, I'm their grandmother's age, but while practising we're all the same." 

What is the one thing she would advise kids, and their parents when it comes to pursuing music with all its sanctity? 


It's not about fast and fun. This is about something which is a deep and peaceful feeling. To feel it, you have to let the music inside you. I'm not saying Western music is not fun; of course, it is, but if you're choosing classical music, you have to accept it wholeheartedly, there shouldn't be any half-baked feeling.

"You never hear the same thing twice." 

So, what new method is she applying in teaching kids these days? "My mind is on the run presently. I am pushing children to learn tougher notes and that is challenging for me too because I have to come up with new ideas."

The most beautiful part of Indian classical music, which just recently I was explaining to the children, is you never hear the same thing twice. You just create and it's an ocean of creation. There's just no end to it. 

Rupi elucidates how every child has the capacity to appreciate and understand Indian classical music. "I started teaching small children when we were in Bombay, and by the time I left, there were about 55 children who used to learn from me. And then Welham happened, where I had the opportunity to teach senior students with music being a board subject. Today, with SPIC MACAY, my desire to extend this knowledge is higher than ever."


How does she keep children centred?

"You have to let them take their time and not force them into it," expresses Rupi. She continues, "They have come to experience music with you. So, you have to live up to their expectation, you have to give them much more than they are expecting from you. When I moved here, the older children were already learning music so I got the younger ones, and it's been a refreshing experience seeing them get excited about this genre."

It's my greatest mission and passion in life to let people see classical music as our country's heritage. This is it, listen to it, and get the beauty in in your life out of it. Do everything else, of course, listen to the Beatles; I just taught my grandson Yellow Submarine but I also taught him Shiva Stuti after that.  


Passion over ambition: how does that work?

I got so much love from my students in both Bombay and Dehradun, and the love continues to grow. There's nothing more really that I wanted back then or I want now. I have had successful international tours where I've performed Gurbani and Dhrupad in front of thousands of people. People abroad have sat in silence and listened to the power of Indian classical music through my voice. This is something I carry proudly with me. I have never had mounting ambitions one after another - that would have sabotaged the slow, peaceful process of my Taalim, something that matters most to me. So yes, my security lies within, it lies with the love that children have for what I taught them, therefore, external or media validation never mattered to me.

I don't preach to the children about whether they must make music their career or not, I just make them feel closer to the peace that classical music offers.

Rupi 2

As Indians, are we taking more interest in Hindustani classical music?

In the past few years, young people have taken an inclination towards classical music and their attendance at related concerts is a testimony to that. The dynamics are changing, articulates Rupi. "It's so important to guide young Indians into the ocean of options they have when it comes to classical music. It is a khazaana passed down for thousands of years, and it's something we can dig deep into and create."

It's 'cool' to attend a classical music concert now, and that's nothing but positive. Take Anushka Shankar for example, she is performing classical music, not rock music, and to see that she has a houseful during her concerts is a positive sign. What is lagging is our education system. A lot of schools shy away from teaching children Indian heritage, and that's both shameful and concerning.

Is creation the ultimate prize for Rupi?

As I read through testimonials written for Rupi, I noticed how several people have mentioned that she represents major strengths that imbibe both musicality and creativity. That strength that everybody is talking about, how does she channel it and is there a process? "I've never made an effort especially to make my work or music sound a certain way; of course, except for creativity when I'm teaching or feel that I have to push my energy to get the children involved. That is the only time that I am conscious of the work I am putting in with children involved in a concert or something like that."

Has there ever been nervousness, then? Oh yes, she recalls, "I had to perform a Dhrupad in Washington DC once - a one-hour concert of just Dhrupad which is very difficult so, of course, I was nervous and all through my flight I was creating in my head because I knew I dare not miss a beat and a note because the audience is expecting something out of me."

Rupi ma'am

"I have always stuck to tradition, and I am proud of it."

Having carried mounts of experience both as a performer and teacher, the mantra for Rupi's success (or contentment as she calls it) is that she did not give up on her beliefs in the kind of music she pursued. Is there anything she didn't compromise on while creating something? "I stuck to tradition, always. If it was Punjabi folk I was singing, it had to be hardcore Punjabi folk without any alterations or any other classical music, for that matter, I held my ground. I have never used electronic instruments while teaching because if I start doing that, where does the authenticity or art form's exclusivity remain?"  

Rupi Mahendroo

Rupinder Mahindroo Women Classical Singers Classical Music