Female Tabla Maestro Succeeds Despite Bias

Shobha, a talented tabla player had to battle against patriarchy to follow her dreams.

In today’s video, Varsha Jawalgekar presents to us the story of Shobha Srivastava, one of the very few female table players in India. Shobha fought against all odds to learn the tabla, and now, as the Head of Department of Music at the Chaudhary Mahadev Prashant Degree College in Allahabad, she still feels she could have risen much further in music circles had she had complete freedom to pursue her dreams. Tabla playing has been typically associated with men, and for a woman to learn the tabla, let alone excel in it, is sure to have been quite a challenge.

Although her husband supported Shobha in pursuing her studies, household duties were to be her priority. Thus, she never had the time and opportunity to play at many concerts, and reserved her skills for teaching others. In over 30 years of teaching, she has moulded hundreds of children into talented musicians, but her dreams as a classical performer have not been realised.

Varsha tells us, “If there had been a man in Shobha’s position, his career would have been his only priority, and all of society would have supported him with open arms. Only because Shobha is a woman, did she face such hardships.”

Since Shobha’s first struggles in the 1960s, times have changed drastically. The Prayas Sangeet Samiti, where she developed her art, now admits many female students without much discrimination. However, men still hold the reigns of decision making power, and Varsha believes that it will take many more years before she sees a woman in higher positions.

Many young women in India face problems on their path of realising their dreams. Simple, short rules like not stepping out of the house after dark, not leaving their home city for pursuing higher studies etc. can cripple their hopes and aspirations. Although Shobha Srivastava has strived so hard to be in the position that she’s in today, she says, “I didn’t have the courage inside me to break out of these bonds.”

Community Correspondent Varsha empathises with Shobha’s story. She too trained to be a classical singer, but did not get an opportunity to perform as her father was against it. To all the young women of India, Varsha asks not to let their artistic talent go to waste. Not only can it be pursued as a career, but it also bears the spiritual energy to develop one’s inner self.

– Rajyashri Goody

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