I pursued a terrible undergraduate program from the most terrible institution in southern India.
I wish that were an exaggeration.
The subject was absolutely worthy of pursuit; fine arts. But I was eighteen, clueless and just wanted to stop my panic attacks from a year of being a nervous wreck. I didn't know what I was doing.
I specialized in sculpture for my degree. It was meant to last five years. I made that six, because friends were way more interesting than the anachronistic tutelage of the faculty. I got my degree– at 24. Bachelor of Fine Arts.
Throughout my degree, I was haunted by everyone's fears about how I would find employment with this skill set. And much to their credit, my ilk did seem like complete bums. One student hammered their own art work into smithereens, as 'rebellion' against the institution. Another made an ugly heap of polysterene foam right at the entrance to represent trash and embarassed the dean in front of an important delegation, and such. All this while making sure we rushed to punch our ID cards so as to not lose the day's attendance. It was comical.
I had so much free time in my degree, that I had no option but to explore who I really was. I took piano lessons as a kid and grew up thinking all mothers sang on pitch. Music was an integral part of my life. In college, I met a fabulous guitarist with a heart as big as himself. He took me into his band. Practising and performing over a few hundred shows with these brothers changed the place of music in my life. I realised that music was truly a passion for me.
But I thought that was to be done on the side– I didn't want to be 'just' a musician. And these were my own thoughts... I think.
During this time, I got the opportunity to act in daily soaps on tv. Mostly because my family was in the business. I wasn't especially talented at acting, but the entertainment industry is incestuous like that.
I worked with some amazing people. I loved acting, but hated the vanity that came along with it. I was more attracted to the influence a director could exert on set. So I decided to go to film school.
Given that, and my background in sculpture, I applied to the country's premier design school. I applied to two programs. Both opposite in nature. I was so tired of feeling inadequate that I just wanted to get in and get branded, hopefully on the forehead. I got offerred both programs so I ditched Ceramic Design for Filmmaking.
I met fantastic peers here who helped me get off my power trip very quickly. I was introduced to Cinema for the first time. I came tumbling down and started the painful process of unlearning. I was crushed by how terrible my student films were. I got an MDes.– Masters in Design.
Fresh off my filmmaking course, I took up a job for all the wrong reasons. It was my first job and a mistake. But wasn't I supposed to sit around gaining experience? I didn't think so. I figured within six months that money was a terrible motivator for me when my heart was not in it.
So I quit and started freelancing. I worked with some great clients. I did real work for the first time. I vowed to never work for someone else. I've still been able to keep that vow.
But the music bug had grown too big within. I applied to a prestigious music school and when I got the opportunity to go, I thanked my stars and went. It was a life changing experience.
There were people from all over the world. I heard of Bill Evans for the first time here and I thought I liked Jazz. I tried to practise like a maniac. I got on the dean's list at the end of the crash-course, got offered admission to the full time program. But I had burnt out. I was all over the place. I was disillusioned with myself.
In one theory class, my very Scottish Saxophone professor said– 'Transcribe. That's the only way to learn... And in all keys.'
Transcribing music, is listening to a tune and working out the melody and rhythm, just by ear, bit by bit. And doing that in all twelve keys, makes you really good.
That line had so much to unpack in it. It felt like I heard someone tell me what I had been doing wrong for a decade. I had to stop doing what I was doing.
I had to stop seeking permission.
Permission in the form of a degree or a certificate or someone's approval or a job or through social validation.
It took me over a decade to realise that I don't need anyone's permission to express myself. No matter what form I choose to express it in. It may be scary, but I have to muster the courage and do it, bit by bit.
I just have to transcribe... in all keys.
That's the only way.