Paula: How long have you been playing the sitar and what interested you about the instrument?Ashwin: I got interested in the dholak and tabla before I did the sitar. I was only about 7 when I started to dabble in the dholak - a double headed, barrel shaped, folk drum. This was a natural progression for me as my mother used to play it a lot at special gathering called "Ladies Sangeet" where the women of the neighborhood would get together for a "women only" song session (small boys allowed but no adult males ). They would do devotional singing but sometimes the sessions would take off into all kinds of folk songs. I used to accompany her to these gatherings. Here, when she would play, I would often play a rhythm on the wooden surface of the Dholak using a stick or a spoon. We still have this dholak with chunks of varnish missing. My hitting must have been a bit rough. Gradually I went on to playing the dholak itself. My first dholak lesson was given to me by my mother. I started with very simple rhythms but started to get better with time and also my father started to take an interest in teaching me. To my surprise, I found him tp be an excellent player! Latter, at around age 10, I started to play the tabla. This interest was a result of my sister's kathak (classical North Indian dance) lessons where her teacher would accompany her on the tabla and I was fascinated with the possibilities. My interest got my father to buy me a set and then he started to teach me the basics. I was very surprised with his know how on the tabla as I had never seen or heard him play either of these drums before! My tabla playing really improved my dholak technique. I started to learn this in earnest till age 14. At a musical gathering of a family friend Pandit Bhagatram, I first saw the sitar being played by his son Ashok. I was fascinated with it. Ashok was only 2 years older than me and was doing extremely well on this instrument. It made me envious. During this same period my family was on the move to England. After we were settled there I started to learn sitar with my father Pandit Shiv Dayal Batish. I kept up the dholak and the tabla but after a bout with playing Beatle songs my father gradually started to teach me classical compositions. Since I first heard it, it's magical, reverberating sounds have fascinated me. Even as a child I would often go to sleep listening to its droning sounds. My father, again to my surprise, would pick this instrument up and play some of the most beautiful music. I wanted desperately to learn it. I would often pick it up to play only to find that it was very difficult and very big! My hands would have a terrible time reaching the low notes. I would have to literally lie back on our sofa to be able to access these notes. This evolved into a personal sitting technique. Latter, at age 15, I even did a short benefit performance for a charity where they brought a sofa on the stage! As I grew taller, I started to sit properly in a half lotus position. I was also given some Ravi Shankar records by my mother. I still play some of these tunes on my sitar. But as I started to show more interest my father started to teach me the proper technique and raga compositions. He would often sing these out to me and I would learn the songs vocally and then practice taking them out on the sitar.
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