KARACHI: Hailing from a family of musicians, 16-year-old Ritika Dhanja feels music in her soul - a connection that motivated her to become one of the youngest female sitar players of Pakistan.
Sitting cross-legged on the floor, holding a sitar in her left hand with a nidraap (steel ring) tied around her right index finger, Ritika played her instrument with finesse. She always puts a red sindoor on her forehead before starting practice at her uncle’s residence in Karachi.
Ritika, who lives in Hyderabad, comes to Karachi every weekend to learn sitar from sitar maestro Ustad Rais Khan. “It was my father’s wish that I should learn to play the sitar,” she told The Express Tribune, while playing the instrument that her father had gifted her in 2012.
“I bought this sitar for Ritika from Delhi. It was worth Rs20,000 at the time, but I wanted my daughter to master the instrument and have command on all raags (musical notes),” shared Ritika’s father Rajendra Dhanja, who himself is a harmonium player and works as a sales manager in State Life.
With six hours reserved per day after her college education for riyaz and to practice the lessons given from her Ustad over the weekends, Ritika has managed to take command of Raag Yaman and Bhairavi in a span of three months.
“I will pursue my education in medicine while learning the talent of sitar playing,” shared Ritika, who is in her first year of pre-medical in Hyderabad. The young star has two younger sisters and a brother, who are also interested in learning vocals and how to play the violin and tabla.
Coming to Karachi every week to learn the instrument is difficult, but the family did not have a similar option in their city. “We leave our house Friday evening and reach Karachi in more or less three hours,” Ritika’s mother Krishna Dhanja shared, adding that her daughter takes two classes a week on Saturday and Sunday between 2pm and 6pm.
Ritika, along with her parents, has been following the same routine since the last three months. They stay at Krishna’s mother or brother’s house in Saddar during their visits to Karachi. Ritika’s three cousins, who also play several instruments such as the harmonium, tabla and flute, help her to travel to Ustad Rais’s residence in Bahadurabad.
The family travels in public transport or by train that costs them between Rs250 and Rs350 for each seat, while the charges of the intercity buses reach as high as Rs500 on special occasions.
Student of a sitar maestro
Ritika was trying to learn the sitar by herself since 2012 as she did not have a guru in Hyderabad. “One can count the sitar players in Pakistan on their fingertips. There are hardly any teachers, which is why it is a difficult instrument to learn,” explained Rajendra, while narrating how Ustad Rais had accepted Ritika as his student, teaching her free-of-cost, in June 2016.
“I took our sitar for tuning to Zafar, who repairs sitars at his shop in NAPA, where I came across Ustad Rais’s son Farhan Khan,” narrated Rajendra, adding that when he asked Farhan to teach his daughter, Farhan accepted his request and asked them to come to their house.
On the very first day when Farhan was teaching Ritika, Ustad Rais came out of his room and took Ritika as his student as he wanted to teach her himself. “He also did a rasam-e-kushai (a ceremony to accept her as his student) on the third day of Eidul Azha and tied a Ganda Bandh, a red and yellow-coloured thread on Ritika’s right wrist,” told Rajendra.
Quoting Ustad Rais, Rajendra said that he is only teaching her because of two reasons: she has the etiquettes to learn and has music in her blood. Everyone in Ritika’s family has command on at least one musical instrument.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 18th, 2016.