Gulshan and our interviewer Akshay met at the Barista Café, where he had accompanied one of II’s other interviewee. On a late wintry evening, Gulshan got talking about music in his life, and how he hit rock bottom when he chose his love for music over everything else. In this coming-of-age story, Gulshan gives us a peak into his transition as a young boy negotiating with his father to buy him a guitar to fending for himself as a young adult.
Gulshan Jethwani, 25, Musician, Pune
Interviewed by Akshay Sachdev
Why did you decide to give us an interview on music?
Well, it’s the easiest topic for me to speak on as I’m a professional musician. I’ve been into music for a long time now, but since the past three years I’ve been pursuing it professionally.
How was your childhood? Was there a musical influence since your childhood days?
Growing up back in Gwalior, there wasn’t much of an exposure to music for me. None of my family members had any musical background. They were all into our family business of trading textiles and of course they wanted me to pursue our family business as well. When I turned 18, they wanted me to join my family business but I had bigger dreams. I wanted to move out of Gwalior and see the world.
When did you realize that you were good at music?
When I was still a teenager my uncle asked me to sing at a family gathering. I went ahead and sang in front of everyone and was appreciated for my voice. That’s when I realized that I had some talent for music.
Who were your musical influences growing up?
I used to listen to a lot of Pakistani bands like Jal and Strings. Their music was very different from all the typical music you heard in Bollywood. In Gwalior people respected more of classical music and didn’t really have any exposure to newer kinds of independent music as there wasn’t any access to the same, the internet barely existed in those days.
The first instrument you learnt was the guitar, tell us how you came about acquiring it.
My father used to take me to Bombay as a child whenever he had work there, I enjoyed seeing new places and travelling so I used to tag along with him. On one of our trips to Bombay I was supposed to undergo a nasal surgery. It so happened that the clinic where I was to be operated at was just above a musical instrument shop. I took my chance and told my dad that I wanted the guitar I saw in the window display of the shop or else I won’t let the doctors touch me.
My father didn’t think it was a bad deal. He bought me the guitar assuming that I would play it for a few days and then forget about it.
Once I got back to Gwalior I started fiddling around with my new guitar but couldn’t really get the hang of it myself. I was recommended to join a musical school to learn the guitar and once I did, it helped accelerate my musical journey.
How did you turn this passion for music into a professional career?
Though I loved music, I tried my hand at everything else as well. I studied animation for a bit, but didn’t really take to it. I then moved to Pune to study Mass Communication. It was there that I met my classmate Lakshya. Together we started a band of our own. You can say that that was the beginning of turning my passion for music into something serious which eventually led to where I am today.
What genre of music did you two play?
We called it Bollywood retro repair. We took old Bollywood songs and created our own take on the songs, turning them into our own renditions. We participated in many band competitions at colleges and gained a lot of appreciation for our music. The appreciation we received was what motivated us. As a musician you want your music to reach out and be heard by as many people as possible and to have so many people hear and appreciate our work was a blessing.
Did you face any resistance when you made the decision to pursue music as a career?
Once I was done with my studies in Pune, I wanted to continue pursuing music, my father though had other plans for me. He felt that I had fulfilled my whim of going out of town and studying and now it was time for me to come back and join the family business. I resisted and told him that I was firm about pursuing music. My father then placed two options in front of me. He said that he would buy me a plane ticket and I could return back home and follow our family business or start something of my own if I wished to, or I could follow my own path and he would cut me off financially.
How did you react to that?
I was quite shocked at first; I couldn’t believe my ears that my own father would do this to me. He was the one who had pampered and spoilt me growing up and now he was leaving me to fend for myself, it was quite a jolt to me. Eventually though I don’t know whether it was my ego or my love for music but I took up the challenge.
How were your beginnings?
I played at restaurants for almost nothing at first; I did odd jobs on the side to get by. Over time though things got better for me. Our band won the MTV Colours of Youth show which gave us a name for ourselves. Overtime we got a lot of bookings and in 2015 we had quite a successful year playing over 120 shows in 365 days. Things have looked up ever since. To be honest, I’m still looking for my big moment but I’m happy that I still get to pursue music every day.
What is your goal or aim as a musician?
Most musicians would love to become playback singers or musicians in Bollywood, but I honestly feel that my voice isn’t suited to playback singing. I would rather focus on making my own original music and having it reach out to people across various platforms – that would be my big moment.
What is your family’s reaction now that you have stuck to your guns and made a name for yourself in the music industry?
I think they’re finally happy! My family understands now that I’m getting settled both professionally and in my personal life. I’m engaged right now and I’m soon to be married.
There were quite a few tough years in between where my family didn’t speak to me or have any respect for me and that was quite a low point but everything is back on track now.
What has music given to you over the years?
It’s given me happiness. I wake up happy everyday as I have my music to look forward to. The joy of performing and meeting new people every day is incomparable.
The last question has nothing to do with your interview topic, but we ask everyone we interview – what does love mean to you?
Love is a lot of things. It’s a feeling you have in different moments of your life that can’t be explained.