A kathak dance school in Melbourne, run by a trained Psychologist… You must be thinking.. are you kidding? Your reaction is no different from mine, when I heard it from one of the students of Ragas. Hard to believe, but true.
It was a very humbling experience meeting and interacting with Ms. Pooja Gupta, who has spread the Indian Classical Music to foreign shore. Born to a family of Indian Classical musicians, who started the Bharatkhande Sangeet Vidayala, music was her natural inclination. Her father Shri Vinod Kumar, is a legendary musician who has performed globally including the in front of the likes of President Nixon in White House, President of India, and several musical concerts globally.
However Ms. Gupta pursued an academic life earning Masters degree in Psychology and relocated to Australia with her husband.
Her natural calling for music didn’t fade on arriving in a foreign country and going through the regular grind of settling in an unfamiliar country, rather ignited and she chose to spread awareness and knowledge about Indian classical music in Australia. She started ‘Ragas” institute to impart training in Indian classical music and performing arts. She is also an empaneled artist to the ICCR (Indian Council of Cultural Relationship) and performs several stage shows in Australia.
The most remarkable fact to know about Ms. Gupta is that she continues to practice psychology as a child psychologist as well as teach and performs Indian performing arts in her institute Ragas and not only this also is an active contributor to social causes for underprivileged children.
Below are the snippets of our conversation with her.
1. Tell us some background of your early life, schooling, family background, education
I come from a middle class Delhi based family. I am the eldest of 3 children. I completed my schooling from Apeejay School and graduated from Lady Shriram College, Delhi, I further went on to do my Masters in Psychology from University of Madras. Throughout my education I was very involved in the performing arts, I was the Cultural Secretary in senior years of school and received an all-rounder award in Year 12. Academics and Music always went hand in hand throughout my life.
2. When and how did you get interested in dance, classical music and studying Psychology all together?
I was born in a musical family in Delhi. My grandfather Late Sh. N N Chopra established Bharatkhande Sangeet Vidyalaya (www.bhaatkhandesangit.com ), a performing arts institute based in Delhi which is currently headed by my father Mr. Vinod Kumar. My childhood was filled with performing arts training. I learnt classical music, vocal, Kathak dance, Hawaiian guitar, harmonium and Tabla. I did music and dance every single day in my childhood for at least 2-3 hours for what I remember. Music was a part of my day to day life. We use to celebrate lots of traditions such as Guru purnima, Saraswati pooja, Music festivals etc. I have to admit my love with music was not an instant one, even though I received rigorous training I didn’t quite fall in love with it till I got to adult hood.
Psychology as a subject was recommended to me by my School Principal Mrs. Goswami and when I researched it I developed an instant liking for it. The more I read the subject the more I got hooked to it. I absolutely loved studying Psychology and practicing it in India and now in Australia.
3. When did you relocate to Australia and what were the early challenges that you faced while setting up this Raaga institute here and while at the same time manage your regular profession of Psychology
I came to Australia in 2007 with my husband Ashish for his MBA and had all the plans to return to India. However looking at the opportunities Australia had to offer we decided to stay for a few years. I started Ragas (www.ragas.com.au ) in 2008 with 2 students, early days were hard as we didn't know anyone in Australia. We were still trying to find our feet in Melbourne, it was hard to understand where to publicize my classes, how to register my organization etc. However over time with word of mouth Ragas good work spread and now its become a big community which comes together for good music.
For my psychology registration like any other Health or Allied Health professionals I had to go through degrees assessment, a bridging course, assessments and supervised practice. The process for registration was rigorous and tedious one but Ashish was determined (more than me) to get my registration and in the end we made it together.
The process of registration here definitely helped me hone my skills as a Psychologist.
4. How do you manage a balance in professional life as a Psychologist, your passion for dance and music and personal life as all of these are full time activities in themselves?
I think when you do things you enjoy you are motivated for them to work and get energy to juggle things. I love working as a Psychologist and making a little difference in the lives of my clients, I cannot think of life without music and dance and being a wife and mum completes me. Juggling all these things require me to be good at planning and delegation.
However the biggest secret of the smooth running of all this is my husband Ashish and my son Arjun. Ashish is very encouraging and compliments all my flaws, he is supportive and has been a pillar of strength for me. When things get crazy busy and I reach a breaking point, he is the one who steps in and makes it all under control. My friends and extended family help out a lot too. In my crazy times my family members travel to Melbourne from India to help out and on a day to day basis my friends are my life line. It wouldn't be possible for me to pursue all the things I do if I didn't have the support I have.
5. We understand you are also an active contributor to social causes - can you describe us something about that?
I believe we all should support the underprivileged in the society. I have been involved with various organizations in Delhi over time. However my closest link has been with VIDYA, NGO working towards education and empowerment of underprivileged kids. Me and my husband do fund raising for this organization and support their various programs.
6. How do you balance between personal and professional life.
As you can guess by now we are a very time poor family. However we make sure we spend quality time together. Weekend afternoon are for us to unwind, we steal some moments from our busy life to make memories. It gets tricky and challenging sometimes but most of the times I would say its not too bad.
Pooja with both her passions - music and family
7. Lastly what is one advice that you would like to give young women out there who are thinking of taking any profession?
I would say to all the young women out there that nothing is easy and everything looks hard till you begin. Once you start the journey it will definitely end. It's hard for women to follow their professions and passion as still a lot of family responsibilities fall on their shoulders. However I feel if you plan well and surround yourselves with the right people you can do it.
If Music is the food of life, play on… rightly said William Shakespeare, and Ms Pooja Gupta is a true embodiment of this.