The Indian Army has many stories of valour, bravado and sacrifices done by its many officers belonging to different ranks and here is one person who takes those stories to people. Lt Col Shashank Umalkar (Retd), is a man of varied interests and talent. He has made it his mission to popularise martial music of the Services amongst civilians and in the process also give exposure to the talents of the soldiers. “The idea is to project the image of the Indian Armed Forces and, secondly, to highlight the potential of martial music,” he explains. This he is doing by holding programmes, titled, Sainiko Ki Ore Se and Sainya Sangeet Darshan wherein he showcases the music, history, war stories, bravery stories of the Forces through audio-visual medium alongwith his commentary.
Lt Col Umalkar hit upon this idea six years after his retirement while attending a soldiers’ programme. “I realised that the soldiers were singing extremely well although they had no formal training in music. That’s when I felt that with some encouragement and support, their talent can be brought in front of civilians who are unaware about the potential of martial music,” he says. He rues the fact that despite good quality and expertise, martial music is not heard by anybody. Sainiko Ki Ore Se is an attempt to bring on stage various aspects of martial music,” he adds.
Umalkar set about by scouting for talent amongst the soldiers. “I did this by visiting their regimental centres, Inter Company Drama Competitions, their other entertainment programmes and recording their renditions both individually as well as in groups,” he elaborates. These two shows, Sainiko Ki Ore Se and Sainya Sangeet Darshan are presented sometimes together and sometimes separately. While Sainiko Ki... comprises rendition of general entertainment songs like ghazals, bhajans, folk songs, stories, jokes by the soldiers, Sainya Sangeet... sees regimental tunes and songs being sung. Women are also given a chance to participate in these programmes, specially war widows who have immense talent to show.
Lt Col Umalkar’s hard work and dedication is evident in the overwhelming response he has received for these programmes. “So far, I have done 60 shows all over India without any sponsorship,” he says with pride. His debut programme was held in Jabalpur on February 14, 2014 and was attended by 1,200 people.
So far, Umalkar has not resorted to publicising the events, but through word of mouth, his programmes are well attended. He is, however, considering giving a commercial angle to the project now. These programmes have been held in different schools, old age homes, housing societies, army establishments. “There are so many music organisations holding concerts but nobody has ever thought of including martial music in their programmes,” says Umalkar. He holds his programmes on particular days like Kargil Day, Vijay Divas, Navy Day etc and the composition of the programmes is relevant to the occasion. National days, festivals, national schemes like Afforestation Days are scheduled for these programmes. They have been telecast on Doordarshan Panjim and Delhi besides Akashvani Delhi too.
Umalkar has many plans with regards to the shows. “I want to remain involved with martial music and take it to higher levels in terms of performances and maybe do it in a foreign country. Also, I would like to do it in front of the President of India who is after all the supreme commander of the Forces,” he says. It seems achievable for him since his musical background coupled with 29 years of service in the Core of Signals Military Telecommunication has helped him in coming up with this innovative project. He also has an in-depth knowledge of classical music (he is Sangeet Alankar of Gandharva Mahavidyalaya and MA Music, Grade A artist of Akashvani) and his vast experience of producing and performing more than 500 programmes for Akashvani besides teaching it, has come in handy for devising the programmes. Also, he is very versatile and adept at writing poetry and ghazals. He has to his credit , a coffee table book on the Core of Signals.
The soldiers who participate in his programmes feel a great sense of satisfaction. “They want to learn music from me and often ask him for guidance on how to take their musical path ahead,” says he.
This retired army man turns 74 next month but he is showing no signs of retiring from this service!