Melody in Black and White

Rohan Interview Design

Melody in Black and White

In conversation with Rohan Thacker, accomplished Musician and Associate Vice President – Legal at Tata Capital Financial Services Limited.

At TAQ we are curious about the interaction between the arts and life in other professional spheres. So we met with Rohan Thacker to understand how he segues between his career as a corporate lawyer and his passion for music. Rohan is a fourth generation lawyer and music is a strong avocation for him. He has been with the TATA Group for over a decade and is a published author in both legal and musical domains.

In this interview he shares insights from his journey in both worlds. He talks about finding balance, the ability to co-hold multiple perspectives and how that leads to better outcomes at work.

Here are some excerpts.

On being a lawyer and a singer

Both law and music involve a lot of creativity.

An important quality a lawyer should possess is the ability to draft well. I find that drafting comes to me easily.  It is also important to have a good command over the law and have a solution oriented approach. I have found that in deadlock situations during negotiations, I am able to approach a problem from different perspectives and reach a solution which is acceptable to both parties.

Music also involves a lot of creativity. Performing involves approaching the same raga, the same sur or the same phrase from different perspectives. I therefore find that music complements my work in the legal field. Whether it is coming up with a well worded clause or a well-presented composition, looking at the same thing in different ways is what I found common in both spheres.

Again, both in law and music, riyaz or practice is very essential. You have to keep in touch and update yourself. If you don’t, you lag behind.

Music teaches you that it is very important to enjoy and be involved in what you do. You can connect with the audience and the audience will enjoy your performance only if you enjoy it yourself. Even in the professional set-up, only if you enjoy the work that you do will you be passionate about it and be able to progress better.

My music teacher always introduces me by saying, “…he is a lawyer but still into music!” For most people the perception of a lawyer is someone who wears black and white, goes to court and is very serious. So it is a bit of a surprise for many people that I can also sing, and they appreciate me all the more for it 🙂

On finding a balance between two worlds

I have been pursuing music from as far back as I can remember. Music is something I really enjoy. I go for classes once a week and practice usually only on weekends or holidays. I give some performances at small concerts, festivals, etc. I act as an examiner for Gandharva Mahavidyalaya. Just like I enjoy drafting in law, in music too, I enjoy composing and writing– I have composed a few songs and have written articles which are published, for example, in the Sangeet Kala Vihar, the mouthpiece of the [simple_tooltip content=’An all-India institution set up by Pandit Vishnu Digambar Paluskar and recognised for conducting music examinations in vocal, instrumental and dance upto PhD level’]Gandharva Mahavidyalaya[/simple_tooltip]. This helps me keep my link to music.

There have been times when my training in music clashed with my career demands. My music exams overlapped with my law exams several times and I had to take special permission to postpone my music exam so that I could do both. But fortunately, I have always got a lot of support and encouragement from my company – be it appreciation of my musical inclination, leave for preparing for exams etc. The clash between the two streams of my life was never so severe that I felt I would have to give up either one. Obviously, there are times when I am occupied with office work on weekends and music practice quite naturally takes a backseat. On other times, like when I act as an examiner, I go at 9:30 am on a Saturday or Sunday morning and spend the whole day listening to students till 6:00 pm. It is in fact fun listening to students who are learning under different gurus; I get to listen to new compositions, new styles of singing and get to see new approaches in teaching. In this way, I have also learnt from them. I don’t mind spending my weekends entirely in the world of music. I don’t see it as giving up something. The whole experience is enjoyable and enriching.

Fortunately, however, I could pursue both side-by-side. Music and law may seemingly appear to be at different ends of the spectrum – but I have always found them complementing one another. I have managed to successfully juggle and enjoy both.

On developing the skill of listening

The same ‘Sur’ or the same phrase sung in one way may not have that much of an impact but a slight variation may make it impactful and enjoyable which is a very important lesson in music. As an artist, listening comes before performing. It helps you acquire a discerning ear for nuances in delivery. Something we call Sur ka Lagav – for instance, the way you render your Sur is very different in a light form or a devotional form as opposed to a pure classical form.

In my work also, something you put across directly may not have impact but the same point offered in a different way could really help the situation. For example, when you offer constructive criticism, the tonality would impact the manner in which it is received. A musician is sensitive to these variations in tonality and is used to feeling the pulse of his audience. Just like a public speaker, a musician learns to judge what impact his recital is having on the audience.

In music, one also learns to listen by attending concerts. Just as I can listen with rapt attention to a one hour programme, I try to lend a patient ear when someone at work is explaining the legal challenge being faced. As a part of the legal team, people usually come to you with some queries, difficulties or road-blocks. One needs to give a patient hearing to understand the issue at hand fully. As a support function it is important to empathize with the business challenges and help find solutions instead of just saying this is not possible. Listening helps to build that empathy.

On subjectivity and holding multiple perspectives

As a child, while I was learning, my guru would teach me a composition and tell me sing it in taal (rhythm). There is this incident from my childhood where I was once performing in front of my teacher and he stopped me and asked, “Are you good at maths?” I said “yes” to which he responded, “That is the problem! You know your composition but your singing is mathematical and lacks variety and feeling!”

The idea of A+B always equalling C does not work in music. You take a single raag and practice it for a month, two months, even a year. The same musical phrases evolve and can be sung in different ways as you practice. There is no one correct answer. In Hindustani classical music, the same composition may be rendered quite differently by musicians of different ‘gharanas’. ‘Agra Gharana’ will focus more on laya, ‘Jaipur Gharana’ will focus on intricate taan patterns, and so on. This teaches you that there are multiple perspectives to every issue or problem. Neither is right or wrong. Whatever clicks and whatever gives the audience pleasure is the right answer in music. In law too, there may be more than one correct answer, more than one solution. The same provision of law or the same clause in a contract can be interpreted in several ways (and those are what many of the court cases are all about) Thus, when I read a contract or draft  clause there is a lot of subjectivity and creativity involved.  Whatever produces a workable solution is the right answer in law.

On working synergistically with others

For a music performance to be successful, synergy between the performers is of the essence. For instance, the audience will enjoy a vocal recital only if the singer, the harmonium player, and the tabla player are all in harmony with each other. Each one plays different patterns – the tabla player will be playing a fast tukda, the harmonium player holds the melody and the singer maybe singing in some cross patterns. But when they all come back together to the sam (the first beat of the taal or the cyclical rhythm), that creates the impact because all three have been moving towards the same goal. If one musician tries to stand out and show his talent at an inopportune moment, it spoils the experience for the audience. But if the performers give each other space, they can all showcase their talent and complement each other.

In the corporate setting also there are various teams for instance, a sales team, a credit team, a risk team and a legal team. But the result we want to achieve together is common. Each one will (and should) have a different perspective. But we should move together as a team with appreciation for each other’s point of view.  Merely because a person has another perspective, does not mean that he or she is necessarily opposed to your own view – understanding this is critical for teamwork. That, and being able to keep the common goal in mind.  

On being a leader

I am a leader who believes in giving a lot of space to the team. I give them broad guidelines and let them work in their own way, using their own method. In a team I have found that different people have different approaches to the same kind of work. Some need more hand-holding, some are more independent, some like to be given clear instructions on how to go about things; others like to be just told what is expected and would like to be left to achieve it in their own way –they do not like to be micro-managed. You can get the best output from the team by allowing them the freedom to work in the way that suits them best, but at the same time being available for support and guidance.

Commitment is the basic quality I would look for in a team member and is important in any field be it law or music. Even when persons handle similar assignments, one can see the difference between people who really have the zest to learn and people who work for the sake of it. The person who is committed will come back and ask you questions, clarifications, will take the initiative to speak to five different people, understand the subject matter by delving deeper into it and come back with a much better output. This attitude of commitment is what enables one to succeed, be it law, music or any other field.

On finding and pursuing your passion

Everyone has something he or she is good at and enjoys doing. It need not be conventional like, say, music or drawing. Some people just enjoy taking walks, some enjoy cycling, and some are very passionate about treks. I have been recently speaking to colleagues who are really interested in running – they go for all the possible marathons and for them that is their goal – that today I have run 10 kms, so tomorrow I will do 21 then I want to do 42. That is what keeps them going and enables them to get up at 4.00 in the morning and practice for it. You are exerting yourself but at the same time you are doing something that you enjoy. That is what passion is about.

Having a systematic approach to anything you enjoy doing is how you find your calling. It could be your talent and your hobby too and for some could even be their metier.

At times, just pursuing one’s passion as one’s hobby may give greater enjoyment rather than setting a goal to achieve something or the other. People ask me why I don’t give more music performances, why I don’t take up my music more seriously. I could, but I am happy pursuing law as my profession and having music as something I do for myself, when I feel like, as something I do out of interest rather than have a defined target.  I am happy being part of both worlds – law and music just the way it is!

About Rohan

Rohan Thacker, Associate Vice President – Legal at Tata Capital Financial Services Limited is a fourth generation lawyer and hails from a musically inclined family. He started learning music at the age of 6 years and has explored different forms of music like tabla, harmonium and vocal.

He has been a part of the TATA Group for over 10 years. He holds an L.L.M, Business Law degree from the Mumbai University and is also a  Sangeet Alankar (M.A. Equivalent) in Hindustani Classical music from Gandharva Mahavidyalaya where he is an examiner now. He has received musical training from his mother, Smt. Vasudha Thacker and thereafter from Shri Chandrashekar Vaze, Shri Raghunadan Panshikar and presently takes guidance from Shri Kiran Kamath. He has also trained in harmonium under late Shri Tulsidas Borkar. He enjoys writing and has authored few textbooks for Law and has also crafted a few musical compositions and written several theory articles on Music which have got published in various magazines.