Reena Ranger, Chair of Women Empowered, is In Conversation with Twinkle Popat for her regular series for 'iGlobal' to explore some inspirational facets from the life and achievements of prominent Global Indians.
Twinkle works as a Pricing Analyst at Aviva Insurance, whilst also studying to complete professional exams to qualify as an Actuary. Having always had a keen interest in music and sports, she learnt how to play the Dhol and the piano, and has played for and captained my schools’ football, cricket and netball teams. She took cricket to a further level by playing and captaining for her local borough for several years. Most recently, she welcomed prime ministerial candidate Rishi Sunak on to the stage at the Conservative Friends of India (CFIN) hustings in London.
What first drew you to playing the Dhol? How has your journey evolved?
From a very young age, I have been a music lover. I found that music calmed me but also uplifted me when I needed and I would pay very close attention to the tune and beat of a song. Looking back at it now, I used to tap my fingers on anything around me to play a beat when I heard music. My Dhol journey started when I was about 12 years old in secondary school. My school were offering free Dhol lessons during lunch and I just thought what an opportunity! I attended these lessons regularly every week for a couple months and was able to develop my skills to an intermediate level. Playing the Dhol was quite a male dominated skill and this was quite clear in the ratio of males to females in my lessons, however, this never stopped me from wanting to pursue it. Even during my early school years, I was so good at cricket and football that I was the only girl playing for the boys team so maybe I have always been someone who likes to break the norm and do something rather different.
For me, playing the Dhol was simply a hobby to begin with but my journey has evolved immensely since, having had the opportunity to play at a few family weddings and gatherings. I plan on continuing this journey and developing my skills further by taking additional lessons to reach a professional level and play at larger-scale events.
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How have you found people’s views on a female Dhol player?
Positive and encouraging. Since its quite rare to see a female Dhol player, people are often astonished when they see me play and show a lot of support. I remember my trip to India soon after I had learnt to play the Dhol, my family and I were driving through the streets of a small town in Gujarat where I noticed a shop selling drums and Dhols. I quickly asked if we could stop and go visit. I asked the shopkeeper if I could try playing one of their Dhols and when I began playing, I left my family and those around in shock. My parents’ reaction was “Oh my god! Wow, you really can play!”. We then bought that Dhol. I took it back to my uncle’s house where we were staying in Gujarat and in the nights to follow I would play Garba beats on the street, with family, friends and neighbours dancing away.
The first time I played in front of a big crowd was at my brother’s wedding reception when I was 17. It was not a pre-planned performance, there was simply a dhol at the venue from the wedding earlier on and an aunt of mine encouraged me to play given I knew how to. I asked the DJ to play a bhangra song and started playing. All the guests were in awe and immediately gathered around. People were amazed to see that I, a young female, could play.
Times are evolving and we are seeing more female Dhol players. It’s nice to see the support people are showing and the opportunities we are receiving to showcase our talent.
What would you say to those females who are wanting to do so but haven’t taken that final step?
Do it! If you have a keen interest in playing the Dhol just go for it. Find a Dhol school or teacher, book your lessons and kick start your journey. Whatever it is that has prevented you from taking that final step, be it finding the time for it or other peoples’ opinions, it can be overcome. We need more females rising in male dominated professions and areas of skill. The Commonwealth Games’ closing ceremony had a Dhol performance consisting of seven male Dhol players – hopefully one day we will have some female Dhol players representing us in such historical events.
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How would you best describe your relationship with the UK and India?
Growing up, it became more apparent that my relationship with India was different to most other British Indians. Though I was born and brought up in the UK, in the city of London, I have always had a very strong attachment to India. Where a vast majority of people my age would refrain from visiting India, have not visited India at all, or would shy away from admitting it if they did, I was one to visit at least once a year, sometimes multiple times a year, and would admit it proudly. It was something I was always very excited about. I, and those who know me, know I am a true Indian at heart.
The Indian culture has been a huge part of who I am throughout my life. My family in India and the people I meet there are always pleasantly surprised when they come to know I am from London, which stems from my fluent Gujarati and Hindi, my ability to fit in with everyone and my love for Bollywood movies and music.
My parents have been huge fans of Bollywood music and attended many concerts of Bollywood artists long before I was even born. So I have been lucky enough to attend such concerts together with them in my lifetime. This has lead to the pleasure of meeting a number of Bollywood artists and forming family-like relations with some. I am also a massive Garba fanatic so when it comes to Navratri, you will typically find me there almost all 9 days. My experiences and influences have truly strengthened my cultural awareness and are the reason why I am very proud to be an Indian. Nonetheless, I have a very British side to me and consider it an honour to be able to adapt and follow the two different cultures.
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What is the one lesson or words of wisdom that you try to live your life by that you would recommend to the next generation?
It’s difficult to pick one so I’ll give my top two. The first is put out so much positive energy into the Universe that it has no option but to return it. I truly believe that if you spread an abundance of love, kindness and joy, it will come back to you. And the other is that life is too short to not do something you enjoy because of what other people will think. Life will present many obstacles and barriers, be it physical, societal or generational, but the power resides within us to overcome these and break stereotypical patterns.
*The views expressed in the answers are of the interviewees.