A veterinary doctor, he works with a Chennai-based financial services company and performs on stages. That is Dr. R. Ganesh for you. The fast coming up vocalist, Dr. Ganesh had his initial schooling in Carnatic music under late Maharajapuram Santhanam. After being on his own for some years, he is now learning carnatic music from O.S.Thyagarajan. ``I breathed music, ate music and drank music when I was with Maharajapuram Santhanam,'' says he. Dr. Ganesh has a special word of appreciation for R.Subramanium, the Managing Director of Vishwapriya Financial Services, who does not allow the work to come in the way of his concert schedule. In a chat with Sudha Jagannathan, Dr. Ganesh speaks of his formative years, his gurus and what not.
When did you start learning music? Who is first guru? How many gurus do you have?
Ganesh: We belong to the parampara of Koteeshwara Iyer and Kavi Kunjara Bharathigal. Koteeshwara Iyer belonged to Ramnad. He lived in Mylapore as well. He and Papanasam Sivan were contemporaries. He was a great composer and composed kritis in all 72 melakartha ragas. Lord Muruga, it was said, had come as a witness to help Kavi Kunjara Bharathigal in a court battle.
My father, Radhakrishnan, had a lot of interest in Carnatic music. It was he who inspired me. He himself is a good singer. He used to walk quite a distance to listen to concerts of many a stalwart. So, my father was the one who created in me the taste for Carnatic music. We are four in our family. When we were in school, he used to reward us whenever we got first rank. For me, he used to buy Maharajapuram Santhanam's cassette. That was how he ignited the flame of music in me.
I learnt initially from Thanjavour T. Mahalinga Iyer. He was not a performing artiste. He was a teacher. He had created quite a number of musicians. I started learning `sarali and jandai' from him. I must be around 10 years old then. He prepared beginners to the `kirthana level'. I wanted a person to take me further to the level of singing raga alabana and the like. We shifted to a place closer to where Thirukarugavur Srinivasa Raghavan lived in Thanjavur. Through him, I started improving my learning. After Plus II, I got selected for veterinary course in Namakkal.
By then, I had developed lot of admiration for Maharajapuram Santhanam. Through the efforts of my uncle Chidambaram, I got a seat in Madras veterinary college. My father was, however, little skeptical on going to Maharajapuram Santhanam. But I was keen to go to him. When I went to him, I was fortunate to be chosen as his student. First, I was attending thrice a week class. Then after a few weeks, I went daily. Thereafter, he insisted that I stay with him.
All through six years thereafter, I stayed with him. While in gurukulavasam, I breathed music, ate music, drank music and imbibed everything. Not only that, I observed him when he taught his sons and other disciples and absorbed his teachings. I became more than a son for them. So much so, mami (Mrs. Santhanam) used to say ``you are the son who gave no labour pain to me!'' In 1992, I finished my veterinary course. I was looking for a government job. In fact, I got an attractive private offer in Coimbatore. But Maharajapuram Santhanam refused to let me go and said he would find a job in Madras itself. So I stayed with him. When Chairman Vishwanathan of Vishwapriya Financial Services and Securities wanted Maharajapuram Santhanam on the board of the company, my guru insisted that he would do so if they give me (Ganesh) an appointment there.
Fortunately, they wanted to start a veterinary farm then. So, they said `yes'. But they said I might have to serve in an unrelated department until they formed the veterinary farm division. They, however, said I would be allowed to go to concerts. I joined the company in April 1992. Unfortunately in June the same year, Maharajapuram Santhanam died in a car accident. I sang with him in the last concert at Manjakudi in Kumbakonam- at Dayananda Matriculation School. I began singing individually thereafter. Recently, I joined Shri O.S.Thyagarajan.
How different are they in teaching? What kind of influence their teachings have on your style? How difficult or easy for a student to have an independent style?
Ganesh: The style of the guru has a definite influence. There is no doubt. Still, we may have inner strengths and weaknesses. I may wish to do what all Maharajapuram Santhanam did. But I can't do everything he did. To a level, I can catch up. That goes for O.S.Thyagarajan as well. There are lots of similarities in the method of singing by both. The way they sing Swaras - there will be differences in some but in many, you can see a lot of similarities. So it is easy for me. I am convinced that Thyagarajan can take me further ahead in the music world. I had a short training in Veena from Ranganayaki Rajagopal. This was for a brief period to learn swara sthanams.
There were differences in their teachings. In Keerthana padandharams, the way they develop the ragas, niraval and swarams - there are indeed differences. But we have to make a judicious mix and take up what we are capable of doing.
What did you not gain from Maharajapuram Santhanam but hope to get from learning from Thyagarajan?
Ganesh: The voice power of Maharajapuram Santhanam was a God given gift. It is totally an anatomical and morphological thing. We can sing like him. However, it is very difficult to have the same voice power like him. To an extent we can emulate him. That was the thing I could not take from Maharajapuram Santhanam.
Besides you, who are among the brightest students of Maharajapuram Santhanam?
Ganesh: There was one Guru Guha. He sings well. He has moved to the computer field. Then there is Rajeswari Mahesh. She is giving lot of kutcheries. Then of course there is Prema Manohar. She sings devotional songs.
Why does a performing artiste like you need another guru?
Ganesh: To have an independent style, I needed another school of thought and music. You mix both to get your own style. It is, however, a different matter that a lot of people today don't want us to shed the Maharajapuram Santhanam style.
I became a performing artiste sometime in 1992. I joined O.S. Thyagarajan in 1998. I was on my own for five to six years after Maharajapuram Santhanam's demise. I went to Thyagarajan because I thought it was necessary for me to have another style.
Once you are a performing artiste, you are sort of arrived. That being so, why would one need a guru?
Ganesh: Mere arrival is not sufficient. You have to go up further. You need a lot of strengthening for that. People do different things for that. You need to have different pallavis in different talas and in difficult talas.
What is the objective of a performing professional artiste like you?
Ganesh: A majority of people is not in a position to enjoy the job. We sing when we are in a happy frame of mind. If some one gives money for singing, there cannot be anything fantastic than this. When you are being paid for your own fulfillment and enjoyment that is the best. If you are gifted with a lovely voice and blessed with a guru, naturally you will prefer to perform.
Have you junked your job as a veterinary doctor?
Ganesh: I have not junked my profession. I still do service at Kanchi Mutt. I am an honorary veterinary consultant for the Kanchi Goshala. I have not dropped. I am allowed to do Seva.
What is your idea of a performing artiste? What propels an artiste?
Ganesh: It differs from person to person. Many may feel that the audience reaction could be a scale for their growth. Some may compete with their own performance. Every one has a different scale. I feel I should not deviate from the path of divinity in music. Music without divinity is zero. Beyond a point, academic exercise alone will not help. It should be a mixture of divinity and academic exercise. I will say it in the ratio of 90:10. I don't believe in doing rhythmic accountancy and other things and compromising totally on divinity. Divinity alone gives full satisfaction. Rendering of raga - nadopasana - when it is combined with full bakthi and devotion gives satisfaction that is far superior. That is far better than anything else.
What music means to you?
Ganesh: Music is definitely a sadhana to attain jeevan mukthi. If it is done in right way with right practices, we can definitely achieve it. A lot of people have done it. The famous Trinity had attained the mukthi because of music. Now people say diseases can also be cured by music. So, it has got a lot of undiscovered values. It is an ocean. In a big ocean, we are just trying to capture a tumbler of water.
How important is guru bakthi for a musician?
Ganesh: That is fundamentally very important. He is the one who imparts the knowledge. And, it is only with his fullest blessings one can blossom. There is no doubt. There is no second opinion. In my own life, many such things have taken place. I was fortunate enough to have his (Maharajapuram Santhanam) affection and be part of his close quarter. I am sure he would have blessed me fully. There had been lots of emotional encounters with him where he had blessed me fully.
Can you recall a moment you cherish most?
Ganesh: There are in fact many. One particular thing I can vividly recall was when he gave his last concert in Kumbakonam. From the venue of the concert, we went to Dayananada Ashram and from there we went to our hotel room. The car could not accommodate all of us. So he asked my to sit on his lap. That was very rare. May be he felt that the next day he was not going to be there. He said lot of things to me and wished me well. I knew not why he was telling all that to me.
In fact, I was supposed to travel with him in his car, which met with an accident and he died. In a spur of moment, Maharajapuram Santhanam said I was not going to travel with him. I always traveled with him. But on that particular moment, he said `no'.
When I got my veterinary degree, he was in tears and said he felt as if he got the degree. He used to enquire about my marks, subjects and everything. Lots of such close feelings.
After his demise, sometime in 1997 there was a marriage concert in which former President R.Venkatraman had come along with daughter Padma who was in Vienna then. After the concert was over, she came up to me and said what Maharajapuram Santhanam had told her when he visited Vienna in 1991. When Padma asked him whom he thought would inherit his style, he had told her of a veterinary doctor (Ganesh) who was learning from him. I was stumped. I did not get an opportunity to travel with him abroad. Yet, he told somebody about me.
What kind of a rigour a musician should go through?
Ganesh: Sadagam is required daily. But my guru did not believe in singing for 8-10 hours in the name of sadagam. He would allow us to do sadagam for one or two hours. In the evening, we will have concert or sessions where we used to sing together. You have to work within your limit. What you present on the stage is very important. Ultimately, sabha Devadai's blessing is important.
What could be the focus of your daily sadagam?
Ganesh: You have to work within the range and find out if you could go up and down with ease. You have to find out if could sing what you think. Whatever you think, you should be able to execute within the god given voice margin.
What is your road map?
Ganesh: Instead of doing Sadagam singly you can do it with others. This way, it helps you keep bettering the other. So you need to have students. This way of doing Sadagam is twice blessed. A student gets the knowledge. I get the opportunity to practice with a good student. Due to time constraint, I am not able to do this now. But I should have students.
December season - how significant is it for you?
Ganesh: It is a platform to display somebody's skill. Here you sing in one place where all people converge. You get a better exposure. Inside 10-15 days in the December season, you get to see a range of people from within and outside the country.