Chennai was and is a dream destination for many aspiring young musicians in Kerala because most of the famous Carnatic musicians are here. There was a time I used to watch with envy my friends-singers, violinists and especially mridangists–who went to Chennai to study under veterans like vocalist Madurai T N Seshagopalan, violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaram, mridangists Thiruvarur Bhakthavatsalam and Umayalpuram K Sivaraman and others.
Whenever we met at a concert, my friends and I discussed the styles of each of the famous Carnatic artistes. The more we talked, the more I felt a longing to come to Chennai to study under my favourite mridangist.
In Kerala, monsoon usually followed every festival and concert season. For young musicians, that was the time for rigorous practice (a time for asura sadhaka, as we used to call it). It was during the monsoons that my friends migrated to Chennai.
During one monsoon, I seriously considered fleeing to Chennai–leaving my kin and PG course behind–and knocking on the doors of the guru of my heart, Thiruvarur Bhakthavatsalam. But fear of rejection (because of my different religious background) stilled my feet. Instead, I continued to do an Ekalavya–trying to imbibe his style from cassettes.
However, in one of the strange turns life takes, I found myself in Chennai a few years later–but my purpose was different: to make a living.
As a journalist, I got free access to high profile concerts and an opportunity to meet many veterans. In fact, almost like a dream come true, three well known mridangists (whom I had interviewed) offered to teach me. They didn’t mind my religion. But I was too shy to take up the opportunity because I had not been practising at the time. I was content meeting the great artistes and listening to their concerts.
I become a sabha-hopper every music season. I move from Bharatiya Vidhya Bhavan to Narada Gana Sabha, from Narada Gana Sabha to Music Academy, and from Music Academy to Vani Mahal, to ‘taste all concerts’ (my justification). But, in fact, it is because of lack of attention span that I move from one hall to another.
I am not a big fan of raaga alapana. During the alapana, I usually scan the audience. Most often I can count the rasikas with my fingers, unless the concert is by famous vocalists like T M Krishna, Bombay Jayashree, T V Shankaranarayan or others of their calibre.
Scanning the audience often gives me a shock. I’m the only young man in the audience. I find myself sitting in the middle of maamas and maamis who religiously take down notes as the concert progresses. They have raaga guides in their hands and refer them often. And they won’t do sabha-hopping like me. Most of them sit through the concert and enjoy it fully.
I feel sad about this. I have reached my dream destination and it has given me ample opportunities to follow my passion. But I have not been studious or brave enough to make use of them.
Life and youth have misguided me at my destination while the aged follow their passion relentlessly.