Dwaram Lakshmi carries the legacy of the family with aplomb

She hails from the illustrious Dwaram family. Dwaram Lakshmi strikes you as a sweet and gentle soul but once you get to know of her academic brilliance and her performing stature, an aura of reverence will overcome your initial impression. On the eve of her concert in the city, Lakshmi settles down for a tête-à-tête throwing a glimpse into her childhood, her gurus, her family, her music and career. Her father Dwaram Bhavanarayana Rao was the son of the redoubtable Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu. “It was he and my mother Venkata Varadamma who encouraged me and all my siblings to take to music no matter what career choices we made in life. Not just that, I remember, I expressed a desire to learn Hindustani music when my father was the principal of Vijayawada Music College and also German language! He promptly admitted me into both. I learnt Hindustani under J.V.S. Rao who was a great teacher! Whenever he came back from a concert outside the state or within, we, his pupils would get the best of sweets as a token of his happiness. Today, as a teacher, I just set one electronic or manual sruti and allow my students to sing. My teacher would patiently tune 20 tanpuras for that many number of his pupils!” she recalls with nostalgia.

What made you shift to Carnatic music? “My father at the end of my learning put a choice in front of me. If I would like to further pursue the Hindustani course, he wanted me to do so under Kishori Amonkar. But, I went along with his wise counsel. We had a Carnatic music background and it would be much more gratifying to walk in the path of my ancestors. My parents gave us full freedom and also imbibed certain values for which I am grateful to this day. Theirs was an inter-caste wedding (my mother was a Brahmin and a student of my grandfather), and mine being similar, the ugly head of caste discrimination had been erased once and for all in the family. Today, that background has given me a more humane and generous outlook, I should say,” she confides matter-of-factly.

Lakshmi feels she's been blessed with exceptionally great and good gurus. Her voice is choked with veneration when she mentions M.L.Vasantha Kumari, who was her guru at Tirupati College. “She was not just an expert teacher. She was a wonderful person. I was by then a staff member of the Padmavathi Mahila University Department of Music/Fine Arts but I was a very young learner too. She would teach in her staff quarters to me and other students; offer lunch there and continue. On one such occasion, she had a concert and asked me to accompany her. I came over to her place in a simple cotton sari and she immediately asked me to open her wardrobe and wear a sari from her collection that would match my blouse. When my father came up with the request that my marriage would be fixed on the day she would be free to give a concert, it so happened that she fell sick and was admitted to Isabelle Nursing Home in Chennai. Despite her condition, she wanted to keep her promise and on that day she landed at the wedding venue straight out of her hospital bed. In her deteriorating health, she wanted to know if I was happy with my husband and still able to perform!”

That is the level of rapport Lakshmi shared with the great MLV. Padma Subrahmanyam, her guide for her doctoral research on Adyatmika Ramayanam is, according to Lakshmi, a very dedicated teacher and a warm person.

“She would not agree to the most prestigious performance if the dates clashed with the dates she had given me to seek her guidance during my thesis days. I took more gifts from her than I had given with all reverence,” says Lakshmi. The gurus were icons of perfection coupled with humanism, so rare these days, says Lakshmi ruefully.

“Now, I am an associate professor in the university and can sing in 14 languages. I make it a point to present a regional classical piece towards the end of the concert to please the audience of the place I perform. I also conducted choir singing for 20,000 children on Independence Day. It's wonderful to be a teacher. You come across your students years later and feel so happy when they run up to you and greet you with warmth. I'd like to mention an incident. I received a letter from Rajahmundry jail inmate who happened to be my pupil way back in my early teaching days at Vizianagaram. He wrote that he was now seeking peace behind the bars singing kritis I had taught him. He felt music was his only solace,” she signs off.

Keywords: Dwaram Lakshmi