Chandan Kumar, the great grandson of T. Chowdiah has made a name for himself in the world of flute. He says the lineage is both responsibility and challenge
It’s like entering a shrine. You expect to hear the soulful strains of the unique seven-stringed violin as you enter. The abode has undergone small cosmetic changes but retains its old world charm. It’s the house where Karnataka’s Carnatic pride Mysore Chowdiah resided. Portraits of musical greats adorn the high walls. Musical deities like Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar and M. S. Subbulakshmi have stayed here. The tuned and well-preserved violin finds pride of place. There’s a mirror which MS used for practice just to make sure her face didn’t contort while singing.
Today sonorous sounds from a flute emerge from this illustrious place. Chandan Kumar the great grandson of Chowdiah is a fast emerging flautist. In today’s restless world there’s no place for meditative music and Chandan realises that. Performances have to be crammed with popular pieces. Chandan is yet to break into the top bracket but humility and persistence should get him there.
Is it fear of comparison that made you choose the flute over the violin?
No, that was not the reason. One of my father’s close friends used to come home and play the flute. It was his hobby. I got interested just listening to him.
My father chose my guru. One of his friend’s sons was learning so he enquired about his teacher. I was fortunate to find him. He’s not a professional performer. He just teaches those interested. His name is M. Gopalakrishna and I’m fortunate to be still learning from him.
It’s a common perception that it helps to learn vocal music to be a good instrumentalist.
I did start out by learning to sing but my voice was terrible which made me switch to flute. But I still learn singing from ‘Padmabhushan’ P. S. Narayan Swamy. That helps me a lot.
When did you decide you were good enough to perform in public?
I feel I’m still a student. I practice a lot and feel I’ve a long way to go. Turning a performing artiste doesn’t mean you can stop learning.
Did the fact that you’re Chowdiah’s great grandson help initially?
Locally people know that I belong to this great lineage but when I go to faraway places like Kerala and parts of Tamilnadu people are clueless. It’s when I’m introduced onstage that people come to know of this. It’s a responsibility as well as a challenge.
You have been playing during the music season in Chennai for many years. Did you encounter resistance because you are form Karnataka?
The one thing I’ve noticed in Tamilnadu is that the quality of the music is the criterion. It doesn’t matter which region you belong to which is very good for young artistes. If you live up to their expectations you are recognised.
It’s not easy for a person to decide on taking up music as a profession is it? Did you go through this dilemma?
That’s very true. I was trying for a bank job because I’m a post-graduate in commerce. I was looking for a job which did not involve getting transferred frequently. I tried but lost many good opportunities because of this condition. Thanks to wise advice from great musicians like Thiruvaroor Bhaktavatsalam I have courageously taken this as my profession.
You’ve just returned from a long sojourn abroad. How do these invitations come about?
Basically it’s a network. I first went in 2001. I rejected offers after that because of my hunt for a stable job but luckily they persisted and I’m back on the circuit.
How do you decide on what to play? Does it depend on the audience?
It’s a common perception that planning is important but I never sit and make a list. I practice seriously everyday and have a craze for new krithis. I go to my Guruji in Chennai and learn new numbers. If I feel like exploring the raga Suruti I play. I plan roughly and have a few patterns in mind. I play according to my strength on that particular day.
There’s a lot of competition today, politics too. It’s not easy to make it big is it?
Politics has always been there. It’s relatively easy to make a name but sustaining it is difficult. The media is strong today which makes it easy to market yourself well.
I heard you are going to receive an award this time during the music season in Chennai.
Narada Gana Sabha is going to confer the Mahalingam-Padmanabhan award on December 13th. It’s an additional responsibility which will make me more focused and I’ll practice harder. There are many talented youngsters emerging which scares me but that’s what spurs me on too.