We have an open mind and have learnt songs from various sources.
They were reluctant students, and music was really thrust on them. The assimilation, the inculcation and the musical foundation happened in spite of this antipathy. The Hyderabad Sisters, Lalitha and Haripriya, eventually reached a stage when they could neither leave their guru nor their music. They talk about their guru's influence, his advocacy of full-throated singing and their musical journey
The role of your guru Padmanabhan in your lives
Padmanabhan sir a disciple of the Alathur Brothers, was initially teaching our mother. Our initiation started quite unobtrusively, but we used every trick in our bag to get away from him. Moreover 'Carnataka sangeetham' was a matter of ridicule among our friends, who were mainly convent students like us. Destiny plays its own mischief, and in our case, it certainly did.
Antagonism turned into deep affection and respect for the guru and music itself. As years passed, and as realisation dawned, classes transcended time — for him and for us. A positive vibration and nadham surrounded us. Sir was only 56 when he passed away, and left us searching. We were groping in the dark. When offers came for concerts, we were at a loss, not knowing what to say and what to choose. Without knowing much, we won prizes at national competitions at quite a young age.
Winning the Sangeetha Choodamani award 2008
Getting an award in Chennai is an honour and we dedicate it to our guru. The audience that day comprised stalwarts such as Nedunuri, Lalgudi, the late Yagna Raman and M. Chandrasekaran, who were sitting in the front row. This made the award more prestigious. It was a pleasant experience. We still have the postcard which we got from Yagna Raman inviting us to sing for the first time. It said that this invitation is not based on any recommendation and he was prompted to write to us after listening to us on the radio. Sri Krishna Gana Sabha has never failed to invite us every year to perform. In an almost identical manner, Lalgudi after listening to our South Zone Hookup performance, sent word through S.P. Ramh, saying he was willing to teach us his tillanas. What more could we ask for! We learnt a few tillanas from him.
Your first concert
Our first concert was at Sankara Math in Hyderabad when we were nine or ten. Incidentally, we were born in Hyderabad. On another occasion, we gave an all-Tamil compositions concert. Sethalapathi Balu who had heard us, praised us saying that our voice had a certain power and open-throated quality that was equal to that of men. He was in tears as we sang 'Thaye Neeye Thanjam Arulvaaye' (Bhairavi-Sivan). From then on, our visits to Chennai always included a session with him. T.R. Subramaniam's words, "Your Khambodi is still ringing in my ears," is one of the richest compliments we have got. Then, in Cleveland we were given the prime slot and in the audience sat some top musicians. KVN sir, who was present wanted to know a particular song that we had sung. We have an open mind and have learnt songs from various sources. In Dharwad, the two giants Mallikarjun Mansoor and Basavaraj Rajguru came on stage and said, 'Carnatic music me ab thak aisa koi nahi gaya' (To this day, nobody has sung like this), which was too flattering.
Of course, we have had our share of criticism too. Our approach to alapana is to do it in a shared manner, where one phrase from my sister follows mine in quick succession. There was some objection to this method, as it was believed to be a breach of tradition, but TRS gave his approval and complimented us. We have learnt to accept bouquets and brickbats with an open mind.
The AIR experience
We were top grade artists of AIR Hyderabad. It was N.S. Srinivasan who made us present our resume. We had 31 years of singing as top grade artists, and this enabled us to obtain Top-A status. But for him this recognition would never have happened. We also learnt some rare kritis from him. Two of our sisters, Saraswathi and Sumathi, who are violinists, also learnt from him.
Among our committed students are Smitha Madhav, who is well-known in Chennai, Aruna, Padma (of Hyderabad), a few graded artistes and the Malladi Brothers' cousins.
The present trend
No one can stop changes in any art form. These days, getting to perform on TV seems to be the sole ambition of students, and parents too. Some others prefer formulaic ways (emphasis on lighter pieces) to capture large audiences. Are they compromising on the true essence of Carnatic music? How far will it succeed? Only time has the answers.