As a child prodigy her debut on stage was 40 years ago. The platform for it was provided by Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha. This year the sabha has chosen E. Gayathri for their ‘Sangeetha Kalasarathy’ award which will be presented on December 16, the inauguration day of their 109th December music festival.
The transition from the stage of Baby Gayathri, when she continuously hopped from one sabha to another to perform, (After one of her concerts at The Music Academy she had to be virtually carried away on someone’s shoulders to avoid the milling crowd vying with each other to have a closer look at the child!) to that of a seasoned player she is today has not been all that easy.
Rains generally bring in nostalgia. That wet November evening was no different at veena vidwan E. Gayathri’s R.A.Puram apartment. “My father Aswathama was a music director, who has scored music for South Indian films, mostly Telugu. My mother Kamala, a veena player, is from Kalakshetra and is a disciple of both Mysore Vasudevachar and Kalpagam Swaminathan. This meant a lot of music at home. And for me it all started only as fun,” she begins. When she was just five she tried repeating her father’s tunes. It drew her parents’ attention and Gayathri’s father made her play the songs relayed on AIR’s Vividhbharathi while her mother trained her in classical music. It was never on the regular padhathi of alanakarams etc.
She was put on the concert map, when she played informally in the presence of Chittoor Nagiah, Prof.Sambamurthy and many others from the film fraternity at a chamber concert. “The press gave wide coverage and in 1969 Parthasarathy Swami Sabha approached me to perform,” she says with a twinkle in her eye. After it, though there was no effort from her side she was flooded with concerts to the extent, that her studies got affected. “My heart was only in music,” she recalls.
As a child what did music mean to her? “Genuinely speaking, I wanted to please my father and one word of appreciation from him would make me feel elated.”
Why did she withdraw into a shell just when her career was peaking?” My father died young, at 47. I was in my teens then. Personally it was a big blow as he was everything to me. I cut down on the number of concerts, willingly got married soon after, and as my husband E. Ramakrishna was a marine engineer I went sailing all over the world.”
The comeback? “I requested T.M.Thiagarajan(TMT) sir to make me converse with the veena once again. Learning ragas and kritis from him was an out-of-the-world experience. My whole outlook towards music changed.”
With two grown up daughters, one of whom is married, Gayathri, despite her busy concert schedule steals time to play with her grand daughter.
When asked about a raga that she had coined with Gowrimanohari as janyam using the pradhimadhyamam as anniya swara, she laughs aloud describing it as a teenager’s fantasy. “It was Dr. M. Balamuralikrishna who named it Priyabandhavi. I never forayed into such things after that.”
About her tryst in films, she says: “Even before going up concert platforms, I was playing for my father’s compositions. My first film was ‘Sathi Arundathi.’ Later I played for great composers such as G. K. Venkatesh and Ramesh Naidu, and for Ilaiyaraaja right from his maiden film, ‘Annakili.’ Using all my four fingers chromatically for a Malayalam song sung by Jayachandran was a real challenge and so were the bits for P.Suseela’s solo, ‘Sugamo Aayiram’ in the film ‘Thunai Iruppal Meenakshi’ and the title track for the film ‘Uravadum Nenjam’ all composed by Ilaiyaraaja.
Gayathri cherishes her playing in the presence of Maha Periyaval as a child at a time when she was suffering from typhoid. She fondly shows the crown made of sandalwood beads and cardamom that he blessed her with. Gayathri was asked to wear the crown and play a few more songs and by the time she finished the fever was gone! She also cherishes the blessings of Vidyaranya Swami of Narsaraopet.
“As a professional, I feel the drawback is that we have to plan only for a concert. If there is no concert how would I plan my playing is what I am probing into. I want to research on how music could help me in my inward journey, as veena is basically an instrument for meditation” she concludes as she gets up for the photo session.