Living in a country which is a cultural cauldron, especially when it comes to music, and with peer pressure at every juncture, how do they manage to keep their love for the art alive? "It's not too difficult," says violinist Rasika. "Since many of us come from musical backgrounds, we are in the midst of it. Besides, we meet as often as possible to keep abreast of what is happening in the field."
If Jack Canfield ever decides to compile a Chicken Soup for the Carnatic Soul, then 19-year-old Naveen Basavahalli's story would surely be a contender. This New Jersey-born teenager with a non-musical background, wanted to play the tabla after watching a show. He was eight then But the teacher whom he approached felt he did not have ‘enough shakti' to learn. He was just seven then. That did not deter him and he pursued his dream relentlessly. A chance meeting with mridangam teacher Suresh Ramachandran changed everything. Today, Naveen makes playing the mridangam look facile. And what's more, he has single-handedly looked for and found opportunities to play during the December Music Season. Besides, he takes classes from vidwan Guruvayur Dorai.
Naveen is but just one example of the many NRI children who have taken to Carnatic music with determination and devotion. Vijay Narayan, 16, a budding vocalist, may have his goal set on a career with a Math or Science base. “But music is my first love. I would say it is more than a hobby. It is a kind of prayer for me.”
A sentiment that his friends Naveen, Rishikesh Tirumalai (17), Varun (17), Arthi Suresh (15), Rasika Murali (16) and Shyamala (the youngest member at 14), reiterate and agree upon. These teenagers, all born and brought up in the U.S., are currently busy performing at the city's various sabhas including Hamsadhwani, Brahma Gana Sabha and Kapali Fine Arts. Yes, it is Carnatic music that has brought them together. Back home in New Jersey, (Rasika is the only one from Boston), these boys and girls are either finishing school or are under graduates at the university. But they meet at least twice a month under the Yuva Sangeetha Lahiri umbrella and perfect their sruti and learn new ragas and swaras for four to five hours.
Living in a country which is a cultural cauldron, especially when it comes to music, and with peer pressure at every juncture, how do they manage to keep their love for the art alive? “It's not too difficult,” says violinist Rasika. “Since many of us come from musical backgrounds, we are in the midst of it. Besides, we meet as often as possible to keep abreast of what is happening in the field.” Adds vocalist Varun, “I think in the initial years, we might have resisted a little because of the hard work and practice sessions. But our passion for Carnatic music scored. Which is why we make time for music now.”
Though most of them are not looking at Carnatic music as a full-time occupation, they are sure it will remain their top priority. “It is a creative pursuit,” says Vijay. “Music is and will remain a major part my life,” is how Arthi puts it. “I want to find a job that will augment my musical interest,” is wise Shyamala's reaction. Rishikesh, who also plays the sax, says, “This will be my primary hobby. In fact, much more than that.” For Rasika, it's become a habit. “I will never use music to make money,” is Naveen's philosophy. Varun says, “I can't get away from music. Ever. I am tethered to it for life.”
These musicians owe everything to the unflinching support of parents and gurus – Suresh Ramachandran, Rajeswari Satish, Tara Anand, Ashwin Bogendra and Geetha Murali, among others. It is sheer love for the classical art that has spurred these people to put their heart, soul and money into encouraging the youngsters. Articulate and sure of themselves, these youngsters are raring to go.
(All of them have performances scheduled between December 25 and 31.)