Brothers Ganesh and Kumaresh talk about their experiments with sound and what it means to share the stage with Pandit Zakir Hussain
They have been together through raga and rhythm, performances and practice, albums and experimentations, joys and jamming sessions, and tours and tribulations. When together on stage there's a never a dull moment or a discordant note, but their distinct personalities come through when you meet them off it — at Ganesh's well-appointed apartment in Tiruvanmiyur.
Clad in an embroidered beige kurta-pyjama, a composed Ganesh seems to convey more through his calm smile than words while the younger Kumaresh is boisterous, chatty and witty. Through the long-drawn photo shoot he exhibits an insatiable energy to play pranks and prod elder brother Ganesh into striking some funny poses. He often breaks into old Tamil film numbers to help his brother get the right expression for the camera. Diehard movie buffs, both watched Suriya's “Singam”, first-day-first-show, in Thanjavur where they had gone for a kutcheri (they even acted in NTR's “Brahmarishi Vishwamitra” and K. Balachander's “Oru Veedu Iru Vaasal”).
A different fusion
Back from an 18-concert-25-day-tour across the U.S., with tabla wizard Ustad Zakir Hussain the violinists did not have much time to get over their jet lag. After kutcheris down South and performing at a corporate event in the city, they are geared up to finish composing for their next album besides working on a well-structured practice module for violin students.
“Our overseas performance tour with Zakir bhai is almost an annual feature. Our association with him dates back to 1998, when we performed with the maestro for the first time at the Music Academy Sadas,” says Ganesh.
Adds Kumaresh, “When you are with him, you perceive music differently — as a fusion of time, space and culture. You tend to look beyond genres to weave a wonderful tapestry of traditions and then confidently step out of it to create exhilarating new sounds. More than all this, it's his modesty that's more affecting.”
During such creative outings, it is compliments from the uninitiated that the duo cherishes besides having fun engaging with other artistes. “It's not hard to connect with people the world over through the violin; it has Western origins after all. It's a very universal instrument that easily adapts itself to every style of music.”
During the U.S. tour, they played at universities and acclaimed auditoria, presenting a mix of Carnatic ragas and their own ragapravaham (melodic pieces sans lyrics) compositions. “Ragapravaham is an attempt to move away from the vocalised framework of classical music and explore what the instrument is capable of on its own,” explains Kumaresh.
An early start
The brothers, who have been performing for almost four decades now, have always been excited about bowing differently. “The most rewarding aspect of creating unique sonic experiences was being appreciated by veterans in the field that spurred us on.” They began giving independent violin performances when still in primary school.
The turning point, of course, was in 1983, when the then Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran watched a concert of the talented twosome on television, sent them a note of appreciation and eventually, made them State artistes. “The honour was the icing on our hard training and we decided to turn our passion into a life-long sadhana. Our father T.S. Rajagopalan, an unabashedly tough guru, was most delighted,” explains Ganesh.
“We would wake up at 4 in the morning to practise before going to school and then come back to another session of music. Between all this, our father would still find the time to discuss with us the various aspects of a raga. I would longingly look at the children playing outside. Though I saw him as a martinet, today, I keep sending up a silent ‘thank you' for the discipline he inculcated and the direction he gave to our creative restlessness,” says Kumaresh and suddenly leaps across the table to hold his brother's hands. “And now, he is there for me.”
It was at the insistence of his brother that Kumaresh gave himself full-time to music. “I was in a dilemma. But Ganesh was confident I could do it.” Quite like other siblings, they do have their share of fights and disagreements. “That's healthy. Blind compliance is not good,” smiles Kumaresh.
Besides sharing the stage, the brothers love to go on long drives, organise family outings, indulge in electronic gadgets, shop for casual and concert clothes and, of course, watch movies. And what about scoring music for films? “We are tuned in to the idea but no interesting project has come our way as yet,” says Ganesh.
Meanwhile, they continue their odyssey across the violin strings, through an amazingly varied combination of notes, often straying gallantly on to higher octaves to create harmonies with a contemporary appeal, albeit classically-rooted.