Three decades of hard work has earned Sudha Ragunathan ‘Sangita Kalanidhi.’ Find out how she feels about this in her tete-e-tete with V. Balasubramanian.

Looking back, Saturday December 20, 1980, must be a memorable day for this musician, for it was on this day that she made her debut at the hallowed Music Academy’s TTK auditorium in the noon slot that season. The hall was full with rasikas occupying even the stairs leading to the balcony seats. And as the screen went up there was young Sudha Venkatraman and the entire crowd gave her a rousing applause for they had seen her as vocal support to her guru M.L. Vasanthakumari, in the earlier years. The promise that one day she would make it big was evident for this writer who was also present then. Thirty three years of sheer hard work has made her worthy of the title Sangita Kalanidhi. Excerpts from an interview with Sudha Ragunathan who will be receiving the birudu tomorrow at the Sadas of The Music Academy.

With Sangita Kalanidhi in your kitty do you think the ultimate goal has been achieved in your musical journey?

A quote of Arthur Ashe comes to my mind – “Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” The Sangita Kalanidhi is certainly very precious. It is a great achievement in my musical journey and a crowning glory. It will only serve as an impetus to spur me on to reach many more goal posts. Yes, the journey will continue.

Ahead of many senior vidwans you have received this title… what was your reaction?

It is the prestigious Music Academy’s decision to honour me and I bow my head in respect and acceptance. While I am aware that there are many senior artists who richly deserve this award, I am also touched that almost the entire music fraternity rose to congratulate me on the announcement, with a constant stream of phone calls, messages and mails.

Did you ever think that some day you would arrive at this point?

Yes, I worked with focus. The mission was to take Carnatic music to all parts of the globe and with God’s grace it happened. Different countries, different audiences… they all enjoyed the music. I worked hard and the toil has paid rich dividends.

You have been a regular at the Tyagaraja utsavam at Tiruvaiyaru, without a break for more than 25 years. What is the influence of the Saint’s kritis on you?

Yes, attending the Tyagaraja Aradhana gives personal satisfaction and I am grateful to the Almighty for having provided me with the opportunity every year. Saint Tyagaraja’s kritis and his introduction of the sangathi that were largely set in Madhyamakala were more appropriate for the modern concert paddhathi. GNB was of the opinion that close to about 60 per cent of Tyagaraja’s kritis are in this kala (speed) and that seems to be the best for both the lay and the learned listeners alike. My guru MLV amma would always urge me to learn as many Tyagaraja kritis in the same raga. “You will discover how to explore the raga alapana easily with so much variety in the eduppu,” she would say. The Pancharatna kritis, of course are close to my heart.

Can you name the persons who made an impact in your life?

Bhagawan Sathya Sai Baba who gave me the gift of life and my mother Choodamani who initiated me into the world of music. My guru MLV honed my skills moulded into the person I am today. My husband, M.C. Ragunathan, takes care of everything else while I am absorbed in my world of music. They form an integral part of my life.

Isn’t it time you start creating a lineage?

My disciples have already taken to the podium – Sangeetha Swaminathan, Ramya, Deepika V., Radhika, Revathi Umakanthan and Chethna Acharya. Some more are getting ready.

How do you show your gratitude to music that has given almost everything in life to you?

There is no end to giving – the joy of giving! Continuing the rich parampara I hail from, by building a greater talent pool, my continued research on music and therapy and sourcing of lesser known compositions and composers – my little drops to the fathomless ocean of Carnatic music.

Your take on fusion?

Well, I believe in tradition. Accoaldes within the country and outside have come my way for the pristine way in which I present Carnatic music.

Keyboard has caught on despite its limitations. Veena, flute and the violin have been puehd to the background. Your view?

Well, if learners are comfortable in using the keyboard to imbibe Carnatic music, then this should be encouraged. But then it does require hours of practice and the gamakas and oscillations do not happen easily because of limitations in the instrument.

How will you define singing for films?

Singing for films has its own set of challenges – at times the pitch may not be within your range and here the importance is more towards emotions conveyed by the lyrics and is situational as well. Singing Carnatic is like aligning more towards spirituality, intelligence, voice usage and culture, presence of mind and spontaneity.

What have been your experiences during rehearsals in varied situations?

Rehearsal is like penance. It is very important to get the right ambience to sit and meditate to get the right notes and feel the music flowing within you. It is not always possible to get that kind of an environment. Musicians manage. The smile and the warmth of the audience compensates for any discomfort.

What are the things that distract you during a concert?

The spoilsport mikes and audio support – this can really take a toll, people speaking over phones… late comers, especially when the doors are creaky… some members leaving the hall in the middle of the concert, when the violinist begins his alapana or the percussion team takes over for tani avarthanam… why insult musicians like this? If at all one has to leave, do it in the space between two compositions. All musicians have highlighted this but the practice continues.