Youngsters discuss the pros and cons of choosing upa pakkavadyam as a profession.

‘Sangitam Soru Podaadhu' is a famous saying in Tamil, which literally translated means ‘Music will not help a person eke out a living.' In today's context, this may be quite irrelevant. The general opinion is that the audience at Carnatic concerts is declining and that youngsters never turn up at sabhas in large numbers to listen to concerts. Whilst this may be partially true, the number of young performers is on the increase, that too as full time professionals either as main or pakka vadyam and upa pakkavadyam artists.

The pakka vadhyam is at the mercy of the main performer and upa pakkavadyam is at the mercy of the mridangam vidwan. In spite of this, many youngsters are taking to mridangam, ghatam, ganjira and morsing full time, confident of earning a decent livelihood. A group of young established and up and coming vidwans discuss the issue. Ghatam vidwan Dr. S. Karthik begins, “Absolute confidence drove me into this. My parents encouraged me a lot and it was further propelled by my wife. Concerts can go without ghatam or for that matter any other upa pakkavadyam, yet I have been able to make it.”

Mridangam maestro B. Sivaraman says, “I have lived and breathed music since birth. Vidwans and friends of my father Sethalapathi Balasubramaniam would throng our house and music would be heard at wee hours of the night. This was almost a daily routine.”

Ghatam player Adambakkam Shankar had this to say. “Same is the case with me. All the elders in our house both paternal and maternal were well versed in music. After a huge loss in business, I decided to take up ghatam full time. My guru Kumbakonam Rajappa Iyer's words still ring in my ears. ‘Have faith in what you do and strive hard, never lose track of your objective. The art will not let you down but income levels will vary according to the field chosen.'” Karthik chips in, “It was only after a great struggle that I have made it. I have to thank my father who let me do what I like.”

Nerkunam Shankar had to fight with elders in his family to take up ganjira. With no godfather to promote him, his family shifted from Nerkunam village (constantly misspelt as Nerkundram) to join his elder brother who was working in Chennai. Shankar quit his M.Sc (IT) studies half way t to train under G. Harishankar. “I have no regrets. Coming from a middle class family with no financial backing, I knew the risk involved. My sight was on ganjira and Harishankar was my role model. These two factors made my struggle look easy for me.”

His brother Nerkunam Manikandan initially learnt mridangam but later shifted to morsing as he was finding it difficult to depend on someone to help him carry his instrument, being visually challenged. A picture of confidence, he says, “I came to Chennai to pursue my studies but the scene has changed. With the support of mridanga vidwans and main performers, I am confident of taking life forward.” Nerkunam Kamakshi, their sister, has completed her Masters in Music, and is learning vocal and violin simultaneously. That she is visually challenged has never come in the way. She too has started performing full time and is waiting to make it to the bigger league.” “With loving brothers to support me, I cannot ask for more and sooner or later this art will help me in sharing their burden.”

The underlying factor is the amazing self-confidence of all the artists. Money or no money, it is sheer passion that makes them sail into the ocean of music.