Chairman of ISRO, K. Radhakrishnan talks to Ranjani Govind of his guru Carnatic maestro Srikantan

The best way to remember music maestro Srikantan is through his students, one of who is the Chairman of ISRO, K. Radhakrishnan. He not only learnt from Srikantan for more than three decades, but also observed him during his travels as his music assistant. Radhakrishnan spoke to Metroplus about his musical background, how it helps him in running ISRO and his understanding of Srikantan. Excerpts.

What led you to become Srikantan’s student?

I was interested in dance. I was formally trained in Kerala Natanam and Kathakali for about four years. Due to health reasons, I took a break from dancing for nearly 15 years. My second phase of Kathakali training was in Bangalore and I gave a few stage performances too. My initiation into singing was when I was 26. When I was pursuing my management studies at IIM, Bangalore, I started with Saralivarise in Carnatic music under H.C. Radhakrishna. Later when I moved to Vikram Sarabhai Space Centre, Thiruvananthapuram, I went through rigorous training lessons with Prof. Vechoor Hariharasubramony.

When I moved to ISRO in 1981, R.K Srikantan was my obvious choice for a guru. I used to listen to his music lessons on Akashavani, and attend his concerts at Navaratri Mandapam and Swathi Tirunal Sangeeta Sabha at Thiruvananthapuram.

In January 1982, I approached Srikantan with an introductory letter from Vechoor and he readily accepted me as a disciple and tutored me. From 1982 to 1984, I was his assistant at numerous concerts. I was at his side during his practice sessions, and also sang with him a few times. Carnatic music became an inseparable part of my life.

What aspect of Srikantan’s music did you enjoy the most?

RKS imbibed the best from the traditions of several masters, while building upon the formal training he received from his gurus. Perfection in shruti, laya and bhava were important aspects of his music. Fast sangatis flowed out of his wonderful, youthful and full-throated voice. He evolved a well-chiselled paataanthara, which should be preserved as Srikantan-style. He had a very vast repertoire of compositions of the Trinity, Mysore Vasudevacharya, Mysore Sadashivaraya, Maharaja Jayachamaraja Wadiyar, the Haridasas, Swati Tirunal Maharaja and several modern composers including Tulaseevanam Ramachandran Nair. Srikantan was a student of music all his life, learning new compositions and polishing old ones. Not just a performer, he was an illustrious teacher with an analytical mind of a musicologist. As a teacher, he would move to the next lesson only after making sure that the student had imbibed all aspects. He had an inimitable style and ensured the lyrics and notations made an imprint on the disciple.

How much has music helped you helm ISRO?

Music soothes and acts as a tonic for the stresses that we invariably have to go through in our professional life. When I am in the car, I listen to Carnatic music and often sing along.

My colleagues often praise me for my memory. I attribute this to the music practise that I have been doing regularly. Music is also nada yoga that could elevate one’s mental faculties. I wish to be a musician all my life and a student of that vast ocean of music.

How much time do you devote for practice?

To devote an hour everyday, on an average, for music practice is not an impossibility. But it calls for passion and perseverance, as well as support from family. My wife provides me that support and encouragement and often acts as a critic as well. Frequent official tours do come in the way of regular practice, but one tries to balance without prejudice to the official commitments.

What are your favourite ragas and kritis?

Coming to my favourite ragas, Bhairavi, Atana, Kambhoji, Thodi, Kalyani, Abheri, Madhyamavathi, Saveri, Mukhari etc seem to make a strong influence on me.

In kritis, Gopaalaka paahimam (Revagupti), Deva deva kalayami (Mayamalavagowla), and Pankajalochana (Kalyani) of Swathi Tirunal; Enaati nomu phalamo (Bhairavi), Upachaaramu (Bhairavi), Rama Kodandarama (Bhairavi)of Thyagaraja; Vathapi (Hamsadhwani) and Sreekrishnam bhaja manasa (Todi) of Dikshitar; Sankari samkuru (Saveri) of Syama Sastri; Palisamma (Mukhari) of Purandaradasa; Baalam Gopaalam (Bhairavi), Bhajare re maanasa (Abheri) and Ninne nammithinayya (Simhendramadyama) of Mysore Vasudevacharya, are some of my favourites for singing.

The attatala varna Viriboni obviously is the nectar of Bhairavi that I would choose first.

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