CHAT For singer Gayathri, music is the vital cog in the wheel of life
Film music, Hindustani, ghazal, bhajan, experimental — Gayathri Asokan likes to experience music in its myriad moods. The genre often hasn’t mattered, because she takes her music spiritually, to find her self. Her music doesn’t rest on short-term goals, but thrives on the ambition to realise the being within. So we won’t find her plodding to the top of the number chart. But she is often around with a musical note here, there and everywhere.
“I am happy if I can sing one or two good film songs a year,” says Gayathri over a cup of chai on a recent visit to Kozhikode. She sang a couple of lilting melodies of late — “Mazhakondu mathram” from Spirit, “Nin viral thumbil” (Beautiful) and “Thulli manjinullil” (Ayallum Njanum Thammil). Her CDs of ghazals and bhajans come out steadily. Her musical life is also dotted with Hindustani recitals. Gayathri likes to keep it that way. “I didn’t want to restrict myself to the classical, I love light music too. That is the choice I have made,” she says.
She arrived in Malayalam soulfully with “Deena dayalo rama” and “Enthe nee kanna.” Though there have always been heart-warming melodies in her repertoire, be it the lullaby “Chanjadi aadi” or the well-noticed “Thamara noollil” or “Kinavile”, Gayathri says, “I have never had a monster hit, say a ‘Karuppinazhakku’ or ‘Sukhamanee nilavu’. I got a State award and I had good hits, but never a sensational one.”
She looks at it philosophically. “These things are based on destiny. Since I didn’t have that sensational hit I concentrated on learning, which brought me to a point where I don’t have to depend on films.” And learning has meant years of Hindustani training under the tutelage of Alka Marulkar in Pune and now Vinayak Torve in Bangalore.
Taught under the guru-shishya parampara, Gayathri says learning Hindustani music has been about imbibing the energy of the guru and soaking in that environment. “Classical music is tricky. You cannot actually teach Indian music, but only show glimpses of it,” she says. Training helps a student absorb the grammar of the genre. She attributes the evolution of a singer to being creative at a recital while adhering to the prescribed grammar. For Gayathri a perfect performance is sound in terms of tradition yet manages to appeal to the emotions. “That balance comes with experience. An impatient person can never make it big. It happens when you have a deep love for the art.”
Hindustani music has taken her through different layers of the self. During a recital “pleasing yourself” is important too, she says. “It is an abstract thing and the deeper you go the more abstract it gets, it is elusive. But that doesn’t mean you can explore a Todi for one-and-a-half to two hours. Certain level of compromise will be required. Even when I am doing a full-fledged classical concert I explore two ragas and then sing a couple of ghazals and bhajans. The dwindling audience to classical music is a serious concern.”
However, one place where she can let her music bloom is Dharwad. “Nobody cares for ephemeral music there. Now I perform there every year and the night-long recitals are heard by a crowd of 7,000 to 10,000 people. They are classically trained and their energy and appreciation is tangible.” Before her performances in Dharwad, Gayathri confines herself to just music. “I take a sabbatical and spend about a week in Bangalore.”
The singer who travels the world for her stage shows says future plans include a band for experimental music. There are film songs too, including numbers for the movie Mayflower. Meanwhile, she never forgets that music itself is her journey. “All I seem to do is sit and do riyaz. I am interested more in building skills.”