A little story on how a couple discovered it was possible to take traditional music and dance across borders

At a building nestled in a tranquil residential area of Besant Nagar, far removed from the boisterous beach-going crowd and with streets curiously named after rivers such as the Ganga, Cauvery and Yamuna, lies an inspiring story — on following one’s heart. “I was introduced to music at the age of nine and gave my first concert at 11. My parents would sing bhajans in the house and those influences were indelible,” says T. V. Ramprasadh, a trained Classical singer. “I went on to graduate in Cost Accountancy. I started my career in merchant banking, and after three years, I realised the world of stock market, primary issues, and price-earning ratio was not for me. I continued to give concerts and teach music, but the work pressure was too much. That was the moment of truth: I was 26 and married, but I had to follow my heart. I quit my job.”

The e-route

So in 1998, the singer and his wife Bharatanatyam dancer Indira Kadambi set up Ambalam, a centre for teaching Classical arts. “By 2008, the power of the Internet was so much that we embraced it. Ambalam became eAmbalam,” says the 43-year-old. “I was teaching Carnatic vocals and Indira, dance. From one-to-one tutoring, we moved over to Skype to teach students in Europe and the U.S. And, that’s how we found that music, dance, and yoga could be taught online through structured courses.”

The e-learning portal offers basic and advanced diploma courses on Carnatic vocal and Bharatanatyam with yoga, through hundreds of videos built on a customised platform. It also has learning sections covering languages, festivals, yoga sutra, temple architecture, Ayurveda, and legends in arts and dance.

“The Internet gave us a platform to form the vibrant community SaMaaGaMaa, and we branched into lectures, workshop, yoga, Kalari, Tai chi, meditation, and even origami. For the two-day SaMaaGaMaa annual festival in Nageswara Rao Park, experts from different disciplines interacted with our students and exposed them to these new currents. The viewership was over 30,000.”

What did music teach him? “Everything I have learnt is from music. My gurus (the late) S. Rajam and P.S. Narayanaswamy were great artistes and more-than-great human beings. They were down-to-earth; fees was never a consideration.”

Back to basics

But can Classical music stem the tide of the last 20 years’ cultural degradation? “I can’t reverse consumerism, but I offer an avenue for one to get acquainted with one’s tradition. I was in Bangalore on a newspaper project trying to teach school boys the rudiments of Carnatic music. They were not even aware of M.S. Subbulakshmi and Balamurali Krishna; I then sang a nursery rhyme (‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’) in a Carnatic raga and they were captivated.”

Ramprasadh concludes, “This initiative has been a life-long passion. First I was confused whether I was a teacher or a performer, but now such distinctions don’t matter. We see ourselves as custodians of an ancient culture bequeathed to us; we want to spread this to the next generation without diluting it.”