Kudamaloor Janardanan talks about his life with the flute

But for the occasional buzz of vehicles, silence fills the streets as I walk through Valiyasala gramam in the capital city. House No. 65, my destination, is just one among the many houses lined up by the side of the street. There is nothing to indicate that it belongs to a celebrated flautist – Kudamaloor Janardanan.

The man and his music have struck a chord with many souls ever since he came into the music scene nearly 25 years ago. The gayaki ang (vocal element) in the notes that flow from his flute has wowed listeners. The magic in his fingering techniques and scaling of octaves have won him legions of fans across the globe. Nevertheless, there are hints of jarring notes when he speaks about his childhood and his tryst with music. “There was music in my family. But the atmosphere wasn’t conducive for learning. But I taught myself and what I am today is only because of that determination. A toy flute awakened the musician in me when I was five years old or so. My siblings bought it for me so that I would keep quiet during cultural programmes held as part of the local temple festival.”

Even when he is “rich” in terms of his fan base and “not awards”, and is “a perfectionist to the core”, Janardanan has got quite a number of critics as well because of his refusal to stick to the orthodox format of a concert and style of performance. A rebel? He says with a smile: “People say so! Many remark, ‘He is a good musician, but it is difficult to get along with him as a person.’ My arguments don’t go down well with them. It is not meant to spite anyone or prove a point. I don’t go about arguing. My flute speaks for me. Now, there is no life for me without this…,” he says.

So, what is it that makes him a rebel? “Just because great composers and lyricists of yore created devotional kritis, that doesn’t mean classical music is devotional music. Devotional can be classical, of course. These people belonged to a different generation altogether and the milieu in which their works were set was different.”

Does any of the swaras represent one particular religion, he asks. “It is high time we re-defined classical music. All other art forms, be it painting or dance, have reinvented themselves, but we are still holding on to something very old, claiming that is the ultimate. Antiquity is not the only yardstick to call something classical,” Janardanan says.

And as a musician he considers it his duty to explore the possibilities in ragas. “When I try to move away from what is tagged classical, I’m criticised. I firmly believe that there is a sea of difference between being humble and being servile. Well, I am not the last word in music and if at all there is someone, for me, that is Lord Krishna,” says the 44-year-old.

Janardanan believes in making music democratic without compromising on the raga patterns. A reason why his music is much sought-after as mobile downloads and ringtones and played in hotels. “It is all about conveying an emotion in the sweetest way, using the manodharma. The visual sense is an equally important factor. You place the swaras on a platform of emotions and render it. Also, the flute has a simplicity and sweetness about it which no other instrument has. Also, there is no other music in the world which is as rich as Indian music. Still, why do we shy away from experimenting?”

Janardanan experiments with instruments in his compositions. He uses the mridangam, tabla and even edakka in his concerts. “Hardcore classical musicians don’t appreciate that. For instance, in my version of ‘Vathapi Ganapathi…’ in the CD Ganesha Murali, I used panchavadyam which raised many eyebrows.” However, he doesn’t do fusion concerts.

“My only aim is to create good art for the present generation. I hope a change comes and a generation would remember me as somebody who didn’t flow with the tide…,” he signs off.

Short takes

* A commerce graduate, who left behind the job of Ticket Examiner in the Indian Railways, Janardanan got music from his father Krishna Iyer and aunt Saraswathy Ammal. “Appachi [referring to his aunt] was the one who brought me up. The way she used to sing kirtans even while grinding on the aatukallu (grinding stone) was amazing. She made it sound so simple. My father’s brother Sivaramakrishna Iyer, a flautist, too was around to inspire me.”

* Janardanan who studied with a scholarship, is a graduate in violin from Madras University. He is an 'A' Grade artiste of the All India Radio and an empanelled musician at the ICCR. He won first prize in flute for five consecutive years at state school youth festivals.

* He is now working on a new album on facets of rain. As a composer, he has composed for music CDs, dance recitals and documentaries.

* Janardanan is married to Ramya and they have a daughter, Kalyani.