Impressions Originally from Andhra, these renowned artists have made Chennai their domicile, to learn and hone their skills. CHITRA SWAMINATHAN
M usicians are citizens of the world. Birth or language does not determine their bonding with a place. They traverse the culture route and halt where hearts seek art and celebrate sound. Classical artists, who hail from Andhra Pradesh, talk about finding their moorings, identity and future… rather their true selves in Chennai.
“This city has the generosity of putting a 10-year-old boy on the concert platform, getting its people to come in large numbers to hear him, and boosting his confidence. Three decades later, the city continues to heartily cheer him to play on,” says U. Shrinivas, stringing together his thoughts on the city.
Though the mandolin ace came here at the insistence of his father, he decided to stay on. Madras moulded him into ‘Mandolin' Shrinivas, an artist who went on to win international recognition.
“When I arrived here, I was too young to nurture dreams or think about a career. But, people's overwhelming response and the art-friendly ambience helped me enjoy every nuance of the musical note. Today, Chennai is my comfort and creative zone.”
Four decades ago, A. Kanyakumari came here from Vizianagaram to pursue Carnatic music (she trained under M. Chandrasekaran) and college education (did B.A in music at Queen Mary's). Since her father's police job took him all over, he decided to send his family to Madras. “The city has always been known as the seat of classical arts.”
Mistaken for a Tamil, Kanyakumari, an able accompanist, was a regular for the legend, M.L. Vasanthakumari. Today, she also conducts violin ensembles. “Thanks to my name and my fluency in Tamil, I am often mistaken for a Tamil, not that I mind it,” she laughs.
Well-known Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancers M.V. Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi have left their native towns in Andhra Pradesh far behind. Their work and life are entwined with the Tamil ethos. “The city never lets you feel like an outsider. Being an artist is wonderful, but being one here is a blessing. The sabhas, the rasikas, the ambience that spurs creativity…what more do you need,” they ask.
“I am reminded of my roots in Narsapur in West Godavari District only when I visit my relatives. Because I was born and brought up here, the sense of belonging to this city is stronger,” says veena exponent E. Gayathri.
“With rhythm in the air and a song on most lips, it is quite understandable that children here take easily to learning the arts. The milieu inspires you. In my case, having musically-inclined parents (her mother is a trained veena artist) led to my life-long association with talam and ragam,” she adds.
Shanmukhapriya and Haripriya were very young when their teacher-father decided that they, along with their mother, shift to Chennai from Chittoor to hone their vocal skills. “We get emotional when we think about his sacrifice of staying away from the family to ensure that the two of us lived in a city where art thrives,” say the Priya Sisters.
They were first under the tutelage of Radha-Jayalakshmi and then, T.R. Subramaniam. “We have been performing for the past 20 years and there has never been a dull moment. This is the right address to stay perfectly tuned in,” says the duo.
Being an artist is wonderful, but being one here is a blessing. M.V. Narasimhachari and Vasanthalakshmi