Chat Delhi-based Ramamoorthy Sriganesh on his impending move to Chennai.
W ith Madras officially called Chennai, the alliteration, along with the fun, has gone out of saying “Madras, the Mecca of Carnatic music,” but that doesn't mean Carnatic musicians have stopped making a beeline for it. New Delhi-based artistes may be envied by their counterparts elsewhere for their proximity to powerful cultural organisations, but they also long to get back to the centres that nurtured their art.
One more artiste to pack his bags and make the shift to Chennai is Ramamoorthy Sriganesh, mridangist and nattuvanar. “I was almost born in Delhi,” says Ganesh, whose ancestral home is in Lalgudi, Tamil Nadu, and who has been in the Capital since he was three. Trained in the mridangam under Chidambaram V. Nataraja Iyer and A. Premkumar, he says, “People ask me, after 40 years, how can you go back? But I feel I am longing for more creativity.”
Ganesh's journey has all the hallmarks of success, but even success can get dull. With few Carnatic musicians available in Delhi, he soon became a sought after percussionist among Bharatanatyam and Kuchipudi dancers of the Capital. Added to the exclusivity of his art was a diligent and resourceful approach that made him an active participant in the creative process. Adding nattuvangam to his accomplishments, he was busier than ever.
Simultaneously he continued with his personal development and launched Dhwani, a tala vadya (percussion) group, featuring mridangam, tabla, kanjira and other Indian drums accompanied by melody. Dhwani has performed across India and other countries, and it is work of this sort that Ganesh hopes to continue once he settles in Chennai.
At the UN's “Make Noise for the Millennium Development Goals” concert some months ago, Ganesh conducted a large group of percussionists as part of a performance that brought together drummers from across India. While the duration of his segment was only 10 minutes, the experience was worth it, he says. “We worked for five months for the programme. That has given me encouragement to do more such things. It is always good to work with big groups, with good musicians around. You get so many ideas.”
He concedes, “It took me a long time to realise I can do more.” Adding that working with dance, learning dance-specific percussion and dance syllables too has been an education, he explains, “In dance you have to remember, you have to memorise or you write it down. And the cross-rhythms, especially in Bharatanatyam, are also very helpful. These things can be done without dance too.”
Recently, he accompanied eminent dancer Swapnasundari on the mridangam when she premiered her reconstruction of the Simhanandanam tala of 128 beats in a Vilasini Natyam performance in Chennai, besides composing the jatis for her new varnam.
There are still lots of opportunities for a mridangist in Delhi, but Ganesh says it is now “a bit monotonous”. He remarks, “Sometimes I feel it's because the supply is less and demand is more. Even if you want to call people and do something (new), musicians don't have time.” Significantly, he adds, “There is a fear factor too, that mediocrity will set in. you don't get time to spend on yourself. You need to take time to upgrade yourself.”
People argue that Chennai poses lots of competition, then why ask for trouble? “You should have your own identity,” says Ganesh. “I want to work with artistes who challenge me. I am not the kind of person who can be happy with whatever I have.”