Interview R.K. Srikantan elaborates on how AIR unearthed the musician in him. Suganthy Krishnamachari
W hen the little boy came home from school, switched on the radio, and heard K. Ponniah Pillai singing Tyagaraja's Devagandhari kriti, ‘Vinaraadanaa manavi,' he experienced a thrill of delight. And when sometime later, he heard Muthiah Bhagavatar sing and explain the intricacies of ‘Entaro Mahanubhavulu,' he became hooked on the radio.
These relays were from the Corporation Radio, Madras, because there was as yet no radio station in Mysore, where the boy lived. He didn't know then that his tryst with the radio was to continue, and how. All he knew then was that he had to become a musician, and that is what he became. R.K. Srikantan today is a respected scholar, vocalist and Sangita Kalanidhi. Even as a schoolboy, Srikantan would come to Madras to sing in the Corporation radio. The remuneration was Rs.75, he recalls. Ask him what helped him most in his music career, and he answers, “All India Radio.”
In 1949, Srikantan applied for the post of music teacher in Mysore Akashavani, and was selected. When the station was renamed All India Radio (AIR), and moved to Bangalore, Srikantan took up residence there. “AIR is the best place to acquire knowledge,” he says emphatically. “I would often replay studio recordings of vidwans like Chowdaiah, Gottuvadyam Narayana Iyengar, Vasudevachar, Veena Venkatagiriappa. If they'd sung songs I hadn't learnt, I would write down the lyrics, notate the songs, and sing them in my kutcheris. When Sangita Kalanidhi Anantakrishna Sarma did special programmes on Tyagaraja, I was the vocalist.”
Srikantan used to sing in the early morning programme – ‘Geetha Aradhane.' ‘Bhava Geethe' was a programme where the verses of modern poets like Masti Venkatesa Iyengar and Gundappa were set to tune by Srikantan, who also scored the orchestral background music. In the programme, ‘Gamaka,' scholars would discuss the poetic merits of early Kannada poets such as Ranna, Ponna, Pampa and Kumara Vyasa. This would be followed by Srikantan singing in classical ragas, some of the poems discussed.
Srikantan says that because listeners wrote in their comments on various programmes, it helped staff artistes correct their mistakes. For instance, when Srikantan sang a Sanskrit stotra, and mispronounced Vaaraanasi as Vaaranaasi, an irate Sanskrit scholar called up the Station Director and asked him why staff artistes couldn't bother to pronounce words rightly. “That was truly a lesson for me. Since then, I've always taken trouble to get the pronunciation right.”
When his first National Programme concert received a good review from the redoubtable Subbudu, and appreciation letters came to the Bangalore station, the station director complimented Srikantan. In 1979, when Srikantan won the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award, the Director General of All India Radio wrote to him about how proud he was that AIR had artistes such as Srikantan on its rolls.
Srikantan has given lecture-demonstrations on Kannada javalis on AIR Bangalore. He recalls how beautifully Ariyakkudi used to sing ‘Mathada Baradeno' (Khamas) and how delightfully Balasaraswathi would dance to it. According to him this Kannada javali has the original tune, but for some Kannada javalis, the original tunes are lost.
Srikantan is full of anecdotes about the musicians who came for AIR concerts. Once the station director asked Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu what he thought of the station, and Dwaram replied that while everything else was all right, he didn't like the red light before him and wondered if it could be switched off. “That was the light that would indicate to the artiste when to begin and when to stop!” laughs Srikantan.