“You want to interview me? Don’t group me under the serious performers, I sing for the love of music,” 77- year-old Hindustani and Carnatic musician Shantha Poti underplays her achievements on the phone. An ethnic décor at her R.T. Nagar house in Sultanpalya welcomes you, even as she reiterates, “All I have for showcasing are my two tanpuras gifted to me by my parents when I got married. They had advised me that to be in ‘tune’ is more important than being a star,” she says even as the strains of her bandish ‘Mora Piya Balama’ gently pervade a sense of musicality.
The third amongst nine siblings, young Shantha was introduced to Carnatic music by her music-loving parents Srinivas and Seethalakshmi at Mangalore where she was born. Trained under Srinivasa Udupa, the teenage girl had started performing when marriage bells rang and took her away to Ooty as a 19-year-old. Later reaching Nagpur on transfer, while she didn’t find too much of the Carnatic genre happening, she vowed to sing, but this time it was lessons in Hindustani from Ustad Sudhakar Hande who familiarised her with the Kirana Gharana.
It took Shantha Poti only two years to come out with flying colours at the Sangeet Visharad exam conducted by the Gandharva Maha Vidyalay. How did she manage this total change in melodic syntax? “In Dakshina Kannada, while one gets exposed to Carnatic music, unconsciously the facets of the Hindustani shyli get peppered in the way one handles a kriti, swara or raag alaap. This perhaps was one reason why the switch-over for me didn’t seem a culture-shock. Gradually I saw some positives in an amalgam I tried…when I started blending in the way I presented a ‘bandish’ or dealt with a kriti with sangatis coming up with a ‘bhol-alaap’ to explain the lines better or ragas in Carnatic with deep expansive explanations as in the Hindustani,” she says.
Rabindra Sangeeth too
Nearly four decades ago, Shantha set foot on Bangalore soil, only to be associated further with Agra Gharana maestro Ramarao Naik. Just as performances took her across places in India and abroad, the radio, TV and cassette recording kept her on her feet round-the-clock. But that was not all; her yearn for knowing more melodic forms had her get acquainted with Rabindra Sangeeth and Bhakthi Geethe.
Shantha brought in newer perspectives to her presentations. At the Aurobindo Adarsh Trust celebrating the birthday of Ma, she sang devotional compositions eulogising Maheswari, Mahakali, Mahalakshmi and Saraswati. As an A-grade AIR artiste, she was a regular with her string-like voice bringing out solemn bhajans that were an instant hit.
Shantha was conferred the ‘Sangeetha Rasa Ranjani’ by the Sangeetha Nritya Academy. While Shantha feels indebted to her late husband for all the encouragement, what gave her ‘peace’ was taking to teaching nearly three decades ago. “This was the best way I could stay at home and ‘practice.’ Also I loved the challenge of making students sing in tune. My guru Udupa never accepted defeat, he always said, ‘nothing is impossible, practice and experience perfection.’ The same way, anybody coming to me has to ‘understand and feel’ good music, performing is not all. Familiarity with melody not just brings joy to the soul, it improves one’s personality.”
While Shantha has trained students by the hundreds in Bangalore, her association with dance school NUPURA for lending her voice to Meera bhajans for dance ballets that have emotive elements is another feature that she says, “adds up to her rewarding experiences.”