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Unni Krishnan: From indifference to involvement

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"I must admit I strayed into Carnatic music; looking back on my boyhood days, I had no idea I would take up Carnatic music as my profession in later years. I still do not know what brought me to this field," Unni Krishnan was frank enough to confess that his early years had nothing to do with Carnatic music. "All my interest then was in cricket."

"Was there no one in your family to spot your good voice and get you trained by a leading vidwan?"

"I started learning Carnatic music because of my mother's compulsion. At home she used to sing Ayyappa, Guruvayurappan bhajans and other devotional songs. It was by hearing her sing, I could repeat some bhajans. That was all. That had absolutely nothing to do in Igniting a deep desire in me to take to Carnatic music."

"What was the special reason for her to compel you to learn Carnatic music?"

"My mother was proficient in Carnatic music too. But owing to her orthodox background, she was not able to express her musical ability. Probably she wanted to fulfil her desire through me."

"So. as an obedient son you agreed to learn music even though the call of the cricket field was more tempting?"

Unni Krishnan smiled and said, "In my twelfth year, I started learning Carnatic music from V. L. Seshadri who had been trained by Madura! Srirangam lyengar. It was just for four years."

''Have you attended any music concert in your teens?"

"No. I started learning because of my mother's wish, and then the motivation was not such as to make me attend any Carnatic music concert."

"As a boy you said you could sing bhajans. Did you evince any interest at least in devotional music?"

"My mother would play the devotional songs sung by Yesudoss. His voice attracted me to some extent. Even now, I listen to Yesudoss sing."

"Who brought you to Dr. S. Ramanathan for coaching?"

"Well-wishers suggested to my mother that Dr. Ramanathan would be an ideal teacher. I was taken to him and thus began my tutelage from him till his death. Even under Dr. Ramanathan's guidance, I cannot say I had any indication I would become a professional in Carnatic music."

"Did Dr. Ramanathan pay any individual attention to you to draw out your inherent musical capabilities?"

"In the beginning I was one among a group of disciples, I had to go to him in the morning, because I had to attend college (I studied in the Vivekananda College). I could hardly be punctual in attending classes at Dr. Ramanathan's house. Somehow the learning process progressed."

"Something must have happened to make you realise your future lay in the Carnatic music field."

"If I can pinpoint any such situation, I can say the starting of the Youth Association for Classical Music played a role. Vijay Siva, Sanjay Subramanian and R. K. Sriramkumar were all my collegemates. When the idea of starting the YACM was mooted, I joined their efforts in this direction, and got deeply involved in it. All my friends being greatly interested in Carnatic music. I was a beneficiary of the fall-out. We would discuss several aspects of Carnatic music. They suggested I should hear the audio tapes of Ramnad Krishnan, K. V. Narayanaswamy, Brinda, M.S Subbulakshmi, G.N Balasubramanian, Ariyakudi, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and others. Gradually the competitive spirit prevailed over me and that gave a fillip to my involvement.

"In fact, Vijay Siva, Sriramkumar and myself have worked as a team in participating in inter-collegiate competitions. Once we attended the Festember festival conducted by the REC, Tiruchi. Vijay Siva refused to sing, and preferred to play the mridangam. He asked me to be the vocalist with Sriramkumar on the violin. I used then to sing in one "kattai", though my voice could manage two to two and a half. Vijay Siva deliberately tuned the sruti to two and a half kattai without informing me. I sang well and our team knocked off the first prize."

"While learning under Dr. Ramanathan, had you any occasion to provide voice support in any of his performances?"

"Some four or five performances."

"Who put you on the stage independently?"

"M. O. Srinivasan of Dasanjali. During one memorable event, I was asked to sing by Swami Haridoss Giri to the accompaniment of V. V. Subramaniam on the violin, Umayalpuram Sivaraman on the mridangam and Vinayakram on the ghatam. V. V. S. was all the time guiding me. I can never forget that event. Since then I came to the notice of Sabha secretaries who have taken a kindly interest in me."

"You have sung one or two songs for films. Do you feel that more of this will tell on the quality of Carnatic music?"

"I do not think so."

"If more such film offers come to you, would you accept them?"

He just shrugged his shoulders and gesticulated his palms to convey he was himself not quite certain about it.

"After Dr. Ramanathan's death, who took up your training?"

"Savithri Satyamurthy, a disciple of Ramanathan. He asked her to groom me. I am now guided by Calcutta Krishnamurthy."

"From indifference to Carnatic music, you have become a musician whom music lovers wish to listen to. Your interest in it has taken such strong roots as to make you give up a lucrative job. Am I right?"

"Yes. Today I love Carnatic music. I am trying to understand its greatness."

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Printable version | Jan 20, 2020 12:18:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/archive/unni-krishnan-from-indifference-to-involvement/article30513409.ece

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