Four months ago, Rajeev Mukundan quit his job as a web application designer to focus on music. He is one among the many young, determined musicians who have given up mainstream careers to follow their passion.
“I enjoyed my job and my employers were accommodating of my music, but it was difficult for me to focus on both. I quit my job so I had time to attend concerts and practise for performances,” said Rajeev, a violinist who trains under A. Kanyakumari.
His sentiment is echoed by many of his compatriots.
Mridangam player Tanjore K. Praveen Kumar, a student of Sri Guruvayur Dorai, has an engineering degree and worked for Flextronics International until deciding to switch to music. “Music always preceded work for me,” he said.
Vocalist Bharathi Ramasubban, a student of P.S. Narayanasamy, also made this choice seven years ago. After a masters in Biotechnology Law and Ethics from the University of Sheffield and a stint at an NGO, she said she “was working at Anna University on an experiment when the rhythm of the test tube shakers reminded me of the Raga Karaharapriya. Finally, I chose music.”
Vignesh Ishwar, a vocalist who studied under Palakkad Shri TS Anantharama Bhagawatar and trains with T.M. Krishna, studied Electrical Engineering from Mumbai University and did his masters in sound and music technology. “I was taken to the dean’s office once as I had burst into song during an exam, and the invigilator assumed I was singing out answers,” he said. “The money is never good when you start out in music and there is no certainty in this career, but this is what I want to do,” he added.
Mridangist Akshay Anantapadmanabhan worked for 12 years in the U.S., as a software developer. “Through school and college, I have been taking exams a fortnight early to be able to attend the December music season here. I decided to stay and perfect my art,” he said.
For others such as vocalist Ramnath Venkat Bhagawath, the switch is waiting to happen. Born into a family of musicians, he returned to India in 2012 with an MS degree in Operations Research from the University of Southern California to pursue a fulltime career in Carnatic music. “My parents and friends dissuaded me from taking up music as a profession. Unless you reach a certain position and go abroad to perform, there is no guarantee of an income,” he said.
He is working for Bharthi Axa Insurance and has won Krishna Gana Sabha's Sirkazhai Govindarajan Endowment award. Mr. Bhagawath is was trained initially by Seetha Subramaniam in Nagercoil, and is now learning from S.R. Janakiraman.
(With additional reporting by B. Kolappan)