‘Our father never wanted us to be his clones,’ say Lalgudi Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi

Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi, Sangita Kalanidhi 2022, on what it means to find their own space in the world of music

November 30, 2022 04:52 pm | Updated December 05, 2022 04:19 pm IST

GJR Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi.

GJR Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi. | Photo Credit: Johan Sathyadas

It is a cool, breezy morning. As you walk into Vijayalakshmi’s apartment at Alwarpet in Chennai, photographs showcasing the many moods of her father, the legendary violinist Lalgudi J. Jayaraman, draw your attention. Three tamburas in huge glass cases occupy one side of the drawing-room, while a beautifully crafted Miraj tanpura, used by her father, is placed on the other.

Though Vijayalakshmi and brother Krishnan had returned late the previous night from Bengaluru after a concert for SPIC MACAY, they appear cheerful and all set to converse with each other, about life, learning, legacy, and more, over a cup of sundal. Through the course of the hour-long conversation, there is no clash of thoughts or any attempt to outsmart the other. Instead, they often finish each other’s sentences with ease like a seamless swaraprastara.

For many, sharing a profession with a sibling might not seem like a great idea, but in the world of music, siblings often share a unique bond, because they train together from a young age, and collaborate creatively once they mature as performers.

As the violin duo gets talking, you realise what it means to have a famous father, grow in his shadow, and yet strive to find oneself.

Lalgudi Jayaraman

Lalgudi Jayaraman | Photo Credit: Avinash Pasricha

Viji: In our childhood, while I would be running around the house, you were most often seen practising. How did you take to that no-play routine as a young boy?

Krishnan: I don’t think I really gave it a thought. Or that it even mattered. My most cherished memory of childhood is father and grandfather honouring me with a shawl after I narrated episodes from the Ramayana, sometimes giving them my own interpretations. I enjoyed regaling them with these stories and getting rewarded for the same. Quite like how I feel now after being chosen for the Sangita Kalanidhi (smiles).

Viji: I think we imbibed more from the ambience. Remember how our home in T. Nagar would always bustle with activity? There was a constant stream of visitors — musicians, sishyas, organisers, admirers, and relatives. And mother would be busy supplying endless tumblers of coffee.

Krishnan: Also, there was hardly any moment when we didn’t hear music. Apart from father’s sadakams, and those sessions with visiting musicians, we would be made to listen to concerts on radio. I have heard Dandapani Desikar sing his popular composition ‘Aanai Mugathone’ sitting in the hall opposite the prayer room. Do you remember those tiny cassettes Voleti Venkateswarlu sir carried in the pocket of his jibba? When he came home, we would be told to bring the recorder to play them. Not just classical music, there were also recordings of Mehdi Hassan and Ghulam Ali.

G.J.R. Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi performing at The Music Academy in Chennai on December 23, 2018. Tiruchi Sankaran is on the mridangam

G.J.R. Krishnan and Vijayalakshmi performing at The Music Academy in Chennai on December 23, 2018. Tiruchi Sankaran is on the mridangam | Photo Credit: R. Ragu

Viji: Isn’t it amazing how open-minded these great artistes were! They drew inspiration from all around. Growing up in such an environment, I feel music became our calling without a conscious effort.

Krishnan: You are right. Also, there was no planned attempt to launch us as carriers of a legacy. I guess appa gradually realised how important it was to let us establish a personal connection with music. Once we began performing together, he became more accepting of our ideas and attempted to develop a distinct style. It is then that we actually started enjoying our own special moments during concerts.

Viji: It’s a blessing to have had a legend for a father. But it comes with its own set of challenges — living up to expectations and constant comparisons. Fortunately, we didn’t let such pressures distract us. Don’t you think that actually pushed us to evolve as performers, composers, and collaborators? It put us on a quest to find newer ways to express ourselves within the bani. Not being stifled by tradition is central to the Lalgudi aesthetic.

Krishnan: Undoubtedly. Because of our similar upbringing, training, and influences, it hasn’t been hard for us to complement each other’s talent and thoughts on stage. But when we get a chance, we readily break free to do our own thing, including performances and recordings. This freedom and flexibility are important in a creative partnership, even between siblings. The Sangita Kalanidhi has come at a defining moment in our musical journey. I complete 50 years as a musician, and, together, we have much to look back at and look forward to.

Viji: The confidence to chart our own course definitely came from seeing our multifaceted father notate, compose, sing, play the violin, teach, interact and perform.

Krishnan: It hasn’t been easy to step out of his shadow, but I know we had to. I am sure he will be happy up there, since he never wanted us to be his clones.

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