Anantha R Krishnan, the young mridangam player, has an awesome repertoire and exciting stage presence. Barely 36, the grandson of Vidwan Palghat Raghu is already sharing the stage with his guru Ustad Zakir Hussain, from whom he has learnt the tabla. Anantha was excited about playing in Delhi. “Unlike some of the other projects that he does, this is something that has taken shape organically, designed over time. Primarily what Navin bhai and I are both doing is having a conversation with the Ustad, musically. What he is probably trying to do is to present two different types of conversations, as I am on the mridangam with my set of rules, and he is on the dholak. Our roads are very different – Navin bhai is from Bombay and has studied with Abbaji, (Ustad Allah Rakha) he also plays the tabla along with the dholak. I grew up in the US. In our concert, I think I play like the young punk while Navin perhaps shows more restraint in his interactions. This ensemble has traversed the boundaries of genre and geography. How magnanimous of him to share that space with us!” A post graduate in Fine Arts from Mills College with specialisation in electronic music and performance, Anantha is a thinking musician, extremely open and articulate. His wife, Charumathi Raghunathan, is a violinist. He teaches percussion and Western music at the A.R. Rahman School in Chennai. “I don’t think in one genre, I think it adds a freshness to my music,” says Anantha.
Edited excerpts from a conversation:
Why did you relocate to Chennai after having lived in the US all your life?
Without doubt, Chennai is the place to be, if I want to be a mridangam player of worth. After every two or three concerts, the mridangam needs to be tweaked. It’s very difficult for me at this stage to play a mediocre instrument, you need it to sound just right and Chennai has the finest craftsmen. It’s the main reason I came back to Chennai for good. After my grandfather passed away, he left me an amazing collection of over 30-40 mridangams.
The mridangam is like a living being, the straps need to be tightened, the black bit needs to be replaced constantly – no way can I do this on my own. Without the craftsmen, the mridangam could not be played the way it is. I feel sad the craftsmen don’t get any credit at all, considering their role.
You are clearly passionate about your instrument, tell us more...
The wood used is from the jack fruit tree, which grows in one region. The hide is sourced from somewhere else. One community cuts the trees, another community (Tamil Muslims) treats the hide. The craftsmen who fixes hail from another community (Tamil Christians) and we players are yet another community! Yet we all come together harmoniously, we work together to create perfection. The gauge of the hide also changes the tone, I am experimenting. I am currently trying putting a mic inside, cutting a mridangam down the middle, to see if the inner harmonics get enhanced.
We use a stone to tune the mridangam; I think we use a stone as the height of the instrument requires that torque, plus the stone has that weight. The stone (kittan) has a story of it own – it is found under water in a river in Thanjavur. It has a high ferric content that I think adds to its weight, and it tunes the best.
Indian percussion is so beautiful in that the language of it has male and female elements. Listen to “konakkol” – “tha dhin, ta tin”…. there are two tones. Indian percussion instruments have this aspect naturally, there is this contrast, the yin and yang. There is this “shringaar”, the inherent romance. Both right and left hands can represent different things, both in my mind are equally important. It depends on the player what his strengths are.
Somehow mridangam is only played as an additional percussion to North Indian musicians, not the sole, but the potential is there. Once I was the sole percussionist with Pt Hari Prasad Chaurasia in the US but that was because the tabla player didn’t arrive in time! The concept of playing “theka” is missing in the Carnatic music system, so maybe the North Indian musician would get distracted. I don’t know, it would be interesting to try and do. One would need to rehearse.
So do you teach mridangam too?
I don’t teach mridangam; I feel I need to go a little deeper myself. I would never teach online – it would be one to one. I did a workshop once, for about seven hours a day, in Thiruvannamalai.
What relaxes you?
I relax with music; the creative element is what relaxes me. I get tense when I don’t get the time to have my head in the clouds!
A hobby I have recently acquired is trying to make perfume – experimenting with fragrances. It’s like music, there are different fragrances like notes. My dream is to go to Kannauj and see the distilleries.