Mridangam is muse for Patri Satish Kumar

Patri Satish Kumar

Patri Satish Kumar   | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

The mridangam artiste credits the resolve of his mother and the musical heritage of Vizianagaram in shaping his illustrious career

Patri Satish Kumar was fortunate that he was not fed on aspirations. His gurus never set ambitious goals and his mother, Padmavathy, who initiated him into music, had just one dream: to see her son play in at least one concert in Chennai. The focus was on immersing himself completely in music. This, then, has been the driving force for this acclaimed mridangam player, who has evolved a style that blends seamlessly with various instruments and voices.

Satish Kumar, (popular in music circles and among friends as Patri, his family name) attributes the resolve of his mother and the musical heritage of Vizianagaram (a city in Andhra) in shaping his career. Not to forget the long hours of dedicated practice for years. Patri’s mother was a noted violinist and taught music at a women’s college in the city. There was always music at home, with his sister and brother learning to play the violin and the mridangam respectively.

“Watching me explore sounds on my aluminium school box, drumming away casually, my mother thought I had a sense of rhythm. That’s how it began,” says Patri, who was recently honoured with a Honorary Doctorate by the University of California, Berkeley.

The training began “informally.” Patri remembers innovative training schedules and techniques that his mother charted out. “There used to be a minimum of five dishes to go with each meal at home. My mother put a value for these dishes. Every two hours of practice was equivalent to one of the dishes on the table. It was a self-imposed rule that none of us tried to break (this pattern). It helped develop a discipline of your own. There were days when I did overeat and there were days when I had to fast,” he says.

Later, once he had begun formal training with gurus such as Sree Ramachandramurthy and VA Swami, Patri was handed out another training timetable. “My mother had bought a tape recorder. Every evening, I had to listen to recordings of concerts and prepare notes. And this had to be submitted to her, followed by a short discussion.”

When VA Swami moved out of Vizianagaram, Patri was directed to Vankayala Narasimhan, staff artiste at All India Radio, Vijayawada. “This meant travelling every weekend. I used to stay with my guru overnight and return. This went on for years.”

Music soon filled Patri’s life and he got hooked to the magic of the mridangam. “I have always believed that the mridangam chose me and not the other way around. I’m just an instrument,” he says. Added to all this was, as Patri began to discover, a physical harmony with his city. There was music in the air, in the soil. “So many greats, such as Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu, Ghantasala, A Kanyakumari, P Susheela and the list goes on, have enriched the city of Vizianagaram with their mellifluous music. Vizianagaram can be said to be the music capital of Andhra,” he says.

Patri began playing for concerts when he was just seven. “Those days, I was happy when the elders patted me on the back and said that I had done well on stage. It was encouragement indeed. But looking back, those kinds words must also have been because I was a kid. Perhaps, my mother realised this and saw to it that I kept training hard. There were days when I went up the terrace at, say 10.30 pm, with two bottles of water and trained almost till sunrise.”

This schedule went on. “Till I got a job, got married, perhaps.” But then he confidently says it was constant practise that helped. “My father, a bank official, instilled in me the value of time and my mother the need for practice.”

Patri’s first ‘job’ was at AIR Vijayawada. He later took a transfer to Chennai where he worked for nearly three years. “The day I realised that the mridangam was not just a profession but my life itself, I quit. But, honestly, I have great regard for AIR that has done so much for classical music.”

The move to Chennai helped Patri find his place though he was by then quite popular in his home State. His first concert in Chennai, his mother’s dream, was fulfilled in 1987. “I accompanied Manda Sudharani but my mother was not present. However, I knew she must have been delighted. Later, of course, she was there to see me perform with some of the legends of classcial music.”

A decisive moment in his career was his decision to play the ganjira. A very versatile instrument, the ganjira is used as the secondary percussion accompaniment in a concert. It cannot be extensively tuned like the mridangam and requires judgement and expertise to maintain the pitch throughout a concert. Yet, Patri decided to play it as it would then give him a chance to be on stage alongside some of the greatest mridangam artistes.

Patri Satish Kumar

Patri Satish Kumar   | Photo Credit: V V KRISHNAN

“This, I conjectured, would be invaluable learning. I was able to observe and express my music before many maestros of mridangam like T.K. Murthy, Palghat Raghu, Karaikudi Mani, Andhra vidwans like Dandamudi Rammohan Rao, Mullapudi Srirama Murthy, Yella Venkateswarulu, Kamalakar Rao and many others. These legends threw up challenges and I learned to overcome them. They were master classes and I grew up listening, watching these legends perform on stage,” he says.

Patri’s journey with the ganjira gave him the much-desired ‘break’ in the huge world of Carnatic music. “In October 1994, I was asked to fill in for the great G Harishankar (ganjira) for a recording. It was for flute wizard S Shashank. My name was recommended by Kamalakar Rao Sir when Harishankar sir expressed his inability to play. I met Shashank and played the ganjira and the mridangam too. Sriram Parasuram was on the violin and the recording went off well. This created a bonding with Shashank, who first tried me out on the mridangam for a wedding concert in Chennai.”

Patri marked his arrival on the Chennai circuit once again. “I was fortunate to start off at the Madras Music Academy with a sadas concert accompanying Shashank along with Mysore Nagaraj (violin) and S Karthick (ghatam).”

There has been no looking back for Patri since. He became the first choice for almost all the leading lights of Indian classical music. His art in the accompaniment for niraval, proper understanding of the sahitya bhava, familiarity with patantara, tuning in into the main artiste’s mood with ease are facets of Patri’s playing style. He has been part of many musical confluences of classical, fusion and jazz genres and has toured extensively performing at prestigious venues like The Royal Albert Hall, London, Madrid Jazz Festival, Festival of France, Harbourfront Festival, Toronto. His mridangam has been featured in many national and international broadcasts such as All India Radio, Radio France, Radio Germany, Radio South Africa, and Ceylon Radio.

“We need to be in sync with world music even as we polish our own. This ‘fusion’ term is a bit misleading. I think collaboration is a better word. After all, isn’t our own kutcheri a sort of ‘classical fusion’ ? There has to be a constant upgrading and updating of one’s music”

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Printable version | Aug 6, 2020 9:04:48 AM |

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