Music

Double impact, musically

in sync: The Bombay Sisters in conversation with the Priya Sisters. Photo: M. Karunakaran  

Were he alive today, Chidambaram Iyer would be a proud man. For his daughters -- the Bombay sisters C. Saroja and C. Lalitha -- will receive the Sangita Kalanidhi this year. Ignoring snide remarks (“Does he think his daughters are going to be the next DKP, M.S. or MLV?”), brushing aside his wife's objections (“Do you want your girls to remain unmarried?”), Chidambaram Iyer moved his family to Madras, when Saroja won a music scholarship.

Sampradaya's latest Samvada programme began with the sisters expressing their gratitude to their father. Initially, they were Musiri's students. Later they learnt under T.K. Govinda Rao. A more generous guru would be hard to find. He helped them with their diction, gave them tips when they performed in public, and to this day, continues to guide them.

Their first public performance was at the Ambattur Mutt of Mouna Swami, who suggested that they call themselves the ‘Bombay Sisters.' When Madurai Mani Iyer had to cancel a programme due to ill health, he suggested Chidambaram Iyer's girls could sing instead. The organiser was edgy throughout the concert, but as Govinda Rao was to observe later, “You've got to hand it to the sisters. They aren't afraid to sing what they have learnt.”

The first step

The first major concert was at the Malleswaram Sangeetha Sabha in Bangalore. This and their songs for A.I.R.'s Bhakta Geethegalu made them popular in Karnataka. Meanwhile, more concerts came their way in Chennai. The venue didn't matter. “Four bamboo poles and a thatch above would suffice!”

Marriage, when it did happen, worked to their advantage. When Chidambaram Iyer set about finding a groom for Lalitha, Saroja's husband Rajaram and Govinda Rao accompanied him! They spoke in one voice: “The music career of the sisters must not be hindered.” When Saroja's husband Rajaram was transferred to Delhi, he left behind his wife and three-year-old daughter so that she could continue singing. Till his retirement, he lived alone in Delhi.

When Chandran, Lalitha's husband, had to have open heart surgery, in the middle of the Music Season, he made Lalitha promise that no concert would be cancelled.

What are the advantages and disadvantages duos face? “More rehearsals are needed. But if one of us loses our voice, the concert does not have to be cancelled.” However, the one who is unwell will also have to be on stage. Otherwise, the other sister will be unable to sing!

Their formula for success? “Lack of envy. Focussing on the strong points of each other.” For example, Lalitha prefers pratimadhyama ragas, and Saroja, suddha madhyama ones.

On critics? “We are open to valid criticism. But we will not accept criticism of our rendering of kritis, for our guru is a perfectionist, and what he has taught us cannot be faulted.”

The Bombay Sisters have encountered male chauvinism, like when male accompanists refused to play for them. “But we have managed very well without them.”

Forthright and engaging, the sisters struck an emotional chord with the audience. The anchors - the Priya Sisters - were unobtrusive, and their excellent anchoring contributed to the success of the programme.

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Printable version | Apr 18, 2021 2:39:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/Double-impact-musically/article15718381.ece

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