Music

Divine Duo

SISTER ACT Bhaskara Haripriya (left) with Bhaskara Lalitha, elegant in both art and form Photo: K. Ramesh Babu   | Photo Credit: K_RAMESH BABU

They can't even remember when they started singing together. On this hot day in their quaint apartment in Barkatpura, Lalitha and Haripriya, the Hyderabad Sisters sit reticent As the gush of the air-cooler soothes the temperature of a room, the sisters think hard about the question and after a brief chat with each other, they agree they used to watch their mother learn music and that her guru taught them. They can't put a date on it. Music, they say, came naturally. In fact, all eight sisters of the Bhaskara family are musical. One sings ghazals, two play the violin and another sister sings light Carnatic music for All India Radio. The sisters stress that singing and music happened serendipitously. “Nothing was ever planned,” says Lalitha. When they were 9 and 10 years old they gave their first concert at the Shankar Matham.

Music never interrupted their studies, but it always took priority on their schedule. Lalitha and Haripriya are grateful for their parents' support. “As parents to eight girls, they never imposed any restrictions on us. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted to,” says Haripriya. Lalitha is a graduate in arts, while Haripriya is a graduate in the sciences. In fact, Haripriya even got through medical school. “I have no regrets of not taking it up. I am a singer first and foremost. It's all right, I tell people I am a ‘would-have-been' doctor,” she laughs.

Except for a few competitions in which dual singing was not allowed, the two sisters have always sung together. Formally trained in music by the reknowned T.G. Padmanabhan, they clearly still feel devotion for their first guru. “We were difficult students in the beginning,” says Haripriya. “Our guru, T.G. Padmanabhan, would wait for us at home, even before we returned from school. We used to call him so many names and trouble him so much. After he passed away, the vacuum that he left us in was difficult to bear.” She confesses that the two of them sometimes walked halfway to their guru's house and come back home. A furious guru would then complain about their absence. “We used to get many ‘lec-dems' from our parents,” laughs Haripriya. “We had to start from the beginning after him. What an excellent teacher,” she adds, tearing up a bit.

Lalitha and Haripriya explain their game plan for their many concerts across the country and abroad. First, the sisters have given a standing instruction to Bommana Brothers to inform them whenever two sarees arrive in the same colour. Together they have a collection of almost 10,000 sarees! Then, to cater to that particular sabha and audience, Lalitha and Haripriya spend two or three days deciding on a list of songs to sing. Lalitha mentions that a raga should match the following raga and besides that, accommodating the various kirtanas, composers and of course gods is a quite a task. “We have to keep festivals in mind,” she says. “When we go to Tamil Nadu people want to listen to more songs in Tamil.” She says they fight over their choices but often come to a consensus, if not soon, eventually. Their differences, they say, are fewer than their common interests. “We disagree on so many levels and so many points, small fights occur daily,” smiles Haripriya. “But we say ‘jaane do' and move on.”

They claim to be “outdated”, but the Hyderabad Sisters make efficient use of technology, starting with the electronic Tanpura. They use iPads during concerts to read out the lyrics of difficult compositions. Haripriya says, “Thanks to the internet, there are so many new kritis out there to perform and sing.” Lalitha uses Skype to teach many students.

When it comes to music, the sisters like elaborating the ragas rather than singing compositions. “If it is left to us, we would be at home singing ragas or what is known as manodharma, it's pure extempore,” says Lalitha, and Haripriya nods avidly. Singing in unison can be challenging. Critics have appreciated that the Hyderabad Sisters tend to have the raga bhava flowing through their kritis. Fond of Todi, Kalyani, Khamboji, Sankarabharanam and Poorvikalyani, the sisters are most comfortable rendering those ragas.

After mild persuasion, the sisters agree to sing for the interview. After a brief yet intense musical discussion, they break into beautiful swaras, and the heat of the day simmers down, giving way to misty relief. A mellifluous rendition of Deva Deva in Abhogi Raga in Hindustani is rather tasteful. Once they begin singing, they lose interest in everything else. Exploring a musical communication with each other, the sisters then render a Carnatic version of the same — just as mesmerising.

Keeping up with each others' tempo, rhythm and pitch is difficult, but the sisters say that over time it has become a habit. They recall an incident during a concert in Nanganallur. “We were asked to sing a song and we forgot the lyrics, but somehow we managed and nobody noticed,” laughs Haripriya. Critics have called them galloping horses and said that they sing too fast. Haripriya says that while such statements hurt, it's always good to know your flaws and work on them.

Music is the vibrancy in their lives, and they certainly bring out the soul in music.

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 3:12:10 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/divine-duo/article3404219.ece

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