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Learning from the best

CHENNAI, 20/02/2013: Vocalist Abishek Raghuram at an interview with `The HIndu - Metro Plus - Weekend' in Chennai on Feb. 20, 2013.Photo: S.S. Kumar

CHENNAI, 20/02/2013: Vocalist Abishek Raghuram at an interview with `The HIndu - Metro Plus - Weekend' in Chennai on Feb. 20, 2013.Photo: S.S. Kumar   | Photo Credit: S_S_KUMAR

Abhishek Raghuram speaks about what he has learnt from his grandfather Palghat Raghu, mridangam maestro.

A long pause always precedes his answer to a question. Especially, when the question is about the aura that surrounds him. During the moments of silence, it is almost as if Abhishek Raghuram is trying to pick a significant moment. He scans through the years he spent training under mridangam maestro, his grandfather, Palghat Raghu and subsequently, the years under the guidance of P.S.Narayanaswamy.

The pause turns out to be unproductive when he eventually says, “It is difficult to recount in words or pick a moment from the time I spent with my grandfather. One needs to have been present then to know what it was like.” Gradually, he tries to vocalise his thoughts and says, “I think the biggest lesson, while I was growing up, was to witness the unrelenting intensity with which my grandfather performed. I saw him prepare for concerts too and that was an enriching experience. He would always give me insights into aspects related to performance.”

What about PSN? “My relationship with PSN is much more than the equation between a guru and a sishya. He treats me like a family member. Since we live close by, I can go to his house anytime and meet him,” he says. The pause returns. “I guess the reason he is so informal with me is also because of how close he was to my grandfather.”

"As a teacher, PSN, lets me discover my music,” says Abhishek. “His methods are often based on the individual he is training. So, he teaches different people differently. I realise that he has let me be. Rarely, do teachers adopt such an approach.”

Since his first performance in 1997 at the age of 7, Abhishek can today lay claim to have performed with artists belonging to a diverse pantheon. The exhaustive list includes the likes of Dr. T.K. Murthy, Umayalpuram Sivaraman, Karaikkudi Mani, Manjunath Jayateerth Mewundi and so on. In a manner of extreme candour, he says, “I’m very lucky to have had my grandfather around. When you sing with a man of such stature at such a young age, things become a bit easier. Especially, when it comes to inhibitions or stage fear.”

The recent years of endless recitals have also been accompanied by several awards and titles that have perhaps validated his decision to make music his career. “Yes, awards are important. They help you reach out to more people. But, I think, in the end, if I would have served the cause of music and contributed to the music community, that would be a better achievement.”

It is a conversation we are having between concert days. “It is amazing that events of such volume can take place in such a short time. I’m not sure if this kind of extravaganza happens in any other setting. We’ve heard of people belonging to countries unheard of before, coming to Chennai for the Season. It is good that Carnatic music is gaining a wider reach.”

The obvious implication of the scale of events is dwindling attendance. “A sparse attendance is sometimes a necessity to make things better. Eventually, only what is in demand will win. And, in the larger scheme of things, I do not think this matters. Anything with such volume is bound to have some concerts with low attendance.”

Does a smaller audience also mean that Carnatic music has less takers, especially among the youth? Abhishek interrupts my question half way to say, “You know, this argument - that Carnatic music lacks appeal among the youth was there in 1997-98 when I was performing. It is a failed argument. We have to start believing that it is for the young and make it better. That is the only way we can progress.”

The conversation then veers into ideas of contemporary and fusion and whether they are desirable. “Music can be contemporary too and there is nothing wrong with that. I feel we should stop labelling things. And that is the only way music is going to grow. Everything is music. Fusion is good provided we do not do it with a superficial intent. It should be done in the natural flow of things.”

The pause returns one last time. This time, with a sigh. “Music is like any other profession. There can be no shortcut. A sound training and patience is mandatory,” he concludes.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 7:21:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/music/learning-from-the-best/article6682720.ece

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