“I miss him intensely,” says Aravind Bhargav, speaking of his guru Mandolin U Srinivas. Last year, the mandolin artiste organised a tribute to his teacher with Jaalam in which he collaborated with the Sunshine Orchestra, a project of the AR Rahman Foundation. Nine members of the orchestra’s string section conducted by Srinivasa Murthy and Aravind played the Thyagaraja kriti ‘Evarani Nirnayincheeri raa’ and a specially composed piece for the occasion.
“The response we received was so good that it inspired us to explore further,” says Aravind, explaining why he has come up with Jaalam 2 this year. “It is also my guru’s 50th birth anniversary year,” he adds.
This time the composition is ‘Bolava Vittala’, an abhang by Sant Tukaram set to music by Vidushis Ranjani and Gayatri. “We chose this piece because of the freedom it gave us to explore the various facets of both solo and orchestral instrumental styles and techniques.”
Speaking of how they decide what to play, Aravind says they try to pick compositions and musical styles that are different. “The priority is to choose ragas and composition that allow ample space for everyone to showcase their capability.” The abhang , he admits, was a challenge since they had “to present a vocal-centric piece in an instrumental collaboration and yet highlight our individual strengths.”
Jaalam 2 is the second time Aravind is working with the Sunshine Orchestra. He recalls that when he first approached the AR Rahman Foundation and Srinivasa Murthy, he wasn’t thinking beyond one video. And since it was a tribute to Mandolin Srinivas, “they graciously accepted”. He describes working with the children as “great fun” and with Srinivasa Murthy as a “learning experience. As time went by, we became closer and the synergy between the mandolin and the orchestra became stronger.”
- Mandolin Srinivas was more like a beloved uncle than a teacher, recalls Aravind. “He would never give us advice on personal decisions and only tell us to follow our hearts.” When he was in Std X, Aravind facedthe usual dilemma of balancing his music and his studies. “During a one-on-one class, I mentioned it to him,” he recalls. “I was expecting the “follow your heart” response. He thought for a moment and said, ‘I don’t know about other fields but, if you dedicate yourself to the mandolin completely without having any expectations, I promise, on my mandolin, it will take care of you.” Hearing such a strong opinion from him shook me and inspired me to take up the mandolin.”
- A more musical recollection is of Srinivas playing Aravind’s favourite raga Malaya Marutham. “I would always pester him to play that raga during his December season concerts. I would be sitting in the wings of the stage with the other students. During one such occasion in 2008, he turned and winked at me before announcing, ‘ Aduthadu. ‘ Dhanyudu Evado’, Ragam Malaya Marutham!’ I was so excited and, after the concert, he asked playfully, ‘Aravind garu, was the Malaya Marutham okay?’ I don’t remember what my response was but I am sure he understood my joy. Just 10 days before being hospitalised, he recorded close to 10 kritis for me in that final class.
Speaking of musical collaborations, Mandolin Srinivas was a member of Remember Shakti (along with John McLaughlin, Zakir Husain, Shankar Mahadevan and V Selvaganesh). Is Aravind following in his guru’s footsteps in more ways than one? “Remember Shakti is a study on how all kinds of music can come together when legends collaborate,” he laughs.
According to him, “respect for each other’s music is essential. Giving space to each other is crucial not only to showcase the artistes’ individual skills, but also to allow the different colours and forms to shine through. There needs to be an innate level of understanding and an open mind between artistes. Take this collaboration for example. In Indian classical music, extempore improvisation plays a pivotal role. An orchestra is very organised and stick to the score. So we have to understand each other’s styles and adapt. It’s interesting journey and the result is magical.”
With the video being released, Aravind is hoping to perform it live as well. “We performed Jaalam 1 live in Coimbatore earlier this year. We look forward to more such opportunities.”
Jaalam 2 can be viewed at https://youtu.be/xEsMoVXKOQM