By Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Sitting in the Music Academy, as the singer broke into ‘Raju vedale joothamu, Raare , Kasthuri Ranga’, a Tyagaraja classic in Todi, multiple thoughts crossed one’s mind. Just check out the pedigree and class of this artiste.
“Ramaprasad, a PhD in economics from University of Georgia, delves into such esoteric concepts such as Delaunay triangulation, which he explains is an ‘optimisation’ technique used in mathematics and statistics. He incorporates it while organising musical concerts and compiling song lists. This Harvard University alumnus left his mark in the world of Carnatic music long ago: in 2000, he achieved instant celebrity at the Madras Music Academy, thanks to his skills as a vocalist.
“Grandson of Mridangam maestro Palghat Mani Iyer and son of ace violinist TR Rajaram, he had begun performing as an eight-year-old. A top-ranking student all his life, Ramprasad also holds classes at the Mylapore-based Palghat Mani Iyer School of Music. He has a fan following for sticking to tradition and also for embracing new techniques to make music popular. And he hopes to meld mathematics and music in an aesthetic endeavour that makes the most of both”. Wow!
He hails from a family of musicians. Father, grandfather, uncles,aunts, cousins, the whole works. That does not guarantee him or her a place on the platform of the Academy. Or does it? Don’t know for sure. But this good doctor is fabulous.He has a rather different and distinct voice. And makes full use of his full throated throw. That is not the point, I am labouring in my queer and quixotic contrarian way.
“Uncle artistes, ‘aunty artistes’ ‘nephews’ ‘nieces’, not to forget ‘sons’ ‘daughters’ ‘in-laws’, the whole works. And in sports too, we have the same repeat in several families. And politics is dynastic by construct, it seems, in India, though the rasikas a.k.a.voters get to take a call. Is it an unfair advantage or nepotism writ large? It all pales into insignificance when we take a look at judiciary. Shall we?
On the issue of “uncle judges”, the Law Commission of India in its 230th report submitted to the union law ministry in August 2009 had mentioned that judges should not be appointed in the high courts where their kith and kin practised.
In May 2010, the-then chief justice of the Punjab and Haryana high cour t, Mukul Mudgal, had forwarded a list of 16 “uncle judges” to the union ministry of law and justice.
Back to the Carnatic musician. Just the lineage means a lot. It is a tough task to live up to too. The Lalgudis,TN Krishnans, Maharajapurams, Seshagopalans, Mani Iyers and many more. Not everyone following the ‘uncle artistes’ et al make the grade. Their family background gives them not a head start but just a peep. Then it is up to the artiste to craft a career.
There is a hint of clarinet in his voice. Voices come in different shapes and sizes. Not all are sweet or can be so naturally. One has to hone it. Keep honing it. Voice culture is not intrinsic to Carnatic music unlike Hindustani. There are many singers who have chiseled their voices into ‘behaving’ as Subbudu put it. It is practice and discipline with devoted dedication. Ramprasad is getting ‘there’ but ‘not yet’, as a better informed critic puts it.
Though he has taken the evening slot quite early, at 39 years,only those with a ‘classicist’ look out, backed by the remembrance of ‘oldies’ religiously follow him. He rarely fills the hall. Typically, I overheard this mama, in the canteen, while gulping his coffee, telling his Adiye this, “ Intha Pillayandanukku nalla vidwat. Paadaanthoram. ( He has class).
Somehow he is not as ‘popular’ as some others with far less. I don’t know why? As our grandson in the USA says, the ‘X’ factor may be missing”. Adiye,” Konjam,Summa Irungo. (Please shut up- is put in respectful tone not tune). I hope no one is overhearing (??). They may take offence.Nambulukken intha vambu.(why this gossip for us)”. Mama,”Like exit polls you can gauge the popularity of a performer by the turnout in the canteen and the speed of turnaround in the menu”. That is a perfect similie, if ever there was one.
The brief conversation rudely cut short by mylapore mami, even as it was promising to be hearing worthy, pretty much captured the career status of Ramprasad. You need that ‘zing’ in the voice. However, classy you are, an artistic Gundappa Vishwanath would any day appeal, than a classical and technically sound Sunil Gavaskar ( Gavaskar himself conceded it- incidentally Vishy was his brother-in-law).
Let us leave it there. I am no authority to dissect or divine beyond the ephemeral and superficial. I may be horribly wrong. But that is my honest observation coming from decades of listening. For myself, I enjoy Sanjays,Abhisheks, Vijay Sivas,RaGas,Jaishrees, and Ramprasads too.
But, if I were to rate them, on TRPs, that may be a tricky matter. Take me to troublesome territory. I refrain, as Ramprasad breaks into – Ma Ramanan, the Hindolam classic of Papanasam Sivan, and heed mami’s ‘shut up’ to mama. I am no less a mama, at my age.
Just remember this.Carnatic music is tough to take up as a profession, as it stands today. But a wonderful vocation and passion to have and pursue, even for those with IIT,IIM, CA or Harvard background. It must be enhancing to them even as it provides beautiful and healthy entertainment to the nincompoops like me.
( Author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court)