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Thursday, November 16, 2017

A ghazal evening with Singer Srinivas : கனவா இல்லை காற்றா ?

"Relax Boss. I am just coming to see you"-

-popped a message in my whatsapp from Singer Srinivas ( Srinivasan Doraiswamy )as a reply to my nervous question about what arrangements he would like for his visit to my home in Nov 2017. As his message churned and echoed in my mind, its characteristic coolth seeded a spectrum of feelings ranging from excitement to anxiety. It finally enshrined the possibility of meeting the only musician who I have identified my renditions with, all my life, in my own modest musical journey. That should however not be misconstrued as a cheap self-certification effort to elevate my mortal status to the lovable legend that Srinivas is. Nor should it be interpreted tangentially as blind-love for him which risks truncating the list of the legendary singers ( Yesudas, S.P.B, Manna Dey, Ghulam Ali, Hariharan to name a few) I deify. Then how do I substantiate ‘identifying’ with him?

Circa 1997. The A. R. Rahman song "Kanava illai Kaatraa" from the movie “Rakashagan” hit the TV-screens picturized on a gorgeous Sushmita Sen being carried away in the arms of an imposing Nagarjuna like the surface-foam drifting on the sea-waves. I woke up to Srinivas's beautiful voice that delivered the melody with an endearing enunciation of Vairamuthu's poetry which waxed eloquent on the beauty of the feminine form where the poetic license, unusually but uncompromisingly, embraced and expounded the physical principles of buoyancy and gravity in unheard metaphors (“nilavil poruLgaL edai izakkum”). While I had always admired and deified SPB and Yesudas growing up, there was some unexplainable connection that I felt listening to Srinivas - possibly an alter-ego whose songs induced a vicarious pleasure of rendition in me.

 In full flow

In my early twenties, my search was for “complex” music which led me to discovering the maverick genius of Sharath (more on Sharath in the links at the end). While at CECRI Karaikudi, my immediate junior Vivek once informed me that he was being called by a film-director to play the on-screen tablist for a Malayalam song “Sudha Mantram” ( ) picturized in a nearby palatial home. While the details of the song skipped his mind then, when the song hit the TV screens we cheered for him. “Sudha Mantram” , rendered by P. Unnikrishnan, has achieved a cult-status in Kerala given the extremely complicated passages that Sharath had constructed and has become a popular object of attempt by reality show singers. Intrigued by this song then, I dug more only to find the Malayalam album “Chaitra GeethangaL” which had more “superhuman” compositions rendered by Chitra and Srinivas. While Chitra’s rendition of “Madhuram Gayati” was fully reflective of the convoluted composing skills of Sharath capable of intimidating the mortals, Srinivas’s renditions ("Bandura Vaasandhya Sandhye", “gopike nin maaRil” and "niLaiyude maaRil" ) in contrast, pleasantly presented the complex compositions like a meticulously made sculpture completely devoid of sharp edges and thus incapable of splintering a mortal listener’s mind. That ability to present complexity without moving away from the central thread of melody, defined Srinivas to me and my respect has only grown since then.

 Sharing a Light moment 

As I explored more, I started finding an uncanny similarity in our backgrounds. We hailed from Ambasamudram area of Tirunelveli district, were brought up in a mallu-tamil atmosphere with a keen emphasis on 3 languages (malayalam, tamil and hindi), were academically trained in chemical engineering and nurtured a deep love for ghazals, urdu and songs steeped in melody although growing up in households filled with Carnatic music. I realized in his voice and songs that I had found the qualities that endear me the most: adherence to predominantly soft numbers, language-sensitive vocal-volume dynamics and chaste diction. Songs like "mouname unnidam" and "azage sugama" finally convinced me that it is but natural for me to feel connected due to these qualities.

Our facebook interactions started largely through my good friend Raja Govindarajan’s posts on music and politics. While in many instances I have found myself sporting an opinion diametrically opposite to Srinivas’s, neither that nor the age-difference has bothered our conversations about music. My most memorable interaction with him was after he read an article I wrote about the four ghazal maestros earlier this year and had a very different take on them. Once again his opinions were vastly different from mine but very well-expressed and substantiated – a clear consequence of dedicated listening to different ghazal artists over many decades. I had already heard his “Tribute to Mehdi Hassan” where he had in his mellifluous and unique way captured the essence of Mehdi Hassan’s popular ghazals. The conversations triggered in me a thought : would he like to do a ghazal concert sometime ?

 "Sir, can you be enthused to give a ghazal concert (a home concert strictly for ghazal aficionados) when you visit Sydney next time ? In fact, if you like, we can have a concert of your melodies of choice which could also include some "ghazal-ish" songs from different languages along with a harmonium / keyboard and tabla. I will be more than glad to arrange it for you. Please let me know"

 And then came the reply after a pause:

"I would love to sing the ghazals that I have enjoyed"

His no-frills acceptance surprised me honestly. I have been running 2 home mehfils a year where I have joined hands with visiting artists like Biplab Mukherjee to entertain the local ghazal lovers of both Pakistani and Indian origin. But in here, I had the opportunity to do it better: have Srinivas – the self-confessed Mehdi Hassan fanatic – sing to the ghazal-lovers group ! What needs to be emphasized here is that I have neither been known to him as a friend nor related to him in anyway (there was a query from one of my friends). The way I felt about his songs and how I connected to them have never been expressed to him or anybody prior to this article. So, in a nut-shell, he accepted a fan’s request to visit and sing some ghazals with minimal accompaniments at his fan’s home just for the love of the art. Not only did he accept the invitation, he was also always in touch with me to ensure the program would happen smoothly, simultaneously ensuring that the interests of the sponsors flying him to Sydney, were not compromised in any way (Thanks to Mr. Senthil Rajan Sinnarajah of Sydney). I have heard about his gentlemanliness from other cine-industry people and that was fully on display at every step.

 On the day of the ghazal night, he seemed pleasantly surprised that we had arranged for a decent sound system (courtesy : Ranjith Kumar). His initial conception, I understood then, was a jam session, which turned out a bit better. He started the program with the iconic “Ranjish Hi sahi” and captured the audience’s attention right away. After finishing the aalaap preceding Ranjish Hi sahi, he said : “I presented only a fraction of Mehdi Saheb’s version which I would have heard say probably 200 times”. Given his wide melody spectrum, he effortlessly transitioned from ranjish hi sahi to the Malayalam song “innale mayangumbol” with a preludial introduction to the compositional skill of M.S. Baburaj.

“To me M.S.Baburaj’s songs occupy the same pedestal as ghazals”,

 he added as he streamlined into “Ehsaan tera hoga” – the Rafi classic - after that. The audience who were from mixed lingual backgrounds but united in love for melody, were clearly enthused and engaged hearing their favorite numbers across different languages blending seamlessly with chaste pronunciation. After an approving applause at end of Ehsaan Tera, he wondered: “What next ?” My dad whose musical familiarity is limited to Tamil and Carnatic requested for a Tamil song and he immediately obliged with a beautiful rendition of “Chithiram Pesudhadi”. And then came a long list of Mehdi Hassan ghazals including “Rafta Rafta”, “patta patta” and “abke ham bichde” which received an outstanding treatment in his malleable voice. His grasp of Mehdi Hassan Saheb’s ghazals was so strong that at some point in one of the melismatic passages, I could “hear” the great Saheb’s voice. In fact, his renditions that evening opened my ears more for Saheb's ghazals and clarified many of the intricate details which my ears had struggled to discern all these days. It was truly an educative, evocative and entertaining experience.

As I accompanied him on the harmonium, I found it difficult to keep up with all his delectable improvisations (especially the one which had some weird scale changes) and at many instances was content to give him just the Shruti drone sans tabla (Tablist : Stephan Kantharajah) without confounding him or the audience. The audience requests kept pouring in and Srinivas obliged without a hint of resistance. When it came to the popular numbers segment, the Kishore Kumar classics “chingaari koyi” and “mere naina sawan” received an elegant treatment. He explained how “Kuch to log kahenge” and two more songs from the movie Amar Prem were tuned in Mishra Khamaj. “Nilave Ennidam” originally sung by P.B.Srinivas, got an ad-lib treatment. Finally at my request, he sang a few lines of “muzumadhi” – the Tamil version of Jashn-E-Bahara in scale A which reminded him of the M.S.Viswanathan-Yesudas-Susheela classic – “Viziye Kadhai Ezudhu”. As he unfurled the first “Viziye” line, I could no longer contain my excitement to join him and we both ended singing it as a duet.

 The entire singing session with him went for almost 2 hours. I had to mitigate my selfish desire of hearing more to ensure that this jet-lagged man who had not eaten for a few hours, would be healthy enough with his golden voice, preserved for the bigger stage he had to perform on the next day. With much reluctance, I had to remind him and the thirsty audience of this predicament and we ended the evening there as we moved to the dinner table.

Summarily put, his conduct was just as melodious as his songs. For a celebrity singer to accept an obscure fan’s invitation to present an informal concert at the fan’s home, speaks volumes about his piety toward the melody regardless of the pedigree of the host. For that magnanimous gesture, Sir, I am grateful to you. You have filled our home with the ghazals of the greats and have left an indelible impression on us that we will cherish forever.

 A memento 

 Audience : Lalita Venkatraman, Vijendra Prasad, Shiri Dass, Umaa Arun, Uma Ramu Ayyar, Bharathi Madadi Reddy, Aparna Nagashayana, Nagashayana Bellave, Namita Gupta-Kantharajah, Sri Shyamalangan, Ajay Bajaj, Mustafa Vasi, Santhoshi Chander, Sudhir Das, Sharmila Das, Manjul Sharma Videography and Photography : Sridhar Chander Articles on Sharath: httptp://

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