(Conversations with emerging artists)
By Sushma Somasekharan
Chitra Poornima (27) is a disciple of Bombay Jayashri. Born and brought up in Singapore, she is one of the young and talented artists who have made their shift to Chennai to make a foray into the Carnatic music industry. A singer who is blessed with a beautiful voice and natural bhavam, she speaks to Sushma Somasekharan for Sruti.
How were you initiated into Carnatic music?
My first teacher was Smt. Rajalakshmi Sekar at Temple of Fine Arts in Singapore. She taught me the basics with utmost care. TFA is an institution founded by Swami Shantanand Saraswati, whose motto was Art just for the love of it. I grew up in that lovely and positive environment, with this very thought; of doing art with no other intention but because I loved doing it. TFA emphasized values, respect for gurus and seniors, aesthetics and much more.
What prompted your move to Chennai?
I was initially travelling between Singapore and Chennai when I was still studying. I used to spend my summers (May to July) and Decembers with Jayashri Akka. Upon completing my graduation in Singapore, I moved to Chennai. I didn’t have any ambition or clarity at that point about what I wanted to become. What I definitely knew was that I wanted to be in music. I wanted to learn more and I was determined to dedicate more time to it.
Have you travelled with your guru?
Oh, it is one of the best experiences! Like someone picking the best flowers from a tree in the morning to offer to God, Jayashri Akka plucks the most amazing insights, musical experiences, sights, smells, sounds, and observations from the world around her and shares them with us, her students. Besides getting musically enriched, but we also learn so many other important values on these journeys. We learn how to love life and see excitement and possibility in anything and everything.
What does Carnatic music mean to you?
Carnatic music is a peaceful, warm and loving friend. When I’m listening to my guru and the great Masters, I feel they are saying something to me. I feel lifted and am in high spirits.
There are other times when Carnatic music is a tough enemy; it challenges me. As a student, I have my struggles especially when I am trying to perfect a sangati or understand the progression of a particular raga. However, the moment I cross that line and manage to learn that sangati, even if it is after hours of practice, I feel humbled. I feel the music considers me worthy enough. I go through many phases and feelings, but what I do know is that it is my constant.
Are you involved in projects other than kutcheris?
My guru constantly engages us in her projects and productions so that we learn through them. Recently we staged a children’s Carnatic choir. It was amazing being able to put together an acapella of sorts with Carnatic music.
Currently, I’m working on a thematic concert called Samarupa with an all-women ensemble. It is to be staged as part of the Kala Utsavam series at the Esplanade Theatres on the Bay, Singapore.
Collaborations vs singing solo. Which do you prefer?
I like both. While I enjoy singing solo as it enables me to explore music and myself, I find collaborations very interesting. This is because when two or more people come together, they bounce ideas off each other. The combination of different approaches to the art, strengths and personalities can result in a completely new outcome—unexpected and different. That possibility always excites me.
Do you feel any affinity towards a particular composer?
I can never decide between Dikshitar or Tyagaraja. Dikshitar’s compositions are like the mountains; so grand, so challenging and larger than life. When you plough through them, you get a feeling of having gone on a long and tough but soul stirring, uplifting journey. On the other hand, Tyagaraja walks down from his mountain to you, and sings right to your heart. He makes me feel like I could relate to every emotion, every dialogue he has with his Rama.