Song of Surrender

Monday, 1 December 2014

Priya Purushothaman

A dedicated disciple

By Aditi Kaikini Upadhya

Priya Purushothaman
Here is a rare instance of guru profiling (and celebrating) sishya. Aditi Kaikini Upadhya, the author of this piece, is an established vocalist in the Agra gharana, and a teacher and musicologist based in Bengaluru.

A daughter of the late Dinkar Kaikini, a cerebral and renowned icon of her school of vocalism, and Shashikala Kaikini, vocalist and academician of repute,  Aditi Upadhya also trained in dadra, thumri and hori with the late Shobha Gurtu. She is much in demand for her lecture demonstrations and workshops on Indian classical music. As we can see from this blog post, she is  a devoted guru as well.

Priya Purushothaman approached me with a request to teach her Hindustani vocal music in the summer of 2002, while she was visiting Bangalore. She had just finished her third year at Columbia University and had come to India to visit her family. Like many prospective students whom I meet in the south, she had thirteen years of training in Carnatic music that she had received while growing up in New York. I asked her why she wanted to learn Hindustani music, and she told me of her interest in the increased improvisational freedom she felt this style would give her. I agreed to teach her for two reasons, the family she belonged to, and the determination and perseverance I saw in her eyes. (Daughter of Tamil-speaking parents Ramaa and Sampath Purushothaman, Priya went to school at New York and graduated from Columbia University, NY. Married to photojournalist Hari Adivarekar, she now resides in Bengaluru). 

In those two months, she received a brief introduction to the style and my method of teaching. Realising she had barely scratched the surface but very keen to do go deeper, Priya decided to take a year off after graduating from college dedicated to studying music under my tutelage.

In this year, she lived with me and my family, immersed herself in the taalim, the culture of the art, interacted with many artists who would visit our home, and was very fortunate to get time to spend with my father, Pandit Dinkar Kaikini. She visited him every few months and spent time discussing musical matters with him as well as taking lessons. Using the material she gathered over the years in these interactions, she released a book titled: "Living Music: Conversations with Pandit Dinkar Kaikini" in 2012, published by Popular Prakashan*.

Aditi Upadhya
This gurukul style of training continued for more than the initially planned year. After experiencing both the challenges and gratification of this training, she decided to continue her music training further. She travelled with me for concerts and learned about the skills required to be a performer in addition to the scholastic training that develops a solid foundation.

I am sure this lifestyle was quite a challenge for her after living in New York all her life. But she showed absolutely no signs of any discomfort and instead just became a part of the fabric of the family. She then became our third daughter and all three of them really bonded and enjoyed their time together.

After a few years, torn between the choice of following a life dedicated to music in India and going back to her life in the US, Priya went back to New York to work for Carnegie Hall. During her time there, she worked in the educational wing organising in-depth workshops for young artists with master artists in various musical styles. Though she gained valuable experience in this position, Priya decided that her heart was in the performance side of music, and returned to India after one and a half years to resume her training which I was sure would happen.

Since then, she has been in rigorous training with me and has gradually built a life of her own as a young  musician. This of course would never have been possible without the dedication and hard work she put in. She truly has the capacity to follow the "just do it" mantra so popular today without initially questioning the process! Through long and patient hours of riaz she puts in, working on each of the aspects of Hindustani raga sangeet, understanding, internalising and polishing each of them individually. This has also given her an insight into experiencing the ups and downs of the initial years as a performer, and honed her intellectual capacity as a thinker.

Priya Purushothaman
Priya has performed at various venues in India, including NCPA, Mumbai, Kalakshetra, Chennai, Jaganmohan Palace Auditorium, Mysore, Devnandan Ubhayker Yuva Sangeet Utsav, Bangalore, India International Centre, Delhi, and more. She has also been performing frequently in the US--in New York, California, Seattle, and other major city centres.

This parampara -- which goes back to Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande, Pandit SN Ratanjankar, and then Pandit Dinkar Kaikini -- places a great emphasis on pedagogy. Bhatkhande is of course most well known for the codification of modern day Hindustani raga sangeet, and those following him have adopted a structured teaching methodology that makes an otherwise abstract art form more accessible to students. The belief that education is the underpinning of sustaining this art is at the crux of the philosophy of these great musicians. In this vein, we train students not only to perform but to be effective teachers as well. Priya has also been a dedicated teacher for the last six years, training both children and interested adults to make them good singers and informed listeners. She conducts lecture-demonstrations and workshops, and has done these at institutions such as the Utrecht Music Conservatory, Codarts Conservatory, Rotterdam, Syracuse University, NY, and Manipal University in India.

(Priya Purushothaman's photographs are by photojournalist Hari Adivarekar)

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