Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Charukesi passes away

Charukesi Viswanathan (81), veteran journalist, prolific writer in Tamil and English (he occasionally wrote for Sruti), translator, committee member of  Natyarangam and Narada Gana Sabha, a promoter of Tamil literature  and connoisseur of the arts, passed away on the morning of 30 January 2019 at his residence in Chennai.


Blending tradition and technology
A scene from Antariksha Sanchar
Antariksha Sanchar—a transmedia dance opera, staged recently in Delhi and Mumbai, brought together Bharatanatyam and an upcoming adventure video game named Antariksha Sanchar: Transmissions in Space. A collaboration between artist Avinash Kumar (Thiruda) and Bharatanatyam dancer Jayalakshmi Eshwar, Antariksha Sanchar was based on a fictitious story about Srinivasa Ramanujan’s dream that leads him to build a vimana (interplanetary vehicle) to travel to the cosmos.
Presented by Red Bull Music, the project with hyperglobal progressive ideas, had its inception in an hour-long performance of Jayalakshmi on Indian mythology—depicting  birds, flights and vimanas way back in 2010 and a videogame inspired by the cultural richness of south India that Thiruda has been working on for six years now. An eclectic fusion of Carnatic music, Indian classical dance and video games, the protagonist of the story is Srinivasa Ramanujan, who expounded some of the world’s most important mathematical ideas. Jayalakshmi Eshwar played Sita, Ramanujan’s mother and S. Sushmita played Ramanujan. 
The music was set by Hyderabad-based Murthovic, a DJ and electronic music producer from Red Bull Music with two decades of experience in the field. The rest of the music ensemble consisted of Raghuram Hari (mridangam), Shri (vocals), Abhijit Gurjale (violin), Hitesh Kumar (drums) and Yanni (piano).
Divided into five segments, act one began with an elegant salute to Lord Ganesa who resides in the wish-fulfilling Kalpavriksha; this was accompanied by animated visuals and psychedelic tunes denoting Ramanujan’s mind.
A man from the future enters an old palace where he finds an ancient book. The scene shifts to 1913 to the beautiful temple town of Madurai where people are celebrating the annual Navagraha festival hailing the nine planets of the solar system. A troupe of five dancers perform  in apt synchronisation against the backdrop of digitised images of Madurai’s landscape—its trees, water bodies, fields, city landmarks and temples highlighting the city’s colours, carvings and paintings. The images are interspersed with dialogue, dance, visuals, music and expressions that carry the story forward. A saint appears in Ramanujan’s dream and tells him that he is to embark on a cosmic voyage in a vimana. His mission would be to align the nine cosmic planets.
In The Myth (act two) Sita tells her son stories of space travel mentioned in ancient Indian texts like  the Vaimanika Sastra, a Sanskrit text on aerospace technology that describes vimanas as  advanced aerodynamic flying vehicles. She also narrates Lord Hanuman’s supernatural flying abilities.
Act three provides the audience a visual treat of the flight dance. Sita tells her son about a mystical place called the Vimana temple which abounds in sculptures. The dancers depict the sculptures through movements and poses, such as the fluttering of feathers and the peacock vimana.
In act four, The Contraption—Ramanujan’s magical vehicle is created with the help of the two engines of fire and water—philosophically the two elements that help to balance body, mind and soul. The dancers perform the Suryanamaskara—to depict fire as a source of energy  to initialise the vimana. Water, which equates calmness and reflection, is used as a metaphor for peaceful meditative cooling through unwavering focus and centering. The harmony of fire and water leads to the creation of the vimana. A trance-like dance sequence for an EDM in fast tempo is accompanied by kaleidoscopic images in the background. The use of the corresponding red and blue lights accompanied by rhythmic dance movements and foot-tapping musical beats in this sequence is spectacular.
The final act, called The Pilgrimage, shows the vehicle taking off into outer space—through the sky embellished with millions of stars and fabled creatures, such as dinosaurs, aliens, gods and goddesses—and finally landing back on earth. The enthusiastic dance ensemble comprising the entire troupe and the use of vibrant colours had the audience applauding Ramanujan’s victory.
Antariksha Sanchar, which plans to tour south India this year, is a family entertainer—an amalgam of history, science, mythology, fantasy, dance, music, art and theatre. An original idea, it has made a unique attempt to communicate stories of the past to the next generation through technology. It is also a tribute to the city of Madurai—its history and heritage; legends and landscape. It endeavours to convey the message that each individual has to discover his or her own ‘vimana’ to find satisfaction and a sense of fulfilment in life.

(The author is a freelance writer)

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Valayapatti Subramaniam

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Bahadur Khan

Birthdays & Anniversaries

19.1.1931 - 3.10.1989
Bahadur Khan (1931-1989) was an outstanding, though inadequately recognised, sarodist, trained by his uncle, the legendary Ustad Alauddin Khan (Baba). By kinship and tutelage, Bahadur Khan was a product of the Maihar-Senia lineage, a trailblazer in modern Hindustani instrumental music. Interest in his musicianship has received a fillip in recent years, because of his disciple Tejendra Majumdar’s emergence as a frontranking sarod player.

Bahadur Khan was the son of Ayet Ali Khan, younger brother of Allauddin Khan. Ayet Ali was an exponent of the surbahar (a large-sized bass sitar). A man of withdrawn nature, he eschewed a performing career and devoted his life to teaching and the manufacture of instruments. Baba and Ayet Ali Khan had another brother, Fakir Aftabuddin, who was an accomplished musician but became a religious preacher. Something of a family pattern emerges here: the men had high accomplishments in music, brought up families, but adopted ascetic, non-conformist, or reclusive lifestyles.

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Sawai Gandharva

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19.1.1886 - 12.9.1952
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Friday, 18 January 2019

S. Balachander

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18.1.1927 - 13.4.1990
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Ramashish Pathak

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Thursday, 17 January 2019

Gift of a lifetime

Parivadini – a trust for promotion of music and arts presented new instruments (three nagaswarams and a tavil) to four young teenagers, genuinely in need of assistance, at a function organised by Lalitha Ram in Chennai.
B. Balaganesh (16) and E. Chandrasekar (18) disciples of nagaswara Prakash Ilayaraja (the former is also a student at the Government music school in Vizhuppuram and G. Velmoorthy (17) learning under Chinnamanoor Vijaykarthikeyan were the three to receive Nagaswaram along with all its accessories. V. Gobeeswaram (9) the youngest of the four received a tavil to pursue his lessons under Thirurameswaram B. Radhakrishnan.
The little boy was the cynosure of all eyes. The students received the instruments from Yazhpanam Balamurugan, Sri Kalyanasundaram and Sri Prakash Ilayaraja, stalwarts in their field.
What is interesting to note is that their interest in these particular traditional instruments which do not fall under mainstream kutcheri repertoire. Practiced by traditional families in temples. These instruments are more confined to an agrarian rural set up.  It is rare to find someone keen to take these instruments as a profession.
The financial background of these boys restricted them to purchase an instrument for regular practice at home. Spotting their keen learning quest, this timely assistance towards deserving aspirants is definitely a well thought action to help them continue their pursuits.                                 

Truly gifts of a life time!
S Sivaramakrishnan

Celebrating armed forces week

Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Chennai celebrated Armed Forces Week (1-7 December) by inviting Lt Gen R.K. Swamy as the chief guest at a concert on 5 December 2018. R.K.Swamy spoke briefly on the significance of the armed forces and why it is important for citizens to recognise their selfless service.

In a refreshing deviation from the usual line of carnatic music concerts, the evening saw an excellent presentation of patriotic songs by Devi Neithiyar and group (disciples of T.V. Gopalakrishnan) rendering select numbers in various Indian languages and genres. What was even more interesting was a power point presentation that explained the meaning of the songs. Her voice had an incredible range and felicity and won the hearts of the audience. Devi, with her team of accompanists and choir members succeeded considerably in bringing out the spirit of the compositions.

At the end, a member of the audience indeed shared his personal appreciation by excitedly remarking, “We are here enjoying our freedom because of the army that safeguards us and protects us from hostile environs.”

The dignitaries sat through the entire recital much to the enthusiasm of the artists and a discerning audience.

Jai Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan for the laudable initiative!

S Sivaramakrishnan 

Heisnam Kanhailal

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Ashutosh Bhattacharya

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17.1.1909 - 19.3.1984

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Thakur Jaidev Singh

Birthdays & Anniversaries
16.1.1893 - 19.5.1986

Music to Jaideva Singh was a passion, no doubt, but never his profession or main occupation. He was essentially an academic with philosophy as the subject of his specialisation, but with varied interests. Paradoxically, though a distinguished scholar, he neither obtained any research degree, nor did he ever adorn the faculty of any university. He remained a college teacher, all through, first at the D.A.V. College, Kanpur and then as the founder-principal of a degree college at Lakhimpur, U.P. Late in life, his scholarship was duly recognised and three universities including the Banaras Hindu University conferred on him the honorary degree of D. Litt. As an executive of All India Radio he was mainly an administrator or supervisor framing policies and ensuring their effective execution. He was neither a platform performer nor, to the best of my knowledge, did he ever claim to be a composer. As such Jaideva's real eminence lay in the domain of musicology, which he enriched and interpreted, often, through his captivating discourses and through his scattered writingsbooks, articles and broadcast scripts.

Jaideva received his initial training in classical vocal music while pursuing his academic studies at Varanasi. The musical atmosphere of this holy city provided a added impetus to the boy in the pursuit of his hobby.

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Tuesday, 15 January 2019

Sadanam Balakrishnan

Birthdays & Anniversaries

My first interaction with Kathakali exponent Guru Sadanam P.V. Balakrishnan was during the middle of the 1980s. I was the Secretary of the Kathakali club in Kannur, now defunct like several other Kathakali clubs of those times.  The Club annually presented at least one performance of Sadanam Balakrishnan. He was then the chief of the International Centre for Kathakali in Delhi, so we invited him to Kerala during the summer vacation months. His performances attracted a good crowd of Kathakali enthusiasts from far and near. He was not a ‘star’ yet, but Kathakali aficionados loved him.

His performances, like those of his mentor Keezhpadam Kumaran Nair, were extremely neat. He imparted dignity to both the character and the play, even if the character he was playing was ‘rajasic’ or wicked. He respected his co-actors and accompanying musicians, and gave them their space. His portrayals were a real feast for head and heart alike. His performances were for learned audiences.

Last year, sitting in the campus of Kalakshetra in Chennai, I asked Sadanam Balakrishnan a question my mother often asked me some 25 years ago: “Why did he move to Delhi? Would he not miss his space in Kerala and the art a talented actor?”

Sadanam replied: “Indeed, I missed Kerala and the performance space at a crucial stage of my career. Once I did express to my asan my intention of going back to Kerala. He gave me good counsel saying that the Kathakali scenario of Kerala was not so good at that time for a person of my nature. I listened to his advice as my guru’s blessings are always my strength.”

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Monday, 14 January 2019

Ulhas Kashalkar

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Sankara Iyer

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R K Srikantan

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Sunday, 13 January 2019

Shiv Kumar Sharma

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Shyamanand Jalan

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13.1.1934 - 24.5.2010

Saturday, 12 January 2019

Priyamvada Sankar

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Birthdays & Anniversaries

The Bharata–Ilango Foundation for Asian Culture (BIFAC), Chennai, organized a lecture by B. Herambanathan, from Tanjavur on ‘The contribution of Devadasi-s to Bharatanatyam’. Herambanathan is the son of Bavu Pillai and Jeeva Amma – a dancer – and the son-in-law of devadasi Doraikannu. The Managing Trustee of BIFAC, Dr. Padma Subrahmanyam introduced the subject and the speaker. She pointed out that the devadasi tradition had for long been misunderstood and misinterpreted. A devadasi was properly initiated into the divine order through ‘mantropadesa’, and they contributed to the moral, ethical, technical and artistic value of Bharatanatyam. 

Herambanathan said he was proud of his lineage of devadasi-s belonging to the Tanjavur region. A few excerpts from his lecture: 

According to oral tradition the devadasi-s of Tanjavur came from Andhra Pradesh and were known as ‘taiyyalkara kudumbam’ (family of tailors). Education for them meant completing Standard V, enough to maintain a ‘dhobi account’. They were initiated into dance at the age of seven, and some seven years after they learnt a margam, they had their arangetram. They were well versed in languages like Tamil, Telugu, Sanskrit and Marathi. Some devadasi-s have written kavya-s in these languages. Attaining puberty was an occasion for celebration that went on for ten days when renowned musicians performed. A sadir kutcheri was specially organized for the occasion. When the devadasi-s danced, the accompanists stood behind them and often wore a uniform. The nattuvanar was not only adept in the art of dance but also in playing the mridanga. A famous devadasi, Kamukannu Amma (mother of the well known mridanga vidwan T. Upendran), who was known for her beauty, was the first lady to do nattuvangam. The devadasi-s were known for their abhinaya as they were good singers and knew the language well. They were adept in kummi, kolattam and pinnal kolattam. 

Many devadasi-s had knowledge of the “64 arts”, were respected by kings and scholars, were spiritually oriented and venerated in society. It is mentioned in the work called Rudraganika Kavuthuvam that the devadasi-s were also known as Saani, Matangi, Basavi and Mahani. Tirugnanasambandar has described them as ‘sirridai kannimaar’. According to the Agni purana, Linga purana and Bhavishya purana the appearance of a dasi was a good omen. She had the right to coronate the king in the absence of the rajaguru, and was given the authority to choose the successor to the throne. 

Many devadasi-s were known for their charity and their affinity to temples.. Rajali Amma donated her necklace and melted the zari from her sarees to make a golden pot for the Mariamman temple. Ponnammal, a devadasi attached to the Tribhuvanam temple, donated money to carve a golden utsavamoorti of the Lord. 

Some devadasi-s swept and cleaned the temple premises, washed the vastra (cloth) of the deities, and cleaned the vessels and jewels. They always wore their characteristic nose ornaments – ‘natthu’ and ‘bullakku’. During worship, the devadasi danced to the accompaniment of the nattuvanar, mridangist and the flautist. She also performed when the Odhuvar sang the Tevaram during pooja. Following this she performed the ‘kudavilakku’ (kumbhaharati) for the Lord before handing it over to the priest. Such was the honour given to a devadasi. 

After Herambanathan’s talk, Padma Subrahmanyam recalled how she learnt some nuances of neck movements from Andal Amma and Viralimalai Annammal. She shared her experience of learning padam-s from Mylapore Gowri Amma, the last devadasi of the Kapaleeswara temple. Padma also narrated the touching story of the devadasi of Srirangam who helped put an end to the sultan’s rule in south India in the 13th century. The devadasi, when asked what she wanted in return, replied she would die happily if she were to receive the temple honours on her death – raw rice from the temple kitchen and the saree from the Goddess to cover her body. 

Herambanathan’s emotion-packed lecture had many poignant moments. It offered many new insights into the lives of the devadasi-s which need to be understood in the proper perspective.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Leela Venkataraman

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Shanta Serbjeet Singh

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11.1.1936 - 2.8.2017

Thursday, 10 January 2019

K. J. Yesudas

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Wednesday, 9 January 2019

Palghat Raghu

Birthdays & Anniversaries
9.1.1928 - 2.6.2009

Raghu always knew he wanted to be a mridanga vidwan. His life story has a slightly different beginning from those of most other musicians. He was born in Burma on January 9th 1928. His father Ramaswamy was a government employee. Raghu inherited much of his music from his mother Ananthalakshmi and his aunt, both very good singers. His mother was his initial source of inspiration. His grandfather Radhakrishna Iyer, a highly respected figure in Burma, was an authority of sorts on Carnatic music. Raghu began his early training under one Swamy at Rangoon. However, it was the visit of Thinniam Venkatarama Iyer to Burma that brought a sharp focus to the boy’s talents. At the end of a ‘crash course’ under Venkatarama Iyer for about twentyone days, the teacher was impressed with his pupil. He offered to teach him during his visits to Madras. With war impending, the family had to relocate to Madras and soon Raghu came under his tutelage. The lessons were about a year old when fate intervened again. The family moved to Palghat in 1940 — as part of the war time evacuation of Madras — so that Raghu could undergo training with the stalwart, Palghat Mani Iyer. It is interesting to note that Raghu had no other connection to Palghat.

The initial lessons with Mani Iyer saw the maestro focusing on Raghu’s fingering techniques and making changes to suit his style of play. Thus began a long association that went on to make Raghu his foremost disciple. To quote Raghu, “I had heard the mahavidwan play and was dumbstruck at his abilities. His playing was so fascinating, I used to wonder if he was really human or divine? Was it possible for a human being to play the way this vidwan did? It was, for me, a dream come true. Being Mani Iyer’s disciple was like being a member of his family. He went for a walk every morning and I accompanied him, walking just a bit behind him. He discussed various aspects of laya and also quizzed me on what I had been doing. I then told him about the ‘korvai’ or ‘kanakku’ that I was working on and he listened very intently. He was always encouraging and wanted me to learn more by listening than from actual one to one teaching. Mani Iyer was of the opinion that a mridanga vidwan must know vocal music and a vocalist mridanga. Palghat K.V. Narayanaswamy came for practice around this time and I used to accompany him often.

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Darshana Jhaveri

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Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Visakha Music Academy honoured senior violinist Dwaram Durga Prasada Rao

Visakha Music Academy honoured senior violinist Dwaram Durga Prasada Rao with the Sangeeta Kala Saagara title, which was presented by mridanga vidwan V. Kamalakara Rao during the 49th annual festival of music on 30 November 2018 at Visakhapatnam.

Kelucharan Mohapatra

Birthdays & Anniversaries
8.1.1926 - 7.4.2004

Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra to think of Odissi without the one who has been its guiding light for the last half a century and more, is like thinking of Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. The life of the boy from Raghurajpur village in Puri v district, born to a humble Patachitra painter Chintamani Mohapatra and his wife Siri Nani, growing up to straddle the world of Odissi like a colossus, reads like a fairy story. Not born to any traditional dance family, Kelucharan did not aspire to gurudom. The mantle fell on him as an earned right with his immeasurable contribution to Odissi.

The turning point in Odissi history came in 1945 when Pankaj Charan Das engaged as the dance teacher by Annapurna B Theatre Group, came into contact with the young Kelucharan Mohapatra, hired as a percussionist by the same theatre group on a monthly salary of fifteen rupees. In an attempt to lure larger audiences, a dance sequence, Mohini Bhasmasura, was choreographed by Guru Pankaj Charan for the play Benami, with the guru himself in the role of the demon, young Laxmipriya the actress who was later on to become the wife of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra as Mohini and Kelucharan as Siva. This landmark event was to burgeon into an entire movement ushering in a whole new superstructure of Odissi erected on the very scanty remains of what had survived history, involving all the main players in the field like Pankaj Charan Das, Debaprasad Das, Raghunath Dutta, Mayadhar Raut, Kelucharan Mohapatra and Dhiren Patnaik.

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Monday, 7 January 2019


Young Voices         Conversations with emerging artists
Keerthana Sankar grew up in a musical environment, learning from her father from the age of two and able to identify ragas by the time she was  four. She has been learning vocal music from Madurai R. Sundar (senior disciple of T.N. Seshagopalan) for the past 13 years. Keerthana also started learning the violin at the age of five from Jay Shankar Balan, and has been undergoing advanced training from Delhi P. Sunder Rajan in vocal and violin since 2009.
Keerthana performed her vocal arangetram at the age of 15 and has since been regularly performing in the US, Canada and India. She has won numerous awards at the Cleveland Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival, and was also a winner of the Pallavi Darbar competition held in Chennai in 2017.
Keerthana is an accomplished violinist and has played for several senior vidwans. She bagged the “Best Violinist Award” in the sub-senior slot at Sri Parthasarathy Swami Sabha during the December music season and has also had the privilege of performing with violin maestro V.V. Subramanyam and mridangam maestro Guruvayur Dorai.
Keerthana has a degree in neuroscience from the University of Michigan and is currently a third year medical student.
I had first encountered Keerthana at the Cleveland Aradhana in 2003 where she and her sister were participating in the music competition. Later, in 2008, she played the violin for a vocal chamber concert I had arranged for Vikram and Vidya Raghavan. This was before her official arangetram and I remember being impressed by her firm hand and vigorous bowing.  In subsequent years I have heard her accompany several senior musicians and her violin never disappoints.  Like many young violinists, she has been making inroads as a vocalist as well, with performances in Chennai and at several locations in the US.
Keerthana Sankar spoke to Shankar Ramachandran
Tell us about your music teachers.
I had classes once a week with both teachers, Madurai Sunder (uncle) and with Jaishankar Balan (uncle). Madurai Sunder has a totally different approach. He seldom says much in class.. He is very observant, but there is this silent expectation that is so hard to live up to. Slowly, over the years, you kind of gauge what he is singing and internalise it. That is how I grew from his classes. It totally shapes you—what to sing and what not to sing.
On the other hand, Jai Sankar would sometimes be so upset that I had not practised that he would say “Just go home and come back later”.  That would never happen with Sunder.  The summer before my sister Kamya and I had our vocal arangetram in 2009,  we spent nearly every day at guru Sunder ‘s house—that was a huge summer of growth for us.
It was around that time that I started learning violin and vocal from Sunder Rajan (uncle); from the age of 14-15.  I learn on Skype and during the season and summer I travel to Chennai to learn from him. Those classes are amazing. He has so many new ideas all the time.  He is so good at exploring different schools of kanakku. You always leave his classes thinking about music in ways you never have thought before. 

Every class is like a test.  He encourages you to sing what he demonstrates, but when you try to repeat it you realise it is not as easy as it seems. You try to grasp as much knowledge as you can from him. That is how his classes work.
It is because of him that I was exposed to so many rare ragas like Balahamsa.  It is so helpful for me as a violinist because you never know what is going to be thrown at you on stage.  He teaches me a lot of rare songs too. 
Do you remember some of your early concerts that stood out for you?
Yes, there was this time I sang with Kamya in either Toronto or Montreal when I was 15.   I go back and listen to it often. We sang Sri Satyanarayanam.  I sang the raga,  it was heavily influenced by vidwan T.N. Seshagopalan as I was passing through the “ TNS phase”.  I just got lucky my voice could move fast through some of those phrases.
I sang in New Jersey earlier this year,  and  I think as I kind of grew up a little over the last few years I have calmed down a little and my music reflects that.  There is more thought to putting the concert list together. It felt like it was a better balance overall.
What are your other interests?
You mean besides music and medicine? I played tennis in high school. I was not very good but I really enjoyed playing. I learned French in high school and my first two years of college. I can probably speak the language well enough to get around in  Paris.  My mother only speaks to me in Tamil so I can also speak a little bit of  it.
What do you think you have achieved  so far?
Before I started medical school I was really worried that I would not have time for music. But now I am happy that I have really improved even after starting in medical school. This is something I can never let go. I can’t live without it. So, to be able to still learn and improve has been the greatest accomplishment.
Why medicine?  You could have chosen a less demanding subject and had more time for music?
I was always interested in biology throughout school and fascinated by how the human body works. I have never found that kind of interest in any other subject.  It is just another passion like music is—I just have to pursue it no matter how hard it is. I think I can really make an impact in this field. I can connect well with people and I like what I am studying and get to be practical and to help others with it.
What are your favourite ragas? 
Todi, Dhanyasi, Reetigaula. I gravitate towards sadder ragas. I also love Dikshitar kritis and  songs with interesting tala structure, words and phrases. I like singing Sanskrit compositions.
Do you have more violin concerts during the music season than vocal?
Yes. There are a lot more opportunities to play the violin because during the season so many artists are looking for a violinist to accompany them. 
Did you face any obstacles because of your gender?
I can’t think of any.  Actually, the main obstacle in Chennai is not being from Chennai.
But you are not from the US. Weren’t you born in the heart of  Tamil Nadu?
Yes. I was born in Tirunelveli, but that is not the perception.  And I did grow up in the US.  We have more to prove as NRIs. People have lower expectations, but I think that is changing a lot.  As you keep coming and they hear you play, that bias melts away. People are starting to see what kind of talent there is in the US now.