The song Nagumomu can literally serve as an anthem for lovers of Carnatic music. And when one hears it played on the piano and mandolin, a connoisseur knows that Indian classical music is in safe hands. On Sunday, Anil Srinivasan on the piano and U. Rajesh on mandolin did just that.
Rajesh knew that filling the shoes of his elder brother, Padma Shri late U. Srinivas would be impossible. “No one can replace anna, he is one in a billion. I never viewed myself as a replacement — in fact he is my inspiration. Playing the mandolin is not a performance anymore, but a prayer to anna,” he says.
“Anna was older by nine years and by the time I knew the difference between a music instrument and a spoon, he was a performer. So our relationship was that of guru-shishya. Accompanying him was like being in a boxing ring — he would never disclose to me upfront what we would play and I had to be prepared to face anything. As always, getting an applause out of him was the best reward ever for me.”
Rajesh adds, “I have had many collaborations and albums earlier, including Floating Point with John McLaughlin, which received a Grammy nomination in the Best Contemporary Jazz Album category, and now I am finishing some of anna’s work. Currently I am working on an album with Ranjit Barot called Chingari. I am also collaborating with Anil on the album Into the Light.
Anil started playing the piano when he was three. “I learnt singing and playing the violin like most Chennai kids. I have been lucky that I had access to some great artistes as my teachers. Lalgudi Jayaram taught me to play his tillana when I was 12. Along the way I learnt playing western classical on piano.
“Srinivas and Rajesh were instrumental in inspiring me to showcase Indian classical music on a piano. Srinivas identified my love for both forms and encouraged me to blend the two.”
Clearly labels such as Western/Indian find no favour with these artistes. Anil says, “My favourite memory of Srinivas is in New York, when he wanted to go on a subway ride because he had never been on one. He rode all the subways that day in NY for six hours; and all this while he was busy observing people and listening to street musicians. Finally he ended the day with a cotton candy for himself. So this is a child-like person who otherwise was a very serious artiste on stage.”
— The writer is the founder of Cisne for Arts.