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She stumbled before MS, then took the stage by storm

Posted on 20/12/2018 in The Times of India

  • By: Arpita Bose

    CHENNAI: This Year's choice for the Sangita Kalanidhi award can be seen as a celebration of diversity. Exploring the sounds of abhangs, dallying with western orchestra but always true to her Carnatic core, vocalist Aruna Sairam’s journey has been an amalgamation of experiences and a balance of opposites.

    As a teenager growing up in Mumbai in a Tamil household with a deep love for music and poetry, the colourful notes of a passing street musician, the devotional strains from a Bhimsen Joshi concert and the formal Carnatic music training by her reclusive guru T Brinda opened Aruna’s musical ear and helped her find her individuality later in life.

    “I came into my own when I learned to be authentic to myself. I was like a seed planted into south Indian soil that got transplanted as a sapling into Bombay. So my musical experience assimilated the best of both worlds – along with the southern flavours of ‘perungayam’ (asafoetida) and ‘karuveppilai’ (curry leaves) there was the taste of coriander and peanuts, common in Marathi kitchens,” says the 66-year-old, whose concerts are a reflection of her wide repertoire, which includes rare classical sons like ‘Yehi Annapurne’ by Muthuswami Dikshitar, traditional pieces by Papanasam Sivam and padams and pasurams.

    At her home, there was often an august congregation of poets and musical greats, as Aruna’s parents were involved in the city’s cultural scene. But a visit by M S Subbulakshmi became a turning point for Aruna. “I was about 15 and was asked to sing. I was nervous and it was the time when my voice was changing. To my dismay I could not hit the high note and broke down. M S Amma came to me and said, “Couldn’t reach that high pitch? It happens, it happened to me. People said my voice sounded like a man’s, but didn’t I sing after that? You too will sing and the world will listen.” The words were a blessing and young singer resolved to be a performer.

    Though her musical training began at the age of 6, it was not until her mid-30s that she began pursuing it as a career. “My children were a priority but music was never far. My gestational period was longer than usual but I think the experience enriched me,” says the Padma Shri awardee who moved to Chennai in 2002 and credits the city and its audience for giving her a musical platform.

    Till December 31, Aruna is chairing the lec-dems at The Music Academy every morning, deliberating upon the history and theories of music. “It gives a taste of the origins of music, and trace present trends,” she says.

    Aruna also wants to be the bridge between older vidwans and young talent in rural Tamil Nadu. “I want to start a dialogue between youngsters who may not have access to training and older artists who are a repository of knowledge,” says the singer, who has been working in this direction through the Nadayogam Trust. “My aim is to build a listener base. It’s my effort to keep the art from alive.”


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