Practice a must for good musician, say Bombay sisters

By Sudha Jagannathan
Chennai: 17-06-2021 2:19PM
Last Updated: 17-06-2021 2:19PM

CHENNAI, December 31, 2011: They are simple and humble. They come from Bombay (now Mumbai) and made Chennai their home for music sake. A recipient of the prestigious Sangeetha Kalanidhi title from The Music Academy last year, their compact discs of classical songs and slokas on almost all the Hindu deities speak volumes for their stature in the world of Carnatic music. “We need one more God to be born for them to come out with a new CD,” as somebody puts it so nicely about the sisters. Well, Bombay sisters C. Saroja and C. Lalitha have come really the hard way. They had to cross many trials and tribulations to reach where they are now. They don’t fight shy of going down memory lane to remember those hard times in their formative years. Perseverance and passion pays. Quiz them on their musical journey. “It was tough,” admits Lalitha, the younger of the two. Moving from Bombay was not that easy for them in the absence of adequate finance. Fortunately for them, destiny and God’s Will made it possible for them to learn music from Musiri Subramanya Iyer for two years. When elder sister Saroja got a Government of India scholarship, it opened up a window of opportunity for them to learn from Musiri Subramanya Iyer. “He (Musiri) was most generous,” quip the sisters. “T.K. Govinda Rao continued to teach us in between,” explains Lalitha. Ask them about the most gratifying part of their learning in their formative years. “Our guru (T.K. Govinda Rao) came to our first concert at The Music Academy and congratulated us,” blurt out the sisters. “He also helped us to prepare the song list and how to sing. He never missed any of our concerts, at least in the initial stage,” they inform us.
Sabesa Iyer, Musiri Subramania Iyer, T.K. Govinda Rao and Bombay Sisters - all of them have got Sangita Kalanidhi title from Music Academy. All of them have come from the same lineage. Four generations winning Sangita Kalandihi is indeed some sort of a record, they point out.
Quiz them on the important element of a successful musician. “Practice is a must. You must do a lot of home work,’” they say unhesitatingly at a recent interactive session organized under the auspices of Sri Krishna Sweets at the Rasam Restaurant in T. Nagar. Does duet singing have any advantage? “Of course, yes,’ pat comes the reply. In fact, duet singing has many advantages. Each of them has a specialty of her own. While Lalitha is an expert in Prati Madhyama ragas, Saroja is quite adept at Suddha Madhyama ones. Sangathi-building aspects and raga/swara singing are alternated between them to enhance the beauty of the concert. “There will never be a dull concert,” they say. Even a shortcoming can be camouflaged in a duet singing. They are convinced that duet singing has indeed elevated their concerts. It has even helped to improve the longevity of their singing career.
Did they ever try giving a solo concert? Well, they did. That was more out of compulsion. Lalitha recalls an instance years ago when she was forced to give a solo concert for The Music Academy when Saroja had to pull out at the eleventh hour due to a bad throat. “I had to ask Saroja to be present with me at the concert. She sat there all dressed up,” Lalitha says. They had to encounter a similar predicament once in Bombay. “While I fell sick, Saroja sang. I sat by her side,” Lalitha recalls.
What is their thinking of shifting gurus? “Learning from the same guru will help build Patanthara and Bani. Often, changing gurus can result in no style or bani,’’ they aver. What is the ideal concert format to attract lay listeners? “All the kritis should not be new ones. There should at least be one new one. Introduce a new one and make it old. Concert full of rare ragas will not appeal to the audience. A judicious combination of all should be there in a concert, this is our guru’s advice’’ they point out. The sisters assert that audience satisfaction is the most important for a concert. They don’t mind deviating from their list. “By observing the audience, we can understand its taste,’’ they feel. In Kartanaka, Purandaradasa kritis are liked by the audience. “We sing for the audience without compromising the tradition,” they declare.
Do they miss Bombay? "To be visible in the Carnatic music sphere, we have to stay in Chennai permanently. Otherwise, you can’t make a name,” they assert. They run a trust called Muktambaram, named after their parentsm, to promote deserving young musicians. The sisters don’t want young musicians of the modern day to go through the hardship they underwent in their earlier years. In former times, they had to earn their chance by competing with stalwarts. Television, corporate sponsorship and the like were absent those days. To a query on mushrooming sabhas, they feel that deserving youngsters should be given chance at the right time. Who among the yester-year artistes they admire the most? The women trinity, of course! All the three have gone into the pages of history. But their music still stays with us. M.S. Subbulakshmi for her sahitya bhavam, M.L.Vasanthakumari for her spontaneity and free flowing music and D.K. Pattammal for her clear diction – well, the women trinity hold a special place in the minds of Bombay sisters. Among the current crop of young artistes, Sanjay Subhramanyam, Vijay Shiva, Sowmya, Nityashree, Sikkil Gurucharan and Abhishek Raguram are good to listen to, aver Bombay sisters.