As we bend to hear young vainika Charulatha Chandrasekar speak, the strains of the veena come wafting from Infosys Hall, where Mudhra’s Veenotsav is underway. The melodious strains envelop you with a calmness and take you away from the chaos of Chennai’s North Usman Road.
Just minutes ago, Charulatha, dressed in a green silk skirt and blouse, was on stage presenting a 90-minute concert. That was the stage where she had left her mark with pieces such as ‘Alaipayude,’ ‘Vazhimaraithirukkude,’ ‘Ethavunara’ and a ragamalika tanam besides alapana and swaraprasthara.
Her music is not just about making the frets ‘sing’ or about plucking the strings to the beat. It has all the flavours of what she has heard at home from childhood and a quiet artistic determination. Trained by musician-teacher-musicologist R.S. Jayalakshmi, whose granddaughter she is, Charulatha seems to have absorbed the music of the best of contemporary artistes as well.
This 12-year-old, who deftly handles the instrument, which looks bigger than her, found it quite tiresome, as it is with all children, as a beginner at six. What then has brought her this far?
Charulatha speaks of that catalystic moment when she was seven. “I performed with a group in front of the Chief Minister at an event,” she reveals, her eyes sparkling at the thought of the day in the presence of the former Tamil Nadu Chief Minister, the late J. Jayalalithaa. Veena Gayathri, the main performer, amongst many at that event, gave a space next to her on the stage for the little girl, who was inspired when the Chief Minister noticed her.
Another inspiring moment was playing with a group in a Vijay TV tribute show ‘Kattrinile Varum Geetham,’ to M.S. Subbulakshmi.
Once the child’s interest grew, besides perfecting her technique, Jayalakshmi would tell her to listen to the great masters.
“My practice is for one hour daily in the late evenings,” says Charulatha. That is when her grandmother guides her.
“She tells me to be aware of sruti and tala perfection. My grandmother vocalises the songs as she teaches. I think she wants me to think of the songs keeping the words in mind,” says Charulatha, who also learns vocal music at Narada Gana Sabha.
Charulatha loves to listen to Sanjay Subrahmanyan, T.M. Krishna, and Ranjani-Gayatri. Speaking of current veena players, “I like Jayanthi Kumaresh,” she says.
The ease with which she brings nadam and a tone-filled feel into her instrument belies her age, but gestures like the half smile directed toward her much-older mridangam and ganjira accompanists, remind us that she is a gutsy youngster.
She was eight when she first presented a brief solo; now she is a regular performer and has a long way to go. “While my studies will always remain important, veena playing will be equally important to me,” says Charulatha, a seventh standard student in a leading Chennai school.
Courtesy THE HINDU