Come summer vacation and hordes of NRI youngsters descend on Chennai for a booster dose of music education. The invasion is repeated during the December Season. This influx is in addition to the much larger number of indigenous students of music. For the most part, a small handful of teachers hog the limelight and the resulting teaching / learning activity resembles the feeding frenzy of sharks. Most guru-s, besides holding conventional classes, also teach over the Internet – a money spinner!
One guru however, a most competent one at that, has kept herself aloof from this madding crowd; it is Dr. Manjula Sriram, who taught in the music college attached to the Music Academy, Madras, for a number of years and who has now settled in Bengaluru. She does not count her students in dozens, but is content to teach a selected few consistently and for long periodsof time. No Skype for her. Its riches do not tempt her.
A fortunate disciple of hers is 26-year old vocalist Vasudha Ravi who has been with her guru for sixteen long years. This again is surprising as most students have multiple guru-s. Vasudha, however, found in her teacher a consummate musician and guru whose repertoire included compositions of a vast number of vaggeyakara-s and a large number of musical forms starting with varnam-s and kriti-s and extending to bhajan-s, abhang-s, padam-s, javali-s and scores of ‘tukkada-s’. Vasudha herself can boast of a little over 900 ‘uruppadi-s’, at once daunting and amazing.
Right from class IV to XII, Vasudha was the recipient of a scholarship for music instituted by Bharat Kalachar for students of PSBB. Further scholarships were granted by Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram and Government of India (CCRT). She has won a mind-boggling numberof prizes and awards from various institutions and has performed in various sabha-s in Chennai and elsewhere in India, besides Malaysia, Singapore and U.S.A. She was secretary of YACM from 2005 to 2007. She is a ‘B-High’ artist of AIR; she could not register for upgradation to ‘A-grade’ because of her marriage and shifting base to the U.S.A. She has given concerts over the radio and Doordarshan as also various private TV channels.
Besides English and Tamil, Vasudha has a good knowledge of Hindi, Sanskrit and Kannada (her guru’s mother tongue) and a working knowledge of Telugu. She has learnt from her guru many Hindustani bhajan-s, Marathi abhang-s, ‘vachana-s’ of Veerasaiva poets and pada-s of Purandara and other dasa-s. She also has a good repertoire of conventional Telugu padam-s and javali-s. A delightfully melodious voice – at once pliant and mobile, and a huge stock of compositions are her forte.
She is a dual post-graduate in music and human resources but has remained focused on attaining excellence in music. Marriagein 2008 took her to San Jose in the US, and in the musical ambience of the Bay Area, she played a major role as musician andorganiser. She has since returned to Chennai, but the two-year hiatus has meant that she has to build her music career all overagain in India, where competition among peers is acute.
Vasudha’s paternal grandfather was a ‘Sangeeta Bhushanam’ from Annamalai University and had the privilege of learning from Tiger Varadachariar, Ponniah Pillai and Sabhesa Iyer. Her mother can sing and also play the veena. Her mother-in-law is a music teacher in Kendriya Vidyalaya and her husband learnt vocal music and the mridanga although he did not pursue them seriously. Thus Vasudha’s love for music has found nourishment from her parents as well as her in-laws. What more can a talented youngster ask for?