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Strive to ensure that the total effect of music is good, Bombay sisters tell duo-singers
CHENNAI, November 21: Senior Carnatic vocalists Bombay sisters C. Saroja and C. Lalitha have asserted that "we have no desire to sing separately.’’

In a Samvada with vocalists Priya sisters – Haripriya and Shanmukhapriya – at the Mini Hall of The Music Academy here on November 20, 2010, Bombay sisters said they had never performed separately. They asserted that they had no desire to do so.

“We sat together and always performed together,” Bombay sisters said in response to a question by Sattur sisters( Bhuvana Rajagopalan and Lalitha Santhanam), who had been called on to the stage by Priya sisters to pose a few questions to Bombay sisters. “We have the advantage. We never cancelled any kutcheri,” Ms. Saroja said. "If one of us is not well, we can still adjust. We could sing the swaras and nereval at medium or low octaves, avoiding the higher octave,’’ she added. Yet, they admitted that there were disadvantages also in singing together. In this context, Ms. Lalitha said in a duet singing the kalpana or the creativity had to be controlled.

The Samvada was organized by Sampradya, a three-decade-old documentation organization. Significantly, the Samvada with Bombay Sisters happened on the eve of the December music season. Bombay sisters have been chosen for this year’s Sangita Kalanidhi award by the prestigious Music Academy.

The Samvada on this day was unique, as it brought three sister-duos, representing three generations, on stage. It also threw some interesting insights into the minds of the siblings who practice, plan, perform, travel and grow together in the music world.

What could be their advice to duo singers?
One of the Sattur sisters posed this query to Bombay sisters. "You need to plan. Lot of rehearsal is required for the duet singing. A step-by-step approach has to be there. Sometime you have to be subdued. At other times, you need to be prominent. You have to do a lot of homework. Until you get satisfaction, you have to practice. Overall, you need to ensure that the total effect of the music is good,’’ the Bombay sisters explained.

Do they train students?
The Sattur sisters were curious to know from Bombay sisters.
"When you have your concerts, they are more important,’’ said Ms. Lalitha. "When we are not regular, we don’t take any fee,’’ she added. The Sattur sisters said they started to sing together only after encouragement from their guru Shri O.S. Thiagarajan.

Bombay sisters emphasized the need for extra hard work for a duo to triumph on stage. The Bombay sisters asserted that they rehearsed even now before giving a performance, much to the surprise of their neighbours.

What did Sangita Kalanidhi mean to them?
To this, Ms. Saroja said there was nothing like a big or small award for a musician. "all the awards bring the same happiness. The award increases our responsibility. We have to work hard to justify the award.” They were especially happy getting the Sangita Kalanidhi award since their guru T.K.Govinda Rao too had got this award from the Academy. Bombay sisters were the fourth from the Musiri Subramanya Iyer parampara to get the Sangita Kalanidhi award.

Quizzed on the future of Carnatic music, the Bombay sisters said, "it has a very bright future.’’ In this context, they pointed to the opportunities aplenty these days. "Concert opportunities have increased. The advent of Internet has enabled even people living abroad to learn music, thanks to the technological advancement. People also rely on CDs to learn music,’’ they added. Nevertheless, they laid emphasis on learning face-to-face from gurus. "Compact discs have both advantage and disadvantage. The distant students, no doubt, hear and learn from CDs. But if they get a chance to see their guru, they have to interact face-to-face and clarify doubts and learn to proper singing,’’ they added.

Is the GenNext research-based?
Bombay sisters felt that the generation next had adequate information. They said the seniors should encourage the talented upcoming artistes.In this context, they said T.V.Rajagopal was instrumental in getting them on stage at the Music Academy. To a question, the Bombay sisters said they always liked the duo concert of Radha and Jayalakshmi. Though they admired MLV, D.K.Pattammal and many others, their role model, however, was M.S. Subbulakshmi, they pointed out.

Is the Carnatic music world a male-dominated one?
Do accompanying artistes play for female artistes? These interesting questions were posed to the sisters by vocalist T.M. Krishna. The Bombay sisters admitted that there was indeed a problem with the male percussion artistes. "People who have played for us earlier have excused themselves somewhere along. We never regretted that,’’ they said. While some of the male artistes were willing to accompany "even a small boy’’, they were not willing to play for female artistes. At this point Haripriya interjected. With women artistes entering concert platform these days, the trend was receding, Haripriya pointed out. Krishna wanted to know the reason for male artistes’ unwillingness to accompany female artistes. The Bombay sisters said that many male artistes had at least two reasons. For one, they felt that they were not getting their due attention and respect. For another, they were worried that they won’t be accepted as accompanists by male artistes. The Priya sisters had a different reason for this. They felt that it could be because the male percussion artistes found it difficult to play for a sruthi of 5 to 5-1/2 pitch for the female artistes.

Bombay sisters also pointed out how woman violinists were not preferred by male singers in many cases. That barrier had been broken by violinist A.Kanyakumari, Bombay sisters said.

Priya sisters argued that the Bombay sisters should have got the Sangita Kalanidhi long back. Bombay sisters, however, had a different take on this. Expressing their thanks to the almighty for getting the award at the right moment, Ms. Saroja said "whatever is due to anyone can never be denied. It will surely come your way one day.’’

To a question, Ms. Lalitha said there was full support for them from within the family. She said their father (N. Chidambaram Iyer) was responsible for their success. He hardly knew to speak Tamil. His keenness to see the daughters reach glory in singing had brought them to this level. Sisters Saroja and Lalitha had shifted base from Bombay to Chennai. They said they got married late. Their father always wanted that the sisters should live in the same place so that they could practice and sing together. That was the main reason for the delay in their marriage. Even as Ms. Saroja, the eldest of the sisters, was married off, their father and the new son-in-law set out to find a suitable husband for Ms. Lalitha. Their collective effort ensured that the sisters lived nearby even after their marriage.

Sponsorship those days was difficult. Getting a stage was tough, especially with many stalwarts such as MLV, MS, Semmangudi, Madurai Mani Iyer and many others around. "It was with great difficulty we had to jostle our way to this level,’’ they said.

Priya sisters quizzed the senior sisters on music critics. How do they take critics? Bombay sisters said that one way was to approach criticism positively and make course correction. If the criticism was not agreeable, one could isolate the review by thinking that it was a particular view and not that of the audience. The sisters asserted that they had faith in their patantara and, hence, would not accept any criticism on kriti singing.

"Perhaps in neraval or swara singing, improvisations could be incorporated,’’ they added. Haripriya said negative reviews did affect her temporarily. Haripriya articulated elegantly her views on very many aspects. She wondered how individual artistes deal while traveling alone or like how a duo plan a concert. Haripriya felt that her sister was most indispensable to her. She was of the view that the two could manage well and get more ideas. She wanted Krishna to throw some light on the subject. Haripriya also recalled an event in their early days. While she was just fourteen years old, she drew her hesitating sister to travel to Besant Nagar to hear Bombay sisters live. By the time the concert ended, it was well past 9.30 in the evening. They were virtually stranded on the road having missed the last bus. They were fortunate to get an auto in the pitch darkness. The sisters were on their edge and shivering all through. They heaved a sigh of relief only when they reached home safely. The narration brought out Priya sisters’ deep-rooted interest in Carnatic music.

Ms. Lalitha too explained a challenging incident in their musical journey. They were supposed to give a concert at the Music Academy. On the previous day, they gave a performance for Kalarasana. The next morning, Ms. Saroja had a throat infection. She was to sing a Ragam, Tanam and Pallavi at Music Academy in Madhamavathy. When the sisters wanted to excuse themselves for the concert, the sabha secretary had asked Ms. Lalitha to sing the RTP instead of Ms.Saroja. The sisters always performed together. They never sat alone on the stage. In case if one of them was unwell, the other would make a proxy appearance. Their combined presence always had a reassuring impact on each other. After the concert, a critic wrote saying how the concert was not up to the mark and how the sisters cut a sorry figure as they had taken to drinking ice water. He criticized them for neglecting their responsibility while accepting kutcheries. Another critic however had written how Ms. Lalitha had managed the show well. Priya sisters too agreed how the presence of each other was very important. Haripriya took pains to explain how nobody went to a concert to give `half performance’.

Bombay sisters sang a beautiful composition in Kalyana Vasantha “Innu Daya Barathe” and the samvada came to an end after Priya Sisters sang “Kalige nidhe naaku kaivalyamu”.

Ganesh Rajagopalan -
Neatly presented article. I commend you for giving a wholesome view of the Samvada featuring Bombay Sisters and Priya sisters.

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