Carnatic vocalist Nithyasree Mahadevan reminisces about how her grandmother D.K. Pattammal influenced her career.
Having such a flawless artiste like Pattammal as a role model makes you introspect every second.
PHOTO: K.V. SRINIVASAN
GENERATION NEXT: Nithyasree Mahadevan.
It was almost a decade and half ago that D. K. Pattammal performed at Kuthiramalika in Thiruvananthapuram for the Swati Sangeetholsavam, for which the doyenne presented many a Swati kriti in her trademark style exuding ‘padanthantara suddhi.’ Towards the end, she rendered a mellifluous Behag, swaying rhythmically to the tempo of ‘Saramaina... Chalu Chalu Ra.’ The swaying, at times, took her voice away from the microphone and brought to the foreground another temple bell-like voice from behind the tanpura – a voice with verve, vigour and perfection, on a par with the main artiste.
That is how Thiruvananthapuram got to hear for the first time Nithyasree, the granddaughter of Pattammal and Palghat Mani Iyer, in a scenario that metaphorically announced the arrival of ‘generation next.’
Cut to the present. Nithyasree Mahadevan performed in the city for the Thirumurugan Music, Lecture and Dance Art Festival. Having taken over the legacy of her grandmother with grace and élan, the vocalist has gone a long way from being the petite accompanist for Pattammal to become one of the most accomplished and in-demand vocalists of contemporary Carnatic music.
It is an emotional moment this time, for both the audience and Nithyasree, as she sings in public for the first time after the demise of Pattammal whom she refers to as a loving grandmother, revered guru and an eternal role model.
“It has not actually sunk in; the fact that she is no more. One gets a feeling, especially while singing, that she is somewhere around,” says Nithyasree who prefers cherishing the music repertoire that her grandmother left behind, to grieving over her loss. However she feels that Pattammal, the artiste, was not given due respect by the authorities, both during her lifetime and in death.
“I do not think she got the kind of recognition she deserved. She was not just a musician, but a patriot and freedom fighter who used her art to propagate the struggle for Indian independence. She was unmarried then and people like Rajaji used to warn her not to do that as there was a chance of her getting arrested. But nevertheless she persevered and that too throughout her life. It is painful to see such relentless commitment go unnoticed. There was not even a State funeral. Remember, she is a recipient of the Padmavibhushan,” points out an agitated Nithyasree.
“The memories she left behind as an artiste and as a family member are too many to discuss,” she says adding that she owes all of her professional self – talent, training, techniques, values and conduct – to Pattammal. “She did not force anything on me; these are things that I picked up as part of my childhood with her. Having such a flawless artiste like Pattammal as a role model makes you introspect every second. And I have realised that I would be more than happy if I could be one tenth of what Pattammal was as a musician and individual.”
Indeed, a casual glance at Nithyasree’s career graph would tell you that she is more than that. With a talent that has an innate quality and a grooming that enhanced every aspect of it, Nithyasree, even in the early days of her career, was a name synonymous with mastery. Her genes would have done the initial run-up to the Sabhas, but it is her music that makes her stay put, season after season.
“Having a school to belong to is a great assest; but it is ultimately your work that keeps you adhered to the art. My predecessors had their own individual contributions to music. I think it is important to have a characteristic stamp. And to develop an individual style, one needs to learn and practise constantly and be open to self-evaluation and criticism,” she explains.
Composing and Manodharma are her favourite fortes, since she believes there is more scope of expression and experiment in those.
“Composing is something that my mother and I enjoy. My mother, Lalitha Sivakumar, was my first music guru and eternal inspiration. We composed a very interesting Malayalam song from a poem we got from Mata Amritananda Mayi Mutt. The song ‘Akale Akale Oru Mani Naadham’ was well received and has turned out be an item for which I get regular requests.”
Talking of experiments and jamming, the singer recollected recording for a film song by A.R. Rahman, for the film ‘Paarthale Paravasam.’ “We did not have any lyrics except the words ‘Manmatha Masam,’ when Shankar Mahadevan, Rahman Sir and I started it. So we worked on improvisations with those two words and sent the meter to poet Vaali. Vaali Sir was so overwhelmed with the tune that he said he did not want to pollute it with more words. So the song has a very unique presentation with minimum lyrics. Working on it was an interesting experience,” she reminisces.
Nithyasree’s association with A. R. Rahman added one more dimension to her music – mass appeal. Her popular film numbers include ‘Kannodu Kaanbathellam’ from ‘Jeans’ and ‘Minsara Kanna’ from ‘Padayappa.’ She now divides her time between Carnatic and film music though Carnatic music remains her first love. “Carnatic music demands more time and dedication. Film music is comparatively easier and has more reach. The most recent song I recorded was G. V. Prakash’s ‘Aayirathil Oruvan.’”
The conversation came to a close with her mobile phone ringing incessantly in the tune of a child’s voice. “It is my daughter Thejasree,” says the proud mother. So is this what the legacy has in store for us next? “It is too early to say anything. She is just five years old.”
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