Sunday, September 28, 2014

An unforgettable meeting with U. Shrinivas

I had met U. Shrinivas in the summer of 2004, April. At his home, which is not far from where I live. I was then writing a weekly column for The New Indian Express called People, Places, Things.

I was taken to a large waiting room that was packed with his pictures, certificates, medals and memorabilia. U. Rajesh, his younger brother, kept me company till he came. Tea was on the way. But before tea arrived, arrived Shrinivas. I stood up – I had to. There was an unmistakable aura about him, a sort of romanticism, a certain mystique. He was all smiles, beaming really. And very friendly. Hearing his soft voice, I made an effort to tone down mine.

Shrinivas started by narrating his “amazing experience”, playing at the Central Hall of Parliament a year earlier, on Flag Day, with Pandit Jasraj, Pandit Shiv Kumar Sharma and L. Subramaniam. He and Rajesh had just returned after playing at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, delighting an audience that included India’s First Citizen.

I had known of Shrinivas as a child prodigy. Meeting him was an experience. There was humility written all over his face. Sadly, God doesn't make many like him. Shrinivas was the first exponent of the mandolin as a Carnatic music instrument, the first to play it solo. Staring to play at five, Shrinivas, born in 1969 in Andhra Pradersh, had his first concert in Gudivada, at the Thyagaraja Aradhana Festival. The family later moved to Madras.

At the Berlin Philharmonic Hall during Jazzfest in 1982, he, accompanied by Vikku Vnayakaram on the ghatam, had created magic. There were entreaties for more. An encore followed. In 1992, Shrinivas performed at the inaugural concert at the Barcelona Olympics; seven years later John McLaughlin urged him to join the Shakti Group, which had Zakir Hussain and Selva Ganesh.

I remember Shrinivas telling me that the Paramacharya of the Kanchi Mutt had encouraged him and that encouragement went a long way in his achieving success at so young an age. And that his first memorable performance was at the 1995 International Mandolin Festival in Germany. He would later play at the Royal Albert Hall for BBC Live.

The tea was spiced with adrak (ginger) and spices. I almost felt at home, the brothers made me feel so much at ease. Before leaving, Shrinivas gave me his card. It read Mandolin Padma Shri U. Shrinivas, Asthana Vidwan, Sri Kanchi Kamakoti Peetam. On it, he wrote his mobile number, just in case I needed to call him. I never had to. But I still have the card. It will always be a treasured item. Let his soul rest in peace. As somebody said, the gods wanted him back badly.


  

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