Music Critic Subbudu (PV Subramanyam) interviews
GS RAJAN for The Statesman, national daily of India.
Time and again we have seen that when a foreign scholar or artist takes interest in one of our national assets, we look at it with new appreciation and realize its worth. Max Mueller the great Indologist was an example of someone who did more for the study of ancient India than any indigenous scholar. Similarly, it took an Annie Besant to interpret the Bhagavad Gita, and a Romain Rolland to write about Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Swami Vivekananda. The instances of our talented artists being ignored in India till they make it big in the West are many. In this context I remember writing in these columns some years ago in a review of GS Rajan's musical presentation, that if this Carnatic flutist and composer had been born in the West, his talent would have been nurtured and encouraged and he would have become a great composer.
Last month, when he went on a tour of several countries in Europe, sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, he seems to have got some of this kind of recognition from the West. To accompany his flute recitals, he took along with him a mridangist and a guitarist. This just goes to show that with all his training in chaste Carnatic music, being the son of Carnatic musicians Gayathri and Guruvayoor Srikrishnan, as well as a product of Rukmini Devi's Kalakshetra, Rajan cannot resist the urge to do something "risky" and experimental!
That he was successful was made clear to him when the public responded to his music with loud ovations and when a maestro like Zubin Mehta, who was the Guest of Honour in one of Rajan's concerts in Munich, remarked, "It gave me great pleasure to hear Mr. GS RAJAN on the occasion of India's Republic day in Munich. Mr. Rajan creates a beautiful sound and is most imaginative in his way of developing the raga he has chosen to interpret. I know that he will have a life full of beautiful music and I wish him all the best."
Rajan began his European tour with a concert in Budapest's prestigious auditorium, Pesti Vigado, which was packed. He also performed in Gyor, Berlin, Dessau, Frankfurt, Brussels, Luxembourg, Marseilles, London, Alicante and Valladoid.
'It was a memorable experience when a group of European musicians presented my orchestral compositions which I call Raga Symphony, in Brussels' 'Espace Sanghor'. Not only the audience appreciated my Western score based on Indian ragas, but even the musicians were happy to have played something new, and we made some good friends,' says Rajan.
On why he took a guitar player as his accompanist instead of a violinist, he says, 'It is not really a new concept as the Carnatic music system has always made use of instruments from other genres. Once even the violin was considered foreign to Carnatic music. Now we are used to the Violin, Mandolin, Clarinet, Saxophone, Santoor, and even Keyboards playing Carnatic ragas. This is why I thought of taking Shri Joy Vincent who plays Carnatic music on the Guitar banjo, as one of my accompanists on this tour. And the audience and Western musicians were astonished to see the gamakas coming from a Guitar banjo.'
Rajan is all praise for some of the organizations that presented his recitals in the various cities he visited. 'In the absence of an organization like the ICCR in many countries, the Indian Embassy identified a reputed organization that was interested in hosting groups from India. Such arrangements in fact bring about closer ties between India and lovers of Indian art abroad.'
Not that all such arrangements are perfect. At one venue, where an Indian Association was playing host, it turned out that the hosts wanted to share the stage with the guests, by sandwiching Rajan's recital between the amateur performances of their talented tiny tots! But such episodes can be set right with proper monitoring by the Indian Missions, feels Rajan.
'The success of presentations abroad also depends on the interest taken by the officials of the Indian Missions. I met a couple of dedicated officers in Brussels and Madrid. The Minister in the Indian Embassy at Brussels, Mr. S Chakravarti is not only an enthusiastic official but also a music lover with a great knowledge of Indian traditional and regional music. This made our visit to Brussels even more enjoyable. In Madrid too, we were really well looked after thanks to Mr. Sanjeeva Babu who takes a special interest in Indian artists. The ICCR needs such people in the Indian Missions, since these missions are the ICCR's mouth and ears outside the country.'
Meeting Spanish artists engaged in the Indian arts was an eye opener for Rajan. 'In Valladoid, I was surprised to meet a couple who had undergone training in Bharata Natyam and Kathakali at Kalakshetra, Chennai and Kerala Kalamandalam, respectively. There are many young musicians interested in learning Carnatic music. I understand that the ICCR is coming up with a center in Spain soon. In fact I feel the ICCR should consider such a center in Dessau, Germany, too, where there are a lot of people interested in Indian music, especially since it is the birthplace of Max Mueller.'
With his background of working in the Sangeet Natak Akademi, he would even be an ideal candidate to work at such a center, and the idea of working in one of the cultural capitals of Europe appeals to him. 'With my fourteen years of experience working at the Sangeet Natak Akademi, I am positive that I will be able to not only teach music but also help in art administration,' says this versatile musician, who has also learnt vocal music under the late MD Ramanathan.
For talented Carnatic musicians, Chennai is considered the place to be. But Rajan has not been seen rushing to this musicians' Mecca for the Madras Season. 'It is not that I do not want to perform there. But my ego will not permit me to join the crowds knocking on every Sabha Secretary's door for a chance. Also, my approach to music is different. I cannot drive my music on the Carnatic Highway!'
Now that 2002 has started on a globetrotting note for Rajan, he plans to 'stay home for some time and practice my flute as well as try out some new compositions before taking up new projects or assignments.
Composer-Flautist GS RAJAN