Vocalist Aruna Saira: The cosmopolitan Bombay is what I am
Ahead of her concert tonight, renowned vocalist Aruna Sairam on her unique approach to Carnatic music and why she owes it to the city
When disciples of the late Odissi exponent Kelucharan Mohapatra speak of him, they never fail to quote a life lesson he imparted to them. "Practising hard makes you a good dancer. But the day you embrace humility is when you become an artiste," he would say. More than 1,200 km to the south, Chennai-based Aruna Sairam practises a different classical art form, but what ties the Padma Shri awardee to Carnatic music is the same bond of humility.
Born in Mumbai, she was introduced to the music tradition by her mother. Six decades and several accolades later — she received the Sangeetha Kalanidhi award by the Madras Music Academy in January — she remains open to new experiences to keep her music evolving. Back in the city for a concert this evening, caught up with the vocalist.
Edited excerpts from the interview.
How did your years in Mumbai shape you as an artiste?
I was brought up in Dadar Parsi Colony and went to the JB Vachha school. So, I lived in two happy worlds. One at home, where we spoke Tamil and my mother taught me Carnatic music. And one outside, where I enrolled for western music in school, took up Gujarati as a second language, and learnt Hindi and Marathi on the streets. We moved to Chennai in 2000 because that's the headquarters of the style of music I practise, but the cosmopolitan Bombay is what I am.
The first half of my concerts is dedicated to pure Carnatic music — something I learnt from my guru, Smt T Brinda. But I also sing abhangs in a Carnatic rendition. There are songs of Ganpati Visarjan, the hymn Vaishnav Jana To in folk Gujarati... in the last part.
You've also trained under international voice masters.
Since my school days, I had been introduced to the idea that in the West, they have techniques to hone your voice. So, when I felt I was finding it difficult to fully convey my emotions in my voice, I decided to train under them.
You have been performing since you were eight. What keeps you going?
I was in Jerusalem for a concert recently. I took the help of a professor there to learn a Hebrew song. When I sang it, people got emotional because they felt someone had taken the trouble to learn an important part of their culture. This sense of newness keeps me going.
ON Tonight, 7 pm
AT Fine Arts Cultural Centre, RC Marg, Chembur
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