On the right note
Accomplished sitarist of the Vilayatkhani Gharana, Dr Madhu Nanduri's passion for the sitar is unflinching despite a successful career in Information Technology. The US-based Telugu musician's performances and lec-dems and his album 'Raga Time' standA testimony to the rigorous training under none other than Ustad Vilayat Khan in New Jersey A A A A He didn't want us to call him Guru or Ustad. He wanted us to call him 'Abba' and he was like aA father to all his students Jaywant Naidu Son of a doctor is a doctor, goes the popular belief. Well, this son of an illustrious journalist has not chosen to become one himself, yet he has inherited his father's musical affiliation. Nanduri Partha Sarathi, in addition to being a writer and connoisseur of music is also the first Guru and guide to Madhu, who was initiated into learning Sitar at a young age of nine. After having learnt from S Shankar Rao and Pandit K Atmaram of Hyderabad; armed with a Bachelor's Degree both in music and Mechanical Engineering, Madhu Nanduri crossed the seven seas to study further in the US. A chance meeting with Ustad Vilayat Khan, led his father to enquire if the great Guru would oblige to teach his son who incidentally stays close to where the Ustad resides in the US. The Guru did agree to meet Madhu, but only conceded after hearing him play. "I had grown up with Ustadji music. For as long as I can remember I had been listening to his sitar" � Madhu Nanduri shares some unforgettable memories of the legendary Guru Ustad Vilayat Khan. His seven years of tutelage under him in the true Guru Sishya Parampara has been instrumental in making him a sitar virtuso, he says. Can you share the memories of your first meeting with Ustad Vilayat Khan? My father met Ustad Vilayat Khan in Hyderabad in January 1997 requested him to meet me. I drove down to his place in New Jersey and was quite tensed. He asked me to play whatever I knew. I offered to play Raga Yaman, his landmark composition that I have been practicing since childhood. I was playing his entire 'Gat's' and 'Taan's' back to him. He was impressed, but obviously wanted to hear more. He said, "You have everything needed to become a good musician; it is just the organisation that you need to learn from me." The organisation and design of music, we take a lifetime to master. Ustadji would train us in a true Guru Sishya parampara. He would give one on one lesson on every aspect of his music. I have trained under him for over seven years until his death. How was your interest in 'sitar' kindled? At the age of eight years, my father,a sitar player himself, started teaching me to play sitar. At the age of ten, I was placed under S.Shankar Rao for about seven years and started giving concerts from the age of 11. I have grown with sitar music around me. How easy was it to learn from Ustad Vilayat Khan? Ustad Vilayat Khan was very strict. He would not go forward teaching the next lesson unless the students mastered the previous lesson. His style of music is very difficult to learn. And each time when you felt like you crossed a mountain, the next one would loom ahead. He never took group classes and would teach according to the level and understanding of the student. He didn't want us to call him Guru or Ustad. He wanted us to call him 'Abba' and he was like a father to all his students. He was never insulting or harsh and in order to build a rapport, he would visit our houses, have lunch and relax in our bedroom and try and understand us. What is difficult about the style of Ustad Vilayat Khan Gharana? It is the Gayaki style of playing. It tries to, as closely as possible, imitate the voice on the sitar; the Bolkari of the Sitarkhani style. The intricacies of the left and right hand on the sitar are very complex and move like a machine. Everything is perfect and there are no unnecessary strokes. Ustadji's is a treble guitar. The base string is replaced with an extra steel string, which is tuned to the predominant swara of a rag, thereby amplifying the character of the rag. What has been your style of playing sitar? I cannot escape the style of Ustad Vilayat Khan. Except for the tonality and a few subtle changes, his style and melody are what I follow. Infact after the death of Ustadji, I really wanted to do something. I left my job for three years to work on my music. This is the time I recorded my album, 'Raga Time'. Though Ustadji's style is visible, one can also see the evolvement of my own style. For the last three years, I can see some extension on my current knowledge and I am moving towards an individual style, which is vital for every musician. What is 'Raga Time about? It is based on the concept of Ten Thaat's of Hindustani music and the eight Prahaars (the time zones into which a day is divided). Playing music as per the mood of the day has been there in every music, but it is Hindustani music that has retained the concept. How do you feel performing in India and abroad? Is there any major difference? I hardly find any difference in the audience worldover. I do not play for the audience. I primarily play for myself and would like the audience to join in my journey. Depending on the type of audience I may structure my rendition as per the audience in front of me and the duration of the program. The aspect of alaap, madhyalaya or drut laya compositions may vary in each concert. Do you teach sitar? I have not started teaching yet. It's a two way commitment and it has to be under the Guru Shishya parampara for me. I believe that one needs to spend quality time with students and not just mass produce students. For now I am working on my next album. What is the change you would like to see in the Indian music education? In the US, even the kindergarten kids are introduced to basic instruments and music and with this exposure they choose what they want to do when they grow up. Music is not just for music's sake. It helps one excel in any other field and career. It works as therapy and to de-stress after a daylong work. Unfortunately despite having the largest number of music colleges in India, classical music is an ignored aspect in Andhra Pradesh. I think it has to be introduced at a very early age as a part of school curriculum.