Life is beautiful. Despite the sham, the glam and the artifice that so prevails in our world today, beauty abounds. Shrinivas wasn-'t merely an...
Shrinivas wasn't merely an extraordinary musician. He wasn't merely a great teacher. Just those two things would have been sufficient to celebrate a life well lived. He was much more
Life is beautiful. Despite the sham, the glam and the artifice that so prevails in our world today, beauty abounds. Nothing brings this fact home more than the music that fills our lives. Songs of sorrow, of joy, celebrating the ephemeral and the real, universes of sheer transcendence made possible by just seven tones. Nothing can be more reflective of this than the melodic brilliance of Mandolin U Shrinivas. And yes, he is with us today. Death is too final, they say. To me, it is just the beginning of things. Of reflecting on what his life has taught us. Of celebrating truth. Of understanding what's important. And surely, what's not.
Shrinivas wasn't merely an extraordinary musician. He wasn't merely a great teacher. Just those two things would have been sufficient to celebrate a life well lived. He was much more. In my eyes, he was also a messenger from another more evolved reality. How else do we explain his humility, his ability to reach out with total empathy to anyone whom he came into contact with? His concern and kindness were sincere and genuine, often to the point of excessive. I should know. I was privileged to be a beneficiary of it.
He bore no grudges. Nor did he judge. In an era where we celebrate reality television, treating music as though it were mere voyeuristic entertainment, Shrinivas' approach of encouraging his students and colleagues to learn ( whom he taught for free) , refusing to treat the art as a means to an end, teach us something we often forget. Art must exist for its own sake. Music, at its best, has no specific author. It is mankind's need to communicate the latent and deeply experienced. Shrinivas's music was just that.
Everyone knows of his unconventional roots. His recognition as a child, and his quick rise to superstardom. His collaborations with innumerable artistes- film, classical, jazz, world fusion or folk. Of his important presence in the Shakti quartet and his deep association with John McLaughlin. This and more are well documented.
I know the Shrinivas who was equally respectful of concerts in the small temple near his home, which he would walk to, clutching his beloved mandolin. I know the Shrinivas who would trudge up two flights of stairs at his studio just to ask me and other recording musicians whether we were comfortable, and personally serve us coffee. I will never forget the Shrinivas who walked ten blocks with me in the sun, just to obtain a DVD of a movie he wanted to watch. Or the Shrinivas who took joy in the simplest things - a flower on a busy street, children playing with skateboards, buskers on the busy Manhattan sidewalks.
He broke myths. That music had restrictions of template and instrumentation. That only certain social classes performed certain styles of music. Or that, styles exist in watertight compartments. But he did all of this patiently and serenely, wearing his trademark smile. His music was unique - Carnatic music rendered effortlessly in a vocabulary, he painstakingly constructed on his own. Fans will allude to this raga or the other, one specific composition singled out as a favourite. In my opinion, his music is the entirety of his prolific output, a domain in itself.
As a performer, he was in complete control of his art. His stage performances were brilliant without exception, and he was blissful when playing. At a performance in Madras in early 2002, I asked him if he was bothered that few people came to instrumental concerts, the exact converse of the situation abroad. He smiled as usual and replied "But you came! Were you listening?". Similar questions reflecting self doubt, the state of music and musicians and the like were met by the same equanimity of approach, a rare aspect in otherwise temperamental musicians.
That he has had a profound impact on the world of music is an understatement. He may have left his mortal coil. But I think we have a responsibility to understand his legacy for what it is.
And celebrate truth, dignity, compassion and music for its own sake. For now, I hear the distant strains of divine rhapsody from a mandolin in the sky...