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An eternal peripatetic who’d rather drink deep from the fount of life. Among other things, in varied proportions, Vallikanth is an artist, quizzer, gastronome, astrologer, musician, columnist, business executive and Indophile.
I grew up in a rather nondescript South Indian town where music meant either the odd Indian classical music concert during the annual Festival of Nine Nights or the drone of the dime-a-dozen textile mills.
I was fourteen when Pink Floyd’s Meddle shocked me out of the inane ramble of the 80s pop music. The generous supply of Now! That’s What I Call Music special offer audio cassettes by my closest buddy from glitzy Dubai has ceased to have any allure thereon. The daily ride to school on the scarlet and silver city buses meant a cascade of fascinating new musical adventures on my little Walkman. The smorgasbord of soundscapes and sonic textures invariably leaving me saucer-eyed as I stepped into class. Deep Purple’s Machine Head to L. Subramaniam’s Indian Express to Cream’s Strange Brew to Jethro Tull’s Thick As A Brick to Shakthi’s Natural Elements to Jean-Luc Ponty’s Enigmatic Ocean to Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band to L. Shankar’s Panchanadai Pallavi and Zakir Hussian’s Making Music.
The years in college were marked by what seemed to be an endless hopping between one college fest to the other. As a wide-eyed teenager the heady mix of quizzing during day and music by night was simply too irresistible to not succumb to. There seems to be an oft trodden path to salvation for the itinerant musical journeyman. The points of connect between contemporary rock to the classic rock of the 70s. In turn, to the manic experiments in progressive rock and jazz fusion of the 70s and the eventual resolution with the masters from across the generations. Shakthi led to Mahavishnu Orchestra’s Inner Mounting Flame which in turn to Weather Report’s Heavy Weather to Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew to Billy Cobham’s Stratus. And then there was the music of Yes, Santana, Rush, Kansas, Uriah Heep and the so many other genre defining masters in parallel.
The search for my personal musical Holy Grail lead me to the discovery of Indian classical music with almost a magical inevitability. As improbable a notion as it may be, Black Sabbath and Ustad Abdul Karim Khan reside in my musical Heaven, amiably, in complete acceptance and poise, side by side. In a seemingly unending treasure trove being discovered by the day there’s the unearthly genius of Kumar Gandharva to almost ephemeral Nikhil Banerjee to be experienced. The earthy Shruti Sadolikar and the earthier M.D. Ramanathan to the form breaker T. N. Seshagopalan to who must certainly be God’s chosen one, U. Shrinivas.
Ilayaraja has been singular in my discoveries for above all shattering my prejudices and dogmas of what Indian film music can and cannot achieve. While the air waves were dominated by his music in the years I went to school, it must certainly have fallen on defiantly deaf ears. I now search for the hidden gems among the apparent rubble and the turnaround has been near complete.
Music in India has to be eclectic given the diverse styles of music – traditional and contemporary, classical and folk, film and non-film – and in so many different languages (officially 14 in number at last count if one discounts the hundreds of dialects). One can’t but help but imbibe a musical resilience as far as the aesthetic is concerned. I may have been no different.
As a student of music, I have been learning Carnatic classical music and playing the ancient Indian lute – the Saraswathi Veena since my post-teens. Despite having no virtuosic pretensions, I continue to wish that I’d be a performing musician in some lifetime.
My professional career as a business executive has taken me to different countries and I now call Singapore, home. Over the years I have been blessed plentifully with the fortune of witnessing master musicians in action. My attempt remains to channelize the inspiration I draw from these great musicians and their music into the columns that I write. So that, above all, there can be a sense of appreciation.