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Meet the Young Mridangam Artiste – Akshay Anand

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Music: Like a fish in water

Harini Raghavan

One fine morning I received a phone call from one of my friends inviting me for a concert where the person playing on the Mridangam was a young boy of 14 years.  I was not too sure about attending that concert but the main artiste was a very senior, renowned artist. It was quite a surprise for me that such a senior artist had chosen a “mere child”to play the mridangam.
city kempLuckily that day’s schedule permitted me to accommodate this concert as well. At the concert venue I saw that the boy was so tiny that even his mridangam, when placed vertically was taller than him!!  I was very apprehensive as to how he would handle such a huge instrument with his small, delicate hands. But at the end of the concert all of us were highly appreciative of his performance and young Akshay had proved that he was gifted with great talent and a good future. That is how my aquaintance with the Akshay-family started.  From then on, Akshay started getting offers from many organisations and also from some well meaning senior artists, with the noble intention of encouraging him. And this gave him the required push in the field. His parents would inform me and other connoisseurs of carnatic music about every concert he was performing asking us to attend the same.  This was the beginning of his career as a Mridangam artist.
Family of musicians
Akshay was born on 11th December 1996 to Sunitha and Anand Srinivasamurthy, with a great musical background.  Both his grand fathers were highly knowledgable persons in the field of Carnatic Music.  While his paternal grand father wrote an encyclopaedia on music indexing thousands of compositions, his maternal grand father was a violinist of repute. Two of his father’s sisters obtained training in singing for more than twenty years and learnt all the  nuances of the art, even though they did not perform in public regularly.  Added to this his mother is a good violinist trained under T G Thyagarajan and father has made earnest efforts over the past 3 decades to learn music on his own and grasp the finer aspects by listening to recordings of the great masters, which is played at home continuously for 5 hours daily! There was music playing in the house right from his birth. Having grown up in this atmosphere it is not at all surprising that Akshay became so passionate about this fine art at a very young age and took to it like a fish to water.
Of kitchen vessels and music
The story behind how he was initiated into music was well narrated by his father.  In the ‘Podigai’ TV channel, there is regular telecast or relay of carnatic music programmes in the mornings. As this channel would be switched on daily, as a 3 year old, Akshay would watch it intently.  Gradually he started showing interest in the “Laya”(rhythm) aspect.  He would bring a vessel from the kitchen and would immitate the percussion artists on the stage playing with his fingers on the vessel!  Also his mother Sunitha made him enact the role of the legendary mridangam artist Vidwan Palghat Mani Iyer during one of the fancy dress competitions  in the school.  He acted very well and did not want come off the stage! These were the first glimpses of his passion for Mridangam.
He was always full of energy and the outburst of this would reflect in various mischivous acts.  To channelise the extra energy properly the parents thought that this was the right time to engage him in some activity which would like. So at the age of eight they put him under the tutelage of Vidwan M T Rajakesari, a senior and renowned mridangam artist in Bangalore.  Akshay was very sharp in grasping the nuances at once. For advanced training he went to Vidwan K S Kalidas of Chennai who is a direct disicple of the legendary Mridangam artist  Pazhani M. Subramania Pillai. Pazhani Subramania Pillai was popular for fostering the “Pudukottai School of Layam”. He had established his own style of playing the mridangam which was popular as Pudukottai style or ‘baani’.  Under the guidance of Vidwan K S Kalidas, Akshay is ambitious about mastering the Pudukottai style.
His own style of playing…
Vidushi Neela Ramgopal one of the senior most carnatic musician of Karnataka was the first person to agree toexpose his talent to the public by asking him to provide his mridangam support during her concert in Chennai.  It was a debut for him.   Rather this concert was scheduled as Akshay’s Árangetram’. He was well accepted.  There were good feed-backs. Back in Bangalore, Neela Mami, as she is called affectionately by one and all, once again agreed to take Akshay to provide mridangam support for her concert.  This was Akshay’s first in Bangalore.  This was also well very well received.  From then on there is no turning back for young Akshay.  To date he has accompanied artists – both senior and up coming- in all reputed sabhas in more than 150 concerts. He has been performing in many venues in Mumbai, Mysore, Trissur and Chennai apart from Bangalore.
In December 2011, The Madras Music Acdemy honoured him with the “Gutty Vasu Memorial Award” for his performance in the “Spirit of Youth Festival”.  He has performed in Jaya TV “Balabrumham”program conducted by Abaswaram Ranjee.  He has given solo performances in the All India Radio, provided mridangam support for many private CD recording companies. Since the year 2011, he has been regularly performimg in Chennai, and since the year 2013 he performs regularly during the December – January Music Season.
In 2008, at the first appearnce itself, he won first prize in competitions conducted by the Bangalore Gayana Samaja and later by The Madras Music Academy, in the junior category.  Subsequently under the junior category he won first prize in competitions held at Percussive Arts Centre, Bangalore, Rasika Ranjani Sabha- Trichy, Ariyakudi – KVN Memorial Trust, Chennai and second prize in Mylapore Fine Arts, Chennai. At the same centres he has won first prize under the senior category as well, later on.
Akshay attends lot of concerts and keeps learning through them.  His own concerts are recorded and played back at home, from which he identifies his mistakes and areas where he has to improve.  He considers his present guru Kalidas as God. He has put in an enormous effort to make Akshay what he is today.
His favourite artists are Madurai Mani Iyer, GNB and Lalgudi Jayraman amongst the older generation. He keeps listening to their recordings.  Among the present day artists, he likes Neela Ramgopal, Sanjay Subrahmanyan, Vijay Shiva and Ranjani-Gayatri.
Bright in academics
Apart from this he is academically very bright.  He has secured 92% in the II PUC exams this year and wants to pursue a course in engineering.  He is totally convinced that music has helped him in doing well in academically also.  As a school boy he played badminton very well, but gave it up because he had to devote more time for mridangam.  He would continue to play if he gets any spare time.
A note worthy mention is about Shailesh Ramamurthy, a family friend.  He has known Akshay as an infant.  With his vast knowledge, he has made a tremendous impact on Akshay’s learning by giving him inputs about a large number of compositions, their strucute and complexities, distinct charecteristics of melodic and rhythmic patterns and so on.  During week ends he brings his flute and practices with Akshay.  This has significantly improved Akshay’s ability to enhance his performance in concerts as an accompanist.
Akshay is a hard working, ambitious young artist who has a very bright future in the field of carnatic mjusic as a mridangam artist.

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