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Dr Sirkali Siva Chidambaram – December 5th, 2011

Dr Sirkali Siva Chidambaram, a musician cum physician, gives full rein to the the spirit of his commitment to both, music and medical field. Equally is his commitment to fulfill  the family needs.  As his daughter Vaishnavi, a post graduate student at the National University of Singapore, enthralls about her father’s discipline and sincerity.  ‘Though my father is very busy, he attends the parents-teachers meeting in school, he drops me and my brothers in school and also we try to have breakfast together’ she says.    When asked what she likes the best in her father, if it is for his musical talent or for his medical profession?  She says in a single word that her admiration is for his ‘Simplicity”. It is true that the ‘Padmasree’ award winner is as down to earth and as approachable as he can be.   His interview below is for attention to detail.

1. Can you tell us about your formative years like where were you born, your interest in music during your childhood, your school, college, friends etc…

I was born in Chennai, at St.Isabels hospital. My father was sought after the blessings of  Sirkazhi Thiripurasundari – Bhrammapuriswarar temple. So, soon after my birth, I was taken to Sirkazhi for a bath in the holy Tank Temple and to proffer pooja. The day I was born,  my father was recording a duet song „Vandu Aadaatha solaiyil‟ with Smt.P.Susila, for the film „Veerath thirumagan‟ tuned by Sri. K.V.Mahadevan. The song coincidentally was a welcoming song for a child in the movie.

My elder sister Dr. Gnanavalli Pradhaban, now practising in the USA was  my father‟s pet always. I have been a mother‟s pet . All my relatives, family and even my children claim this. I did my schooling at St.BedesHigh school in Santhome, Chennai, where many celebrity’s children studied.  Hence I had an opportunity to mix with a variety of students. My Tamil teacher Mrs.Florence, Hindi Teacher Mrs.Alamelu, who were incharge of the cultural programs, encouraged me to participate and sing in Parent‟s day celebration.

I did my Pre university at Loyola college, Nungambakkam, Chennai, where education is more emphasized.  That was the time when Emergency was declared in India with strict enforcement. I entered medicine with my merit well before the election in which the Government under Dr M.G.Ramachandhran was formed.  I studied Medicine at the Madras Medical college. I did my undergraduation and Post Graduation at Madras Medical college, triained under stalwarts of Medicine.

I started learning music when I was ten year old, much to the displeasure of my beloved father who did not want me to become a musician, in view of his experiences in the industry.  My mother Smt. Sulochana Govindarajan, who is an embodiment of patience and humility was the driving force in my life. She convinced my father with a promise that my studies will not be compromised for music and that I will prove myself  in academics too. My father‟s classmate “Sangeetha Vidwan” Sri. B.Krishnamurthy is my chosen guru. He shared the same wave length, as my father. With the blessings of Almighty and lovely parents and most respected Guru, Iam doing my best in acheiving my bit in Medicine and Music.

2. How will you describe your school days as a legendary‟s son?

At school I loved being one among the whole lot. Though we had cars and people to take care of, I always preferred using a rickshaw, public transport or walk to school. My father liked our simplicity and appreciated the quality which we imbibed from him. The teachers in the school got excited, when my father drove down to my school, which eventually paved way for my musical talents to be unraveled.  There after, I was involved to sing the invocation in the Tamil Mandram meetings and participate in the special musical skits in Tamil during the Parent‟s day celeberations in the school. I have held several positions like the President of the Tamil Mandram, House captain and Class monitor in school days. My best musical encounters in school, was when my music class teacher with her grand piano at St. Bedes High school auditorium will be teaching us the nuances of Western music with a breathing exercise session preceding it.  The repeated rehersals for the song studded tamil skit, which made me realize the importance of perfection and effective presentation of the art forms, to succeed in it. My teachers were excellent task masters who moulded the clay to the form of which Iam today. Being a legendary’s son provoked a lot of expectations and Iam lucky that  my teachers guided me to take up music with sadhana and rigorous practice.

3. Though a father can teach many other students but not his own child. You being your father‟s disciple, how was it in your case? Were you very obedient or naughty?

One of the Annual Parents day performances fetched me a special prize from the Chief Educational Officer Mr.Karuppiah, who presided over the function. He was astound and rushed to the stage to announce the prize. I was dumb struck with joy. At home my father was totally upset with me seeking his blessings and appreciation with the prize won. He was literally in tears when he explained his turbulent past in music. He made me realize that education was the most important thing in life. My continuous pestering made my mother convince that music training is important for a legendary musician’s son, since people look at him with an expectation. I started my music lessons initially from my father.

4. Can you recall any off-beat incident while taking classes under him?

With utmost disinterest my father started to teach me the initial lessons of music. He made me wake up early in the morning at 4 am and practice while still I would be asleep. In the initial stages, I use to make mistakes with the Rhythm Tala counts in my lap. For those mistakes, I use to get Stronger Tala counts in my lap with his strong palmar slaps which got my lap red and swollen to the size of his palm. Rigorous home work practices sessions will be adviced. If still there is no progress, then the next bed time milk would be cut.  My father was a very strict disciplinarian and there was no compromise as far as  perfection was concerned. I was an average student and had the lazy clan in routine, but with special hard work, I had remarkable  records in my academics and music, throughout. When my father learnt that he being overstrict with a learner, my father put me under his close friend and classmate, Sangitha vidwan B.Krishnamurthy, who shared a similar sentiment like my fahter about children perusing music as a career,from whom I learn music till date. I am my guru‟s pet student and treated like a son in his family .

5. Will your father sing to his family members while in the dining table or during some casual talks? Will the family members criticise him for fun or is he a strict disciplined father?

My father was a lovable and affectionate person. He was an embodiment of humility and a kind person to all. He had an excellent sense of humor which he used to share with the family. He was cheerful always. He was annoyed over even the slightest disorganisation or imperfection. He had gained  perfection through rigorous training  from his younger days in the Drama stages of Devi Nataka sabha and the gurukulavasa during his music college days with a srict guru, “Sangeetha Kalanidhi‟ Thiruppampuram N. Swaminatha Pillai, the flute maestro. Hence, naturally he would expect perfection in the family. His favourite quote was “Work while you work and Play while you play”, which is my mantra until date, to train my children. Whenever a song was recorded, he made it a point to sing it for us at home and make us happy. We were gifted as his children for that. When a composing for a song at home, he used to respect our views on the raga and will even be ready to alter, if we can justify our point. He made us enjoy life with good food, quality friends, sharing of his experiences, providing us opportunities to experience the music and its people etc.. He was a totally innocent person without any commercial tricks. He respected and expected only love and affection from his relatives and musicians. He never bowed down or compromised on his principles for money and opportunities. That way he was projected as a straight forward angry person, which he was not, in reality.

6. Though your titles, accolades, awards and achievements speak for your “identity‟, more often you are perceived only as a shadow of your father. What have you got to say on this?

It is not easy to be a shadow of an irreplaceable and incomparable legend. By virtue of being Isaimani‟s son, the people and fans have great expectations. Iam working hard to fulfil. It is up to me to accept the criticisms. I work on my father‟s advice of taking his inspiration and not becoming his imitation. I have developed my own voice culture and style. I have imbibed the good qualities of my father in life and music. People praise me for the clear open throat expressive singing with clear and distinct diction, which is my father‟s forte. Thus Iam compared and appreciated. This kind of a perception is common with the next generation of followers in any profession, be it film acting or politics. I have worked wholeheartedly for my own identity, my own recognitions, my own awards and accolades, my own acheivments in my musical career. But I am also proud to be the only legal heir, follower of my father‟s foot steps, shadow etc. etc., as a wholesome God given heriditary copyright for the boundless musical wealth of my father. There is nothing wrong in the way people perceive about me, as far as they enjoy my good music style. It is their own will and pleasure to perceive whatever they want. But remember, truth prevails.

7. There is a wider gap between the audiences of carnatic music and cine music. Your efforts have sort of bridged that gap. Can you tell us the challenges you faced in that transformation?

There is absolutely no secret. The truth is the true flawless music style of my father which I follow. His principle to sing the song,(be it a film song or Classical krithi or a devotional song, anything for that matter) with utmost dedication and devotion, to reach the audience with ease, with his expression intact. No one challenged. In fact everyone enjoyed the songs being sung in such a nice way that the music was easily understandable and enjoyable, be it in any language of the universe. Unnecessary crooning of a classical song in the name of classicism or rendering a light film song too plainly without imprints of musical values like finer brigas or sangathis is considered wrong in our style of music. Times and Technology have changed and transformation is not a problem.

8. There was more emphasis for the meaning and the clarity of words in the composition of songs those days. Where as technology dominates the songs these days, which trend do you think will be ever green and for what reason?

Quality stands the test of time. We have observed that a newer thinking with melody and classicism intact will stand forever with the experience of the past. Orchestra back up music is only a shirt. The rendering voice and lyric are like the body and soul. The life of a song with a healthy body and soul will sustain with any type of shirt worn on it. Change is inevitable!

9. Not many choose Music as their profession unlike Medicine, Law, Engineering, IT etc…Why is it so?

Music was like IT jobs in the by gone era. Good Performers had a lucrative deal. That was the case in both Cinema and light music. Now, music related jobs, television channel music production units etc., are widening the oppurtunitly and scope for music professionals. The disadvantageous aspect is that music as a reflection of soulful feel, can be expressed by any one in their favourite format. Most of the time it even clicks with a grand following. Even non-conventional, untrained music is cherished nowadays. Formal training becomes secondary most of the time especially in cinema. Lobbying for oppurtunities in music is yet another discouraging factor for the trained musician. With other professions, especially on the technical side you are sure to make some money in a job which is more secure than music which takes time and extensive life style alterations for survival.

10. You are a multi facet man – a legendary musician, a renowned physician, a dedicated philanthropist. Still you are a humble, simple and approachable man. What makes it possible?

I was brought up like that by my parents. We as children knew nothing else other than our parents. We the children of Isaimani live our lives in the path shown to us.

11. Which has given you more satisfaction? – being “a musician‟ or “a physician‟?

Both the professions are challenging and oriented towards the masses. Both gives absolute satisfaction when I see a smile of relief in the faces as a result. I get that in both the professions luckily with Almighty‟s grace. I have been a Man of action. Hence there is satisfaction.

12. Though you are born and brought up in Chennai, just tell the word  “SIRKALI‟ it will immediately strike a chord among the people with Mr Govindarajan and Dr. Siva Chidambaram. What is your practical connection with “SIRKALI‟?

I was born in Chennai. My native place is Sirkali and my father came to chennai for better prospects in his music profession. Though I was born in Chennai, my father insisted that my first bath was with the theertham of the famous temple of Sirkali, which had the Saint Thirugnanasambandhar‟s Thevaram story. Sirkali has become our family name and my father did his best in bringing a good name and fame to his native place. We have our relatives, cousins and properties in and around Sirkali.

13. Are we soon to see the third generation of the „SIRKALI FAMILY” hitting a hat trick in the musical field?

My children are interested in music. I have made them learn classical music during their school days. Now they are into Technical field, perusing their studies seriously, respecting my father‟s sentiments. They are free to listen to their choice of music and take to their way of music in future, if they are really interested. God is great and things happen by his will and destiny.

14. If means, can you just kindly explain us, and If not means also can you kindly explain us your role in it

My role as father is to show them their guru. It is for them to learn and come up. I have did my conscientious duty without fail on all aspects. I am sure they will realise and be up to the mark in life.

15. Tell us your experience: “What is Music‟, “Power of Music‟, “pervasiveness of Music‟.

What is music – Music is a divine feel. An expression to cherish good ideas and moral values. Not is not just for the tune.

Power of music – They say money plunges to underground world . Music goes even beyond that. It is the only thing in the world which makes the performer as well as the receiver happy. In other professions, the one who does it is happy whereas the receiver has a lacunae in satisfaction always.

Pervasiveness of Music – A good music can pervade the Body, mind and soul. But, in today’s world such music is being perverted in the name of creating new music, denigrating classical values, commercialising with fusion concepts, forgetting the authenticity and orthodox aspects of our rich cultural heritage of music.

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