A day of child prodigies 
Text & pics: Lalitha Venkat, Chennai 
e-mail: lalvenkat@yahoo.com 
January 11, 2008 

There was an entire day of watching child prodigies perform. And what performances! The little tykes made me sit up, applaud and smile broadly! Read on… 

The Mylapore Festival is sponsored by Sundram Finance and takes place every year in the month of Margazhi, on the eve of the harvest festival of Pongal. I got an email from a relative in the US to go to the 6.30am concert at Nageswara Rao Park on Jan 3, where two girls, Sruti aged 13 and her sister Jayshree aged 11 from San Jose, would be giving a Carnatic vocal concert for the Mylapore Fest. This was a must attend program as we would be meeting the kids for the first time. Dozens of people were walking briskly along the paths, some were doing yoga, others their stretches and a few their morning laughter exercise. There on the green lawn was a low dais with beautiful floral decoration and a blanket for the musicians to sit on. Violinist Karthikeyan and mridangist Ambur Padmanabhan accompanied Sruti and Jayshree Sarathy in their concert. These are supposed to be mike-less kutcheris, so one sometimes had to strain to hear the music, especially when the cuckoos decided to call out to each other and many flights droned past overhead. The instrumentalists adjusted the volume of playing admirably so as not to drown out the vocals.  
Sruti and Jayshree
It was a nice, friendly setting surrounded by trees and greenery. At any given time, there were at least 100 people in the audience. Also present were a whole bunch of TV cameras and photographers making me wonder if, at times, there were more press persons than rasikas! It was interesting to hear the conversations buzzing around me - "They are from America? But their pronunciation is so perfect! Are they training there regularly to give a concert of such caliber? Who is their guru? Are they performing in any other sabha? Do they plan to become concert musicians?" Question after question fired like bullets whizzed around me. That was a side concert of its own.    

How did they come to perform in the festival in the first place? The parents had read about the festival and called the contact person in Sundram Finance, who told them that selection process was imperative, and requested some audio recordings of the girls. Based on that, Sruti and Jayshree actually ended up being the first act of the Mylapore Festival's Concert in the Park this year! They sang with a lot of confidence because they have performed in the US but this is the first time they are giving a concert in India.  

They would have been the envy of any performer because apart from hundreds of photos being taken, 3 television channels interviewed them. It was interesting to overhear what they had to say. Yes, they love to come to Chennai for the December season and feast on the music programs; they learn music to be in touch with Indian culture because this is one way they can identify with India. Their mother is a singer too and they have been interested in music from a young age. It was a unique experience to perform without a mike and in a natural setting. And Sruti was also politically correct in her interviews, never failing to thank Sundram Finance for giving them the lovely opportunity!  

I missed the opening day but managed to attend the second day of Visesha Kala Poshakam, the II Year International Art Festival of Dance and Music presented by Sri Sumukhi Rajasekharan Memorial Foundation. The evening started with Swati Tirunal Samarpanam, a thematic presentation by Sujatha Mohan and Sardha Sethuraman. One could see the stamp of their guru Padma Subrahmanyam's style. Blue seems to be the favored costume color this season and the duo were also clad in blue with chrome yellow border. "Bhavayami Raghuramam" was rendered beautifully by vocalist Gopa Kumar. It was a change to see the vocalist actually look at the dancers when singing!  
Sujatha Mohan and Sardha Sethuraman
Nithya S Ramamurthy
The 10 year old Nithya S Ramamurthy was next to showcase her talent. A disciple of Sudha Chandrasekhar of Michigan, she danced to taped music. The first item Kavuthuvams, was a choreography of guru Kuppiah Pillai. The other items she performed were an Alarippu in naatai, Devi Sthuthi, a Tulsidas bhajan "Sriramachandra kripalu bhajamana..." sung by OS Arun, Natanam Aadinaar, an Oothukaadu Venkatakavi composition "Neeradha sama neela Krishna..." sung by the Chinmaya sisters, Lalgudi Jayaraman's Thillana in Desh and a perky Kavadi chindu sung by Sowmya. Nithya performed with great confidence and ease and it was also noteworthy that the items were child friendly, yet succinctly brought out her talent and energies to the fore.  
J Janet
The third performer of the evening was the petite 11 year old J Janet from Trichy. She is a disciple of Vijaya Mukundan for the past 6 years and had her arangetram in June 2007. All one can say is, she's a tiny dynamo! The Pushpanjali was followed by an invocation to lord Ganapathy. The varnam was performed to "Konjum salangai." The next was the snake dance, where the supple Janet displayed perfect body control as she performed intricate acrobatic like karanas as the snake twisting to "nadarmudimel irrukkum nalla paambey." Maybe one last saw some of these poses in photographs of Kumari Kamala! One could recall the karanas on the Saranagapani temple gopuram as well as the complicated postures in the Darasuram temple sculptures. It also reminded me of the gotipua dancers that I had recently seen in 'Dhara.' The recital ended with a vibrant Thillana. The accompaniment was provided by Balakrishnan on vocal, guru Vijaya Mukundan on nattuvangam, Vasudevan on mridangam and Vinod on violin.  

Both the children presented such riveting performances that one's eyes never left the stage at any moment.  

The guest of honor Narthaki Nataraj commended the meticulous training by the gurus of Nithya and Janet. As much as the parents have encouraged and supported their daughters, their gurus had meticulously moulded them step by step. Narthaki and many students of guru Kittappa Pillai branched out on their own only after his demise, and she stressed the need to stick to one's guru for guidance as long as possible and learn every single thing from them. Seeing Janet perform, Narthaki said art indeed had no caste and religion barriers. Commenting on Sujatha and Sardha’s performance, Narthaki urged teachers not to get too busy only teaching, but to also perform.   

The audience psyche is so puzzling. Why is it that people, who come to watch a particular performer, leave immediately after that artiste's performance? Can't people stay back and enjoy other talents too? Young children show so much dedication to their art form that would put a senior to shame, and encouraging them by your presence will motivate and encourage them to pursue their art despite pressures in studies.  

Three captivating performances by young prodigies, all in one day...a happy day indeed! 
Now maybe the seniors should think about slowly giving up or at least slowing down!