For more than a month this space has been remaining idle and I keep searching for topics to write. It can be 'writer's block' or simply some other excuse. But now I am back again and not with happiness that I have found something to write, but with a heavy heart. September 19, 2014 will remain a sad day for me and other music lovers due to the sudden and untimely death of U Srinivas who was more recognized as Mandolin Srinivas. If chess is to Vishwanathan Anand, saxophone to Kadri Gopalnath, so was the western instrument Mandolin very unique to U Srinivas. It takes so much courage, commitment and will power to bring in something new and make it widely popular especially in the ocean of Carnatic music. Like guitar and violin (or fiddle), mandolin is a predominantly a western instrument belonging to the lute family and today when I 'wikied' for the word Mandolin, I found a lengthy detail related to the instrument, but mostly related to western countries and when I pressed 'Ctr+F' I could find some four lines about our U Srinivas tucked somewhere. When I read the list of famous Mandolin performers, it was lengthy and all of them are from Western world, except for U. Srinivas which I could find only with the help of Ctr + F. Thanks to Srinivas, I can distinguish the sound of mandolin with so much ease and I never cared to notice how the instrument looked like. Only after hearing the news of his death, I searched for the images of mandolin to see how it looked like. If some are born to make path breaking inventions and discoveries during their lifetime, Srinivas with the help of his father discovered that Carnatic music can be played in mandolin also. The initial training was given by his father who discovered the talent in Srinivas. He sent him to a guru but as the guru did not know how to play the mandolin, he would sing the song so that Srinivas could play the song in the instrument. Before anybody realized it, he started giving concerts with his instrument at the tender age of 9. He had given concerts throughout the world, and I think he deserved more than 'Padmashree' award conferred by the Indian Government. But now, it is too late and we can console ourselves by telling that this unique personality is above these civilian awards. All through his life, his name was associated with mandolin. We cannot separate mandolin and Srinivas unlike Lalgudi Jayraman, Kunnukudi Vaidyanathan, S Balachander (Veena fame)........
Because I am an ardent listener of carnatic music and trained in the same, I grew up listening to the music in our radio and good old Doordarshan channel. I am not fortunate enough to see this man's live performance. As he belongs to my era, U Srinivas was a kind of hero to me like Vishwanathan Anand. I can never forget his smile that he used to have when he was performing. He always used to smile at his accompanists while he was playing his dear instrument. That smile used to say all. For him it was a plaything with which he could play in any way he wanted to. During the Doordarshan days, I used to wait every Sunday afternoon to watch 'Spirit of Unity' program in which music and dance programs were aired. I had watched lots of his performances in those episodes. He also used to come to Trivandrum to give concerts at Soorya cultural programs held at an auditorium. The sound of mandolin is not subdued like veena and not heightened like violin, and it stands out on its own. Srinivas brought in mandolin and merged with Carnatic music in such a manner that we feel that this is suitable to Carnatic music just like Veena, flute and violin.
I am never a fan of child prodigies because I believe that they achieve too much too soon and they have nothing else left to achieve for the rest of their lives. I am amazed why death snatches them away earlier than other normal mortals. Srinivas used to have personal problems and that maybe one of the reasons for his very untimely death. Unless these personalities live to be nonagenarians, we can never imagine that there is death waiting for them at their doorstep. As I finish writing this emotional article, 'Vatapi Ganapathim' which he played in his instrument keeps ringing in my ears.
Mandolin Srinivas, we thought you were immortal, and of course you are immortal through mandolin. Long live the one and only mandolin genius!