A lean young man, dressed impeccably in kurta and dhoti, sharp eyes, chewing vethalai — that was violinist Nagai Sriram, who passed away recently. The Carnatic music world is shocked over his untimely demise.
Born to Vasantha and Rangasami, Sriram initially learnt from his grandmother, Komalavalli. He underwent further training under his uncle, Nagai Muralidharan.
Our musical journey began together. As young learners, we often practised together. We won awards together — Yuva Puraskar from Sangeet Natak Academy, and Kalki Krishnamurthy award. We have performed together several concerts in the U.S., Australia, Europe, UAE, and all over India. He was the recipient of the best violinist award from The Music Academy for eight consecutive years as well as Shanmukha Sangeetha Shiromani from Shanmukhananda Sabha, Mumbai.
Ready for challenges
There are two kinds of violin accompaniment. First, when the violinist does not try to reproduce the vocalist’s style but plays in a manner that does not disturb the vocalist’s imagination. Second, the violinist inspires the vocalist to give his/her best and throws more challenges, thereby raising the concert’s standard several notches higher. Nagai Sriram undoubtedly belonged to the second category. This was a quality associated with my guru, the legendary violinist Lalgudi Jayaraman.
Sriram could reproduce with ease T.N. Seshagopalan’s kanakkus, T.V. Sankaranarayanan’s sarvalaghus, the chaste music of Hyderabad Brothers, Neyveli Santhanagopalan’s soulful phrases, Ravikiran’s illusionary concepts, Somwya’s rare ragas, Sanjay Subramaniam’s flair, and Malladi brothers’s classicism. The best part about Sriram was he would always be smiling whether he had reproduced the vocalist’s idea successfully or not.
He loved and relished impromptu challenges on stage. He could gauge the mood of the main artiste’s as well as the pulse of the audience in a jiffy. He would embellish and elevate especially my RTP concepts. An “Oh bale” accompanied by a smile, and his musical responses to my swara/kanakku posers will remain etched in my memory. A viral video of Sriram alternating between Nalinakanti and Bindumalini ragas in a Swarakshara RTP at our concert in Parthasarathy Swami Sabha proves his musical skills.
Another concert that comes to mind is the one we performed at Muscat. His violin strings broke midway through the performance. Tout de suite, he fixed it and played a super-fast sangathi in Bhairavi, enthralling the rasikas. But artistes and organisers were often miffed by his last-minute excuses for not being able to perform at a concert.
When Sriram performed with his guru Nagai Muralidharan, he would prefer to play in an unobtrusive manner. Be it a melancholic Subhapantuvarali or a sedate sama or a brisk Begada, his music was marked by intellectuality and emotion.
He shared a great rapport with percussion exponents such as Mannargudi Easwaran, Patri Sathish Kumar, K. Arunprakash, K.V. Gopalakrishnan, and Guruprasad. It was fun to watch him impersonate yesteryear legends.
Gone too soon, my friend. You will always be missed on stage.
The writer is a well-known Carnatic vocalist.