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Many strings to the bow



The music of life... L. Subramanium and Kavita Krishnamurthy with their three children. — Photo: V. Sreenivasa Murthy

ACCLAIMED VIOLINIST L. Subramaniam gives priority to his family. It's not just the way he quaintly announces, "Now my wife will sing a song," when he performs with Bollywood playback star Kavita Krishnamurthy. It's also not that she reciprocates with statements like "Every girl would like to have her husband's name attached to hers," and calls it a "compromise" that in Bollywood she has to be known by her maiden name, since Kavita Subramaniam might not have the same recall and sale value. It's his concern to spend as much time as possible with his three children, Seethaa, Ambi and Raju. Despite his highflying status as a celebrity musician and composer, he has always avoided attending parties to which the children are not invited, says Subramaniam.

And it was paying attention to the children that brought him and Kavita together. "We met in a studio for a song I was doing for a film," recalls Kavita. Taken by her voice, he asked her to join him in a global fusion album. It was Kavita's first experience with fusion music, she says, and also her first opportunity to meet the children. Circumstances seemed to be conspiring towards a union. Projects kept bringing them together, she got on with the family. But as a responsible father, Subramaniam could not bring himself to propose marriage without knowing how his children, who had lost their mother when quite young, felt about it. It was Seethaa, then 15, who sensed Daddy's dilemma and gave him the go-ahead.

"The best thing about us is friendship," says Kavita. "The studio is very much a part of our house. Music is why we are alive." Trained in Hindustani music under stalwarts like Pandit Jasraj and best remembered for her hits in Mr. India, Khamoshi - The Musical, 1942 A Love Story, and, more recently, the Devdas numbers choreographed by Pandit Birju Maharaj, Kavita is more than self-effacing when she calls herself "just a Bollywood singer", saying, "He has been extremely supportive even though he is such a great musician." Seethaa, currently studying law at Bangalore University, plans to be a professional musician. A singer, she declares, "Law school is great when I attend it." Into her third year, she admits to no intention of practicing law. She's doing the course because she feels it's important to have a good education and a degree, and also because, "I've always liked academics. I'm a bit of a nerd that way." Well, her father is a medical doctor too, so it might be considered a tradition.

Some formidable names figure in the family tree: L. Subramaniam's uncles, the vocalist Ramnad Krishnan, Ramnad Ishwaran, violinist Venkatachalam, and his father, violinist Lakshminarayana, who he feels undoubtedly had the greatest influence over him. Then there are his brothers, L. Vaidyanathan and L. Shankar, with whom Subramaniam played trio violin concerts. "My grandparents also used to sing. My mother Seethalakshmi sang and played the veena," he recounts. "My father was my hero. I wanted to play like him. In those days Carnatic violin was not in the mainstream. But my father's vision was, why shouldn't we also perform at places like the Lincoln Centre in New York." This vision and the support of musicians like Palghat Mani Iyer, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar and others, recalls Subramaniam, helped him reach his present status.

If Subramaniam is continuing a legacy passed on through the generations, his children are ready to take it further. Plenty of talent, lots of energy, multiple skills. It doesn't make for a placid existence. As for bringing up such children - the boys are now 12 and 15 - the father, who teaches them regularly, says, "We feel they can do more and they are not doing it. All parents have that problem."

But does constant travelling and performing mean life may not have its `normal' cornerstones? Ask Boo, the family dog, proudly described as "a pure bred street dog". No doubt, she misses the family when they are away. "But she makes up for it," explains Seetha, "By eating all my shoes."

Not too much trouble for a family that wears so many hats!

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