When Carnatic vocalist R K Srikantan passed away recently the state lost one of its most respected figures in the fine arts. A Padma Bhushan awardee and a nonagenarian who continued to perform till the very end, he never stopped perfecting the one thing he was passionate about - music. I met him a couple of years ago to interview him for an article that I was writing.
In response to the secret of his being active well into his ninth decade, he said, "For me, it's not just music but also the way we lead our lives - the food that we eat, the time spent in useful activities instead of frivolous pursuits. The thing to remember is to have good habits and everything in the right proportion." The caring, the attention to detail and the single-minded pursuit of the art form that Srikantan demonstrated in his life is what made him such a great music personality.
He was not merely a teacher but also a coach. Teaching is rarely a one-way process where the teacher imparts knowledge, in this case music, and the student imbibes it. It's a two-way street where the student imbibes learning and values imparted by the teacher or coach and learns by practicing. Srikantan's enormous self-discipline and strong daily routine made a really strong impression and reminded me of my own music teacher, the late Seethalakshmi Venkatesan, another doyen in the same field, who was also an example of a teacher, coach and inspiration.
In the traditional gurukul system of learning music, the student lived with the teacher, as a member of his household. It meant household chores, taking care of the teacher's personal needs to liaising with the external world if needed. Almost all the greats in the music fraternity, certainly the ones belonging to an earlier era, learnt not just about music but a great deal about life and skills. It's a far cry from students in today's world who question, analyse and debate with the teacher and not just on the finer points of music.
Teachers need to be conscious of one fact that they inevitably become role models for the students to a certain extent. As Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets (famous puppet characters) said, “Kids don't remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.” It's all about leaving a legacy for the next generation. And R K Srikantan certainly has left a legacy that will serve generations of music students to come.