In Dec 2002, the then President of India Abdul Kalam, presiding over the platinum jubilee celebrations of the Music Academy in Chennai, surprised the audience by bringing on stage a troupe of differently-abled artistes from the DRDO who performed to a poem he had penned on the flowers of the Moghul Gardens at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan, his official residence in Delhi.
“This unique gesture inspired us to conduct an inclusive music fest at the Academy to provide a platform for talented musicians with disability,” says Ramesh Ananth, president, RC Madras Coromandel. The club initiated its maiden edition of the ‘Parallel Music Fest’ (PMF) in 2005 by inviting musically talented students of Karna Vidya, a school for the blind. “For over two decades we have been supporting the students of this school for their higher education and skilling them for employment opportunities. We were thrilled to see the first batch of our students perform alongside mainstream artistes. From then on, there has been no looking back and this is our 16th edition of PMF,” he smiles. The fest is organised on Dec 3 every year, coinciding with the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.
“Our aim is to instil confidence in persons with disability and encourage them to develop their inherent talent. We want them to realise that their handicap is in no way a barrier to what they can achieve if they put their heart and soul into it,” says the club’s PMF chair R Sridhar.
Every year, during the December music season, the Music Academy confers the Sangita Kalanidhi Award on a distinguished artiste. In 2005, visually-challenged violin maestro Dr M Chandrasekaran was honoured with the award and “the Karna Vidya students were in awe of his feat.”
Five years later in 2010, the club, inspired by visually-challenged Hindustani musician Puttaraj Gavai of Gadag, Hubli, instituted the annual PMF Award for the differently-abled Carnatic musicians. “When Gavai died in 2010, over a million fans attended his funeral and the entire town came to a standstill. Such was the popularity of his music, although he was blind,” explains Ananth, adding that the club conferred the first PMF Award on Dr Chandrasekaran.
This year the fest was inaugurated by violin maestro Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi at the Music Academy. “It was a much-awaited event as it was organised after a gap of two years due to the Covid pandemic.” The PMF Awards for three years from 2020 were conferred on eminent differently-abled musicians, along with the Sangita Kalanidhi Awards at the Academy. “It was a dream come true for the handicapped musicians to be honoured by the Academy president N Murali, together with the Sangita Kalanidhi winners,”
It was a cherished moment for Erode Nagaraj, a physically-challenged PMF awardee, to play the mridangam as an accompaniment for a violin rendition by Sangita Kalanidhi winners Lalgudi G J R Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi at the event. A recital by violinist T K Padmanabhan, flautist T Sashidhar, along with K Srivatsa on the mridangam and Nerkunam S Manikandan playing the morsing, all visually-challenged, enthralled the audience. The blind students of Karna Vidya School were equally delighted to showcase their musical prowess for the distinguished audience that included expert musicians.
Every year the club’s PMF committee identifies and provides a platform for the differently-abled classical musicians, be it Carnatic or Hindustani, from across the country, to perform on stage along with main stream artistes. Corporates such as Vodafone, India Cements and Nippon Paints have been partnering with the club year after year for the annual programme. It also helped that “a sizeable number of members were musically-inclined and we have among us Carnatic musician O S Arun who helps us put together fundraisers through his performance,” smiles Sridhar.