The 45-year old U Srinivas, a Padma Shri awardee, always had a flair for the mandolin. When he was 9, he gave his first performance where with precocious ease he played his father’s ‘broken’ mandolin. An appreciative Vasu Rao, the renowned music director, took him to Kollywood. There Srinivas played all the gamakas perfectly for a song from Sankarabharanam. Boney Kapoor, producer of the film, paid him Rs. 175; Rs.100 more than the remuneration for a mandolin player at that time!
Three years later, at the Madras Music Season, Srinivas held the audience spell bound. That audience included veena maestro S Balachandar and star vocalist T N Seshagopalan. So enthralled was Seshagopalan that he gave the young Srinivas a gold ring for his performance. A prodigy had arrived at the age of 13, playing in the midst of legends.
What made Srinivas a legend was the incongruity of the instrument he chose: mandolin; for the world of Carnatic music. Like with other geniuses, he was disbelieved when he embarked on his journey. Purists refused to accept that a strange instrument like mandolin could capture the gamakas. Every time Srinivas answered his critics through his instrument. Little wonder, the little boy with a western instrument became the talk of the town.
Srinivas was a favorite of the late Tamil Nadu chief minister, MGR, who had first heard him perform at a wedding. When MGR entered, someone told Srinivas to stop playing. But MGR would have none of it. So excited was he that he instructed his attendants to ensure Srinivas played at all AIADMK party functions. The boy wonder thus became the official musician of the state government.
When guitarist John McLaughlin revived his old ensemble Shakti under the name Remember Shakti in 1997, Srinivas joined him, along with Zakir Hussain, Shankar Mahadevan and
V Selvaganesh. Later he collaborated with percussionist A. Sivamani. He rendered performances with Western artistes like Michael Brook, John McLaughlin, Nigel Kennedy, Trey Gunn, Michael Nyman and others. It was famously called the Fusion Genre of music.
Awards followed him
In 1988, he was awarded Padma Shri. In 2010, he was bestowed with the Sangeet Natak Academy Award. He was also the recipient of the prestigious Sangeeta Ratna and the Kalaimamani.
Even at the pinnacle of his career, U Srinivas still remained humble and down to earth. Popular dancer Padma Subramaniam says, “Humility, thy name is Srinivas.”
The ultimate honour is to prefix your mastery to your own name. Very few musicians could achieve the rare feat of prefixing the instrument to their name. Mandolin Srinivas was one among them.
The eclectic young genius succumbed to failed liver transplant in Apollo Hospital. The who’s who of the music and film fraternity expressed their condolences through Twitter, Facebook, Print and other media. One can’t but admire the elegant and magnificent rendition of U Srinivas. At the end, one can only wonder why “God takes those he loves young”.