Veena’s whiz kid

A photograph of the Kanchi Mahaperiyava shares room space with a notation book of Tyagaraja’s Panchanaratna kritis and large poster of Michael Jackson. In the middle sits the audio equipment. This is where vainika Rajhesh Vaidhya gives vent to his creativity.

Rajhesh, who is making a name for himself as the artist whose “fingers move at a blistering pace on his electric and amplified stringed instrument,” is in the midst of coordinating his Anusham Chamber Concerts, practising for solo performances scheduled for the Season, and working on an album. “I love this hectic pace,” says the veena whiz kid during a chat. “This is what I know best.”

RajheshVaidhya_864875eWith ghatam and mridangam vidwan K. M. Vaidyanathan (who was a regular for artists such as MLV) for a father, music was a natural progression for Vaidhya. “I love playing the mridangam. But my mother Vasantha wanted me learn the veena,” and that’s how “I ended up as a vainika.” Helping him hone his skills as a child were gurus Jeyalakshmi and Rama Nambinarayanan.

His early years were spent in Delhi accompanying dancers including Swapna Sundari (“My debut was in Pondicherry when I was 13.”), Sonal Mansingh, Yamini Krishnamurthy and Bharti Shivaji. “I enjoyed every moment, but wanted to go solo.”

So his father contacted close friend, maestro Chitti Babu, and Rajhesh’s luck changed. So did his outlook to music. The two-and-a-half years of gurukula vasam with Chitti Babu was what “I call privilege. My years with him shaped me and my music. Do you know how many kritis I learnt from him?” A pregnant pause later he smiles, “Just one! ‘Etavunara’ in Kalyani… My time with my guru was spent in perfecting the art of plucking and raga playing!”

Slowly, Rajhesh found opportunities to perform solo. But playing during the Season eluded him. “I started approaching sabhas from 2002. It was finally in 2006 that I took a sabha stage in December. Of course, there was no looking back after that.” He may have performed all over the world, but his 1995 concert at Kanchipuram is what he holds close to his heart. “Ghatam maestro Vikku Vinayakaram, who is a relative, took me to the holy city and I got a chance to perform on Periyava’s birthday. In fact, Vikku mama accompanied me on the ghatam. It was an unforgettable experience.”

While Rajhesh venerates tradition, he is also a man of the future. He tries to find music in different things around him. “Do you know the strings on my veena are actually electric wires? During a trip to Germany, I saw a wire lying on the floor in my hotel room. It turned out to be an electric wire. I strung it on to my instrument and loved the sound it produced. Ever since, the wires have replaced the regular strings of my veena.”

Being a gadget freak was an advantage. “I had no clue about sound engineering or computers. But my thirst for experimentation helped me figure out how to marry Carnatic music with technology,” says the Pondicherry-born Delhi-bred Rajhesh.

Speed… that word shapes Rajhesh’s style. “I remember listening to a recording of the genius S. Balachander. In the end of the tape, there’s a gap of 45 seconds. Within that time, he played ‘Raghuvamsa Sudha.’ Now, imagine at what speed he must have played!” Another artist who left a mark on Rajhesh’s mind was L. Shankar. “His violin tone was out of this world.” Also, the masterful fingering techniques of Mandolin Shrinivas, and the powerful vocals of Dr. Balamuralikrishna motivate this 38-year-old, whose latest acquisition is a tattoo of a veena on his arm. “If it is possible to play like that on those instruments, then it is most definitely possible on the veena,” he says, adding, “I play to satisfy my soul.”