There was this young boy in a boarding school at Dehradun. Like many other students that we had met during the last fortnight, he was also listening to a Carnatic concert for the very first time. From the moment I started my presentation with Hamsadwani varnam, he broke into uncontrollable laughter, masking it behind his handkerchief. Unluckily for him, he was in the second row and I could clearly see his amusement which had now spread infectiously to his friends nearby. As was my protocol for this tour, I invited him to the stage to strum my Sur sangam/Tanpura for the concert. The idea to ask volunteers from the audience to play the Tanpura was mainly to give them an assurance that we are quite normal to interact with and to give them a first hand experience of all that happens on-stage during a concert. This boy was initially petrified that I had called his bluff but bravely told me the truth when I asked why he couldn't stop laughing. He said bluntly, " Your expressions, sir! " I was struck by his honesty and decided to turn the direction of the concert towards his perspective. Agreed, we musicians use a lot of hand gestures and limb movements in a concert. In my mind, I asked myself why I am moving my hands so rapidly while singing and what makes it so necessary and involuntary. The answer also flashed immediately that I shared with the students. It is all mainly because of the creative aspect of our music. I vividly remember my father requesting me to move my arms a little, now and then, while singing as a 14 year old boy, lest I look like a robot, rigidly repeating line after line in succession. My grandmothers told him that it will happen eventually. Now, my father sometimes has to ask me to curb my mannerism of painting in the air while singing. It is too late, I tell him, because creative expressions probably trigger that part of the brain which sends commands to our hands. I now asked the boy to stand up and talk a little about his school and teachers. He fluently described everything in a minute and liberally swayed his arms to drive home his point. Well, my little friend, that is exactly what we musicians are doing. We explain in our own language, what we were taught and what we are thinking at that moment, striking a delicate balance between the two, while doing so. By the time this concert ended, most of the young kids were aware and in awe of the "manodharmam" part of our music.

This is just one of the several unforgettable experiences that V. Sanjeev, J. Balaji and I had, during our 15 day tour of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in addition to Chandigarh. This was a meticulously organised circuit by SPIC MACAY, an award winning movement aimed at spreading our rich cultural heritage to the youth of India. It was a tour that brought us in contact with the outside world, so to speak. A world that lies beyond our regular kutcheri audience who are aware of everything from raga-names to individual idiosyncrasies of every artist in business. This was a world of young minds to whom, music was mainly a choice among Bollywood, "fusion", some North Indian classical and other ancient, unheard forms of music. The bitter truth was that many of the students had not heard our music before. I stopped considering that bitter after the first few concerts, because, for them to appreciate something, they need to be aware of its existence, the relevance of it in their daily lives and its ability to invoke emotions as an art form. These three aspects became our motto for the next fortnight as we, show after show, performed to packed school and college auditoriums to students who now hopefully acknowledge South Indian music as something that is still young and cool!

It was a huge learning curve for the three of us because we rediscovered the dynamism in our music. Each place was different, the audience ranged from a motley bunch of little kids in a small music school in Kangra Valley to the highly disciplined army school students who are about to become India's next batch of NDA cadets to serve the nation, not to forget, the scientific but appreciative minds at IIT Roorkee. This tour gave us the golden chance to understand our music from different perspectives. One girl from Welham School, minutes after the recent Magsaysay Awards were announced, asked me whether musicians are being more socially responsible now than before. My answer was that while it is an individual's choice to be socially responsible, how to frame his or her expression of the art form in a way that brings more participation and patronage, is becoming more important nowadays. A musician needs to be aware of how their art impacts the society and how the society can push it further in the right direction.

Then, there were these two sisters from a lovely little school that educates and empowers women and children in Purkal Village, who prompted me to create ragas in their names as a part of a fun exercise mainly because they wanted to know how our raga system works. These two, for sure, will now remember the process of omitting certain notes from our Melakarta ragas and arriving at a new unused combination. Hopefully they will spread this experience to their friends and family who in turn will push our reach even further. In another instance, I was forewarned about a particularly indifferent audience in a management school at Uttarakhand. While racking my brains on how to make my concert interesting, there was this student whose mobile phone blared the ringtone, "Neruppu da" as I entered the auditorium. While I was happy at the amazing following that our Thalaivar commanded even among students in Dehradun, I felt happier to share the news about the original Kapaleeshwarar in Chennai who is at the center of music all the time with scores of composers singing His praise since time immemorial. I ended the concert with Kapali in the ragam Mohanam much to the students' amusement on realizing how relevant this music is. The staff later shared their happiness in stating that the receptiveness of the students was something they had rarely seen before. It just boils down to one simple fact - South Indian classical music in all its purity and glory is as contemporary as ever.

One striking feature at every venue was the timing of applause. Over the years, I think our brains have evolved to clap after every raga alapana, after a long set of swaras ending with a mathematical formula and after a percussion solo when the song begins again. This tour broke that convention. It was a raw audience to whom sound took precedence over content. If the sound was impressive, they clapped. If they didnt understand, they stayed silent. Hence we were more than happy to be interrupted by claps and cheers right in the middle of sarva laghu swaras, a long sustained note of Sa or Ga, short exchanges of swaras between me and Sanjeev on the violin culminating in a joint adventure of notes, thundering beats in different speeds on the mridangam by Balaji, a cascade of brighas in Karaharapriya ragam centered around the upper Madhyamam, a successful attempt at hitting the top most note or even a simple chitta swaram of Nenerunchinanu in Malavi ragam. At the same time, a beautiful alapana of Khamas by Sanjeev was met with pin drop silence in the end. In a way, the mood was set for the sublime "Santana Gopalakrishnam" that followed. It was evident that this new audience loved anything that was exciting and dynamic. Our music has so much and more of these two variants. Take the chitta swaram of the song Sri Jalandharam in Gambhiranattai, for instance. It involves singing without taking a breath, 4 cycles of zig zag swaras for about 20 seconds that sent the Pinegrove school kids in Dharampur and Subathu district into a gleeful frenzy. Another set of students in Himachal pradesh could not get enough of the ragam Niroshta which has its name, scale, lyrics and chitta swaram all set to the constraint that the lower and upper lip can never touch each other. This was the brain of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavathar almost 90 years ago. Giving the young listeners, a glimpse of such works made our music more endearing and awesome.

Another historic moment was presenting our music at the legendary Old Gaiety Theatre in Shimla on two consecutive days. We are all so used to getting down from the car just outside the green room for our concerts that, having to walk 15 minutes uphill to get to the theatre was a unique experience in itself. The theatre, which is the oldest surviving Gothic structure in the country today, built in 1877, was hosting its very first Carnatic music recital and that alone was a reason good enough for us to power walk those 15 minutes uphill on The Mall. The session with school students was again, stimulating in terms of the questions asked and demonstrations requested. Sample this- “ Why are so many swaras shaken and stirred in Indian music while Western music has sound frequencies in the exact place?”. We had to then explain the concept of Gamakas or oscillations and ended singing ragas like Dhanyasi and Sahana to make him understand that What You See Is Not What You Get in Carnatic music. The swaras that you see on paper end up being flamboyantly modified and paint a totally different but splendid picture. I heard later that the boy asked his school teacher to give him CDs of our concerts. Humbled, I was.

To sum up, this was one assignment that took us out of our regular environment and enabled us to speak to a different diaspora. The prime focus was not to showcase the depth of our knowledge, but to make them appreciate the striking similarities between various styles of music and how the sum of all parts becomes the grand entity called Indian Classical music. There was many a moment of epiphany for the three of us, bearing witness to the true meaning of Hans Christian Anderson's quote, " Where words fail, music speaks".

Sikkil Gurucharan