CHENNAI: It’s not easy to define historian Vikram Sampath in a word. Historian is a word we prefer out of the many available. And while he juggles being a singer, author, archivist apart from, of course, a historian, he seems to have no time for himself or his family. “I hardly meet my relatives when I come to Chennai,” he tells City Express, after delivering a lecture at the 14th Natya Darshan on the theme ‘Lotuses Blossom: The Creative Process’, held at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan on Saturday. And while the conversation slowly picks up pace, we realise towards the end that Vikram has spoken about almost everything — from his love for Chennai to his look-alike, and his plans to make The Archive of Indian Music, founded by him, more user-friendly. Excerpts from the interview:
When I was learning music from Srimati Bombay Jayashri, a couple of years ago, I used to frequent Chennai (from Bengaluru) for my music classes. That doesn’t mean I’ve reduced my number of visits to the city now. Chennai’s almost like my second home. My father is a Tamilian. So, I do have a deep connection with the city. However, I come to meet my relatives who stay here, rarely. It’s mostly for work.
I’ve always had packed visits. For instance, I came today morning and will have to make a move early tomorrow. I hardly find time to call and meet my friends or relatives. Moreover, since I’ve started heading the Southern Regional Centre of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts, I guess my visits are always going to be a chock-a-block.
Friendship with Sikkil Gurucharan
I try meeting vocalist Sikkil Gurucharan when I come here. He’s a good friend of mine. In fact, we became friends because people used to keep telling me that I look like him. So I wanted to know whether we actually look alike and somehow we met up somewhere and our friendship developed. Even when he comes to Bengaluru, he makes it a point to visit my home.
I might go to Narada Gana Sabha today evening and see if I’ll get tickets for the scheduled concert. I, however, wouldn’t be able to stay back due to time constraints. You know, I’m now a government employee as well! (Smiles) Having said that, I listen to music throughout the year. So I don’t have to make a special effort to visit Chennai during Margazhi.
Managing Diverse Roles
It’s tough to put them in brackets. All co-exist for me. It’s just that something takes more importance or consumes more time. That’s about it.
Love for Music
Initially when I started learning music, I wanted to be a performer. But somewhere, I realised performance wasn’t the main criteria. There are other aspects as well. You need to document music, preserve it, treasure and value it for the next generation. So, I’ve been contextualising it in the historical perspective and I think that’s more important than getting onto the stage and giving a performance. I still learn music from Srimathi Jayanthi Kumaresh in Bengaluru. Music is an art that’ll stay with me till I die.
Turning to History
I didn’t like the way history was taught to me, not that I detested it. Indian history can never be detested. But I got fascinated by history by watching a serial based on the life and times of Tipu Sultan. And that’s how I developed an interest in the subject. Even the books I’ve written are based on sudden impulses that just motivated me to investigate and come up with the biographies. In fact, it took me six years to come up with My Name is Gauhar Jaan! I had to go to places like Germany, speak to a lot of people. So, it involved a lot of field work, but I really loved it.
Market for Books of History Genre
Every genre of book has a market. It is important for people to know the life of artistes, challenges encountered by them, and whether they overcame it or succumbed to it. An artiste’s life has many messages to convey to the audience. In fact, my second book went on to win the Sahitya Akademi Award and I felt extremely elated. It’s not that only Half Girlfriend has a market today!
I haven’t made any plans as such. But I do have plans to upgrade my archive. I want to make it a bit more user-friendly.