Musical vision: Meet Jaisankar, visually impaired Chennai vocalist and teacher

Karaikal R Jaisankar, a Carnatic vocalist and music teacher, was not only integrated in a mainstream school but also completed a postgraduate diploma course in music.
Musical vision: Meet Jaisankar, visually impaired Chennai vocalist and teacher
Musical vision: Meet Jaisankar, visually impaired Chennai vocalist and teacher

Karaikal R Jaisankar, clad in a spotless white veshti and a maroon kurta gets up from his chair, goes to an inner room from the hall and brings out his tanpura. He then places the tanpura on the mat, which he had spread on the floor earlier. He gets ready for his rendition. Looking at him, no one can imagine he is visually challenged.

Jaisankar’s father, Guru Ramamoorthy, narrates his determination in turning his son into an independent and knowledgeable Carnatic vocalist since his childhood.

Guru, who hails from Karaikal, recalls, “Within a few months after he was born, we were told that our child is visually disabled. His horoscope predicted that he will be talented in a particular artform. When he was seven years old, we started taking him to music class. Our native place had a kutcheri in a prominent sabha every month and we took him for the same.”

Despite his son’s physical challenge, Guru, a retired school teacher, was particular that Jaisankar should be integrated in a mainstream school.

Giving half the credit to Jaisankar’s school teachers, Guru says with pride, “By tracing the alphabets and numbers he learnt and even wrote all his exams till Class 9. My wife and I used to read out to him and he memorised the subjects. He was bright in studies throughout his school days. He had a scribe for his board exams and scored 85%.”

As a child, Jaisankar learnt music from three gurus and took part in several school solo singing competitions. Soon after he finished school, Jaisankar’s guru in Karaikal advised his parents to enroll him in an undergraduate diploma course in Rukmini Devi College of Fine Arts, Kalakshetra Foundation.

The next two years at Kalakshetra were a blessing and a turning point in the talented singer’s life.

Jaisankar shares, “I just did as I was advised by my gurus and parents; went for music classes, attended school till Class 10 and gave performances in my native village. After joining Kalakshetra, my horizons widened and I was very clear on becoming a professional Carnatic vocalist. I was able to complete my 5-year postgraduate diploma course in 4 years.”

How did he cope with the rigorous course that involved a lot of music theory and exams, and manage mobility within the college?

Jaisankar reminiscences pleasantly, “Indeed there was lot of theory to study. My friends used to read out the theory notes for me during review sessions daily and also during exam time. They would pick the books from the library and my parents would read them to me at home. While walking to college, if my friends saw me, they offered me a lift and took me to the classroom and guided me around the campus as well.”

After completing his undergraduate course in Kalakshetra, he received the Best Outgoing Student Award – 2001 from ex-President, R Venkatraman, at the convocation.

Since 2002, Jaisankar has performed at various sabhas in Chennai and abroad, and won several accolades. He recently had a series of concerts in the US and also judged a thematic competition held by the Carnatic Music Association of North America. Last year he was conferred the “Promising Differently Abled Artiste” at the Parallel Music Festival by the Rotary Club of Madras Coromandel.

However, Jaisankar’s most memorable occasion was playing the tanpura and rendering vocal support for his guru Kalaimamani Vairamangalam Lakshminarayanan. “These are the most precious moments in my career that I will treasure all my life.”

Jaisankar shares an equally close bond with his other former guru as well – Thiruvengadu A Jayaraman.

He says, “Right from music, spirituality to philosophy of life to deities and temples of south India, I have discussed a lot with Jayaraman mama. He made me realise the importance of knowing the outline and meaning of every keerthanai (song). This immersed me in music and helped me render songs with bhakti bhaavam (devotion and emotions).”

After the demise of his gurus, he learnt from well-known vocalist N Vijay Siva.

The musician’s interest and forte lies in performing thematic concerts. He has rendered thematic concerts such as compositions by Thyagaraja, Gopalakrishna Bharathi and Papanasam Sivan, and keerthanais on Muruga and Krishna.

Apart from solo performances he is open to collaborating with other musicians and vocalists. “If I get such an opportunity, why not?” affirms Jaisankar.

Jaisankar started teaching music in 1998 when he was as young as 16 years old.

“When I was doing my undergraduate diploma course, a neighbour approached me to teach their child music. Vairamangalam sir not only gave me permission but also encouraged me to take classes saying I will get to learn a lot at the same time. Soon I got about 10 students of various backgrounds who were interested in learning music,” says Jaisankar.

After completing his studies, he got an opportunity to be a full-time faculty for the UGDP music course in Kalakshetra. Right from taking practical and theory classes to setting question papers and correcting them, he managed it all with the help of other faculty members and office staff.

Says Jaisankar, “I used to read out the questions for the test papers and my colleagues would write them down. The office staff would then type the question paper out. My parents would read the answer sheets and I would give the marks. The students used to enjoy my sessions and have written pleasant notes in their season greeting cards, which I still treasure.”

Over the years, he started getting requests from students abroad and that is when he began taking online classes via Skype. He uses a specialised software that reads aloud incoming numbers, messages received and the keys pressed.

“Over time, I have become proficient in this technology. I have memorised the order of students mentioned in the Skype list and also the schedules. So I know whose class is coming up.”

Ask him whether he enjoys teaching or performing, he smiles, “I enjoy both equally. Each student is different and so I cannot teach everyone the same way. Hence it is a learning process for me as well. I do travel for my concerts, but I do full justice to teaching as well. I feel very satisfied and happy when I impart the art to others. Apart from imbibing a lot teaching qualities from my own gurus, I do improvise on my own methods depending on the requirement for each student.”

Watch a video of Jaisankar conducting a music class via Skype:

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