Shrinivas’s emergence in the world of music was startling. His mandolin (actually a mini-electric guitar) was the first major electronic sound in Carnatic music.
But even more important than his introduction of the mandolin to Carnatic music was the way he used it to dem-onstrate his respect for the art. His instrument was for the music, his music was not a companion for the instrument. I have heard him play at some exquisite concerts where the in-strument became, in fact, incidental in his music. He adhered very consciously and with clear success to the tenets of Carnatic aesthetics. He didn’t manipulate the music to push the agenda of his instrument—that was the integrity of his art. He used to, for instance, talk of listening to geniuses like Rajarat-nam Pillai and wanting to play todi like them.
He made his musical choices and he stood by them at all times. He never tried to explain them, you could take them or leave them and I admired that. He straddled so many musical worlds and with such ease. He would play for Shakti with John McLaughlin one day and perform at the Music Academy the next and there would be no sign of conflict at ei-ther place.
Shrinivas was one of the nicest human beings you could meet. There are few musi-cians who genuinely appreciate the work of another musician but Shrinivas had no qualms about talking about another artist’s work. When you experiment with a new instrument in a musical genre you have to create a language for it. And he created a language for the mandolin when he was all of nine! I don’t believe in divinity but there are moments when I have wondered how this was possible.
Even when he was playing the most mathematically complex piece of music he would be smiling. He played the most exquisite music with ease, none of that ‘look at me, I am playing something so complex’. He smiled and the music came, with such grace.