If Music Be the Food of Love, Play On

Dr. John Patrick Ojwando
Published: January 2020

After a brief dalliance with the nuances of data analytics, MA Madhuvanthi retraces her steps to rediscover the finer aspects of Indian classical music through research and as she tells Dr. John Patrick Ojwando, it all stems from a rich musical and cultural heritage, a fulfilling childhood and a craving to be the change.

As the fog begins to clear and the crowd retreats safely in the background, left standing in the spotlight will be MA Madhuvanthi with her unmistakable drolly smile, happy to have added a few more notes to a burgeoning musical career. This time around, she finds herself reveling in an even bigger accolade after being cast in the distinguished league of doctorate degree holders of Jain (Deemed-to-be University) with her thesis on acoustic music. “Music has always been my life,” she says. “In addition, I love writing and travelling and remain an avid nature lover.” Post her doctorate, I caught up with the multi-faceted achiever and amongst the things she holds dear to her are yoga classes that she confides mean much more in her scheme of things.

Instrumental to her Success

Hailing from Bengaluru, a city known for its salubrious weather and hospitality, Madhu (as she is affectionately referred at home and outside) nurtured numerous ambitions — to be an astrophysicist; a musician of stature; and, run a full-fledged school of music. She also longed for the day she would make a stub at doctoral studies in a reputable research establishment, perhaps influenced to a large extent by the very fact that she grew up in a family rooted in rich musical traditions. It suffices to say that her doting mother was already ‘striking’ musical notes in the neighbourhood that brought many music enthusiasts to her School of Music.

“I saw music as an entry point in a journey that is ever so fascinating and with a lot of thrills,” she says. “Rather than just wait for things to unfold, I wanted to thrust myself right in its midst.” It is a call fuelled by a deeper sense of yearning – to seek and discover.

Her Own Tune

Today, Madhu finds herself amidst an enviable list of academics even as she meticulously steers her music school. She successfully defended her thesis titled, “Acoustics in Performance of Spaces – With Special Reference to Indian Classical Music” under the guidance of Dr. Meera Rajaram Pranesh. The pioneering study aimed at helping improve the overall experience of a performer and the listener by focusing on the factors that shape their experiences besides acoustics, and the dynamics of different kinds of performance spaces in Indian classical music. According to Madhu, concerts in Indian classical music are as good as the sounds that reach listeners depending on the quality of the acoustics. Complex as the interplay may see, not many studies have attempted to focus on this niche area.

The Starting Point

Recalling her journey so far, Madhu exposes that she had a very interesting childhood. “I grew up in a traditional Indian joint family interacting with family members with varied interests and that exposed me to diverse areas of knowledge and thoughts such as music, science, lateral thinking, philosophy of life, writing, general intelligence, being organised, life skills, amongst others are some of the skills I imbibed without even knowing. At home, my mother, who also happens to be my guru in music, would conduct musical classes at her institute. This became my focus,” she recalls. “I used to do my homework sitting through the music classes thus absorbing much more than I could have imagined. Also there were wonderful batch of friends who made the experience even more memorable.”

Madhu attributes her love for music to these experiences. “First, I must admit I was lucky to have been born into a family that treasured Indian classical music,” she says. “Then through my schooling, I got a chance to attend schools where the focus was not just academics but overall growth of the learners.” Intriguingly, till this time, Madhu was more inclined to science than music. “I was an active member of the Science Club and even nurtured dreams of becoming an astrophysicist. Back then, mathematics and physics were her favourite subjects and even becoming a member of Bangalore Association for Science Education (BASE) regularly attending classes organised by the forum at the planetarium that further advanced her interest in the study of physics. But she did not abandon her quest for music and craving to follow in the footsteps of her mother.

Just another routine

“Two aspects of my quest have been realised – one the doctorate degree in Music, and establishment of Chittaranjani Centre of Music where I teach Carnatic music to students at all stages of learning. Perhaps if I had nurtured the astrophysics dream, the goal of starting a school would have remained just that, a dream,” she reflects.

A double masters holder, in statistics from Bangalore University and Music from the University of Madras, Madhu, found herself in the world of analytics following a campus placement exercise. Here she worked for five years, first in a startup and then, a giant in the field. However, she quit her well-paying corporate career to pursue doctoral studies at JAIN. Two months after she had penned her resignation note, she got the news that she had also been awarded UGC NET for Junior Research Fellowship (JRF). There has been no looking back as her diverse musical background finally paid rich dividends. “I now run my own school of music, write, perform and undertake research projects,” she proudly says. Research is another aspect that features in her daily routine and is inseparable. “I believe a doctoral endeavour is not just a stage but a life-long journey,” she says.

Ever so grateful

With her feet firmly on the ground, Madhu gives massive credits to a lot of people for having been part of her success. Top of the list is her guide. “She is a gem of person,” she says. “The best part of my research is that my guide not only took me through the subject matter but gave me invaluable insights that have made me a good researcher. She also ingrained in me little details – carrying a notebook and a pen at all times, recording just about anything connected to my study, reading, talking and observing. All these contributed immensely to my work that revolved around just one word – acoustics.

This helped me delve deeper into my research topic. Even in silence, she set very lofty goals that yielded the quality of work that I came up with.”

As for the research, Madhu found herself going through hours of extended reading, and the successful completion could not have been possible without the support from the University. Enamoured by the ambience at the campus, innovative practices and strong research anchoring, the journey was made all the more memorable with the quality of work. “Take for instance, the expertise of Dr. Sandeep Shastri. He sets the mood with his grasp of research methodologies at the beginning and unknowingly find yourself aiming for the sky, many a times touching it as well. There is just no limit to what one can do here.”

Struggles along the way

Looking back, Madhu recalls a journey that had its scary moments. “There were initial hiccups in settling to a new task but once the path got cleared, it was smooth sailing. “As a JRF, I was tasked with duties that revolved around organising conferences, seminars and during peak periods, it became a trifle difficult combining work, research and concerts. But again, I had a set of supportive and encouraging people around me. I must mention here the mentorship of Dr. Choodamani Nandagopal, who was the dean when I began my research, and Dr. Soumya Manjunath’s support was invaluable. For those aspiring to pursue research, Madhu has a big piece of advice. “Be yourself because research can be demanding and at the same time enriching and immensely fulfilling,” she insists. “The exhaustion you go through invariably ends with the satisfaction. Soon you find yourself so engrossed in it yet at the end of it all, you will feel happily exhausted. You have to be passionate about the work and any little deviation can blow you away.”

Parting shot

So then what are the lessons learned along the way?

“Loads,” she says. One, it has helped me learn how to engage with people in diverse professions. Secondly, the discipline and the art of breaking down what may seem insurmountable are achievable if broken down. Also, I have learnt to trust my instincts or intuition when it comes to fieldwork. Ultimately, knowledge is power and anyone with true knowledge is embellished in humility, even with the power. But does
she harbour any regrets? “None, whatsoever!”