Nadhaswaram Family.. Image Source: IANS News

Chennai, Jan 27 : The phones at the nadhaswaram playing couple's house in Srirangam have not stopped ringing since January 25.

The callers -- relatives, friends, fellow musicians and journalists -- have been calling the couple who are still dazed after hearing that they have been selected for the Padma Shri award.

"We always thought that we had to travel more in this field to hope for Padma awards. It was really a shock, though a pleasant one, when we heard about the Central government's decision," Sheik Mahaboob Subhani told IANS over phone on Monday.

"The award was possible mainly due to the cooperation of fellow musicians. Perhaps after a long time a nadhaswaram artiste is getting the Padma award," he added.

Nadhaswaram is a double reed wind instrument that is used as a traditional classical instrument in South India.

The couple were originally from Andhra Pradesh and had settled in Tamil Nadu in 1980s.

"We are an eighth generation of nadhaswaram artistes. My father, grandfather and their forefathers were nadhaswaram artistes. Same is the case with my wife," Subhani said.

He learnt to play the instrument first from his father Kothapalli Sheik Meera Sahib and later from his wife's paternal uncle Sheik John Sahib.

"My husband supported me to perform in public. I learnt to play the instrument from my father Sheik Meera Sahib and his younger brother Sheik John Sahib," Kaleeshabi Mahaboob told IANS.

Later the couple got trained in Carnatic vocal from K. Chandramouli, Principal, Government Sarada Sangeetha Kalasala in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh.

After settling in Uraiyur in Tamil Nadu, the Subhanis learnt under the famous Sheik Chinna Moulana.

"Even before our wedding, we had performed together at a marriage function in Dindigul in Tamil Nadu," she said.

The two got married in 1977 and started their musical journey together.

Curiously, the first public performance of the couple happened in Thiruvaiyaru, considered to be among the most sacred places for Carnatic musicians.

It was at Thiruvaiyaru that saint composer Thyagaraja composed several devotional songs, mostly in praise of Lord Ram, and his samadhi is located there. A large number of Carnatic musicians regularly come and sing during the Thyagaraja Aradhana festival.

Recalling that performance with reverence, Subhani said: "Our teacher Chandramouli took us to Thiruvaiyaru where he got the permission for us to play for 10 minutes." "It was Sheik Chinna Moulana who gave his nadhaswaram to us to play there as we hadn't taken our instruments. Instead of 10 minutes, we played for nearly 40 minutes," Subhani mused.

Soon the couple decided to settle down in Uraiyur in Tiruchirappalli so that they could look for chances to perform in Tamil Nadu.

The talented couple soon got going with their performances, and at the Tiruchirappalli All India Radio, they graduated from B Grade to the top-grade artiste level.

In 1994, they received the Kalaimamani Award from the Tamil Nadu government and in 2017 the Hamsa Kala Ratna award from Andhra Pradesh government.

The couple had also released a few albums.

The duo has performed in Abu Dhabi, Belgium, Canada, Dubai, France, Germany, Japan, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, the USA and the UK.

Life was chugging along comfortably for the couple who have three children.

"I used to perform even when I was nine months pregnant. I used to be back in circuit one month after my delivery," Kaleeshabi Mahaboob laughed.

According to Subhani, the meeting with late President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was an unforgettable moment in their lives.

"In 2005, we gave a performance at Malai Mandir in Delhi. We had expressed our wish to meet the then President Abdul Kalam to former President R. Venkataraman who was the Chairman of the temple. The next day we got the permission to meet Kalam," Subhani said.

"We performed for about two hours at the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. Interacting with us, Kalam, among other things, told us that he can play the veena. As requested by Kalam, we played at some schools for mentally challenged children. Later we got a letter from Kalam thanking us," he said.

Interestingly it was Kalam who had convinced the nadhaswaram couple's son Ferose Babu to carry on the family's tradition of being a musician, rather than getting into the computer field.

"I have seen my parents struggle and wanted to work in a software company after my MCA. My mother requested me to carry on the family tradition. With my wife being agreeable, I decided to quit my job and start my music training all over again," Babu told IANS.

"Kalam said there will be hundreds of MCA degree holders but there cannot be a musical family with such a rich tradition," Babu recalled.

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