For seniors, a calling in song
April 15, 2011
ARTHUR J PAIS
Chandrika Tandon with her choir of senior citizens
When Geetha Rudrakumaran, a homemaker and mother of two, took her little boy for an
audition at the Hindu Temple in
Flushing, New York, two years ago she
only went along to encourage him to
learn to sing bhajans in a choir. It was
going to be a first effort of its kind for
the temple, to be run by Chandrika
Krishnamurthy Tandon who would be
nominated for a Grammy next year
for her album, Soul Call.
“I went with my son because he did
not want to go by himself,”
Rudrakumaran recalled. “Imagine my
surprise when, after my son finished
singing, Chandrika said, How about
you? I was taken aback. I said I had no
singing training but she nudged me.”
Tandon soon changed her mind
about the children’s choir and started one
for senior citizens.
“There was a big age gap in the youth
choir and I thought it would be better if I
start one for those who are above 60,” she
said, adding that she is still thinking of one
for the children after dividing them into
two or three age groups.
Rudrakumaran, who is far from being 60,
has become an unofficial leader of the
choir, volunteering several hours a week.
Though most of the 100 members of the
choir are seniors, there are a few who are in
their 40s and 50s.
On a recent wintry morning, there were
at least 65 choir members who came for the
practice, many arriving 10 minutes before
the doors to the auditorium opened at
eight. It is not just a choir group but a community, many said.
“It is also an awesome experience,”
Rudrakumaran said. “What is most amaz-
ing is that Chandrika has trained us, with
great patience and love, to be singers.”
Until she began learning to sing bhajans
and sholakas, Rudrakumaran confesses,
she thought of herself as a wife and a moth-
er. “Now, I feel I am doing something I
couldn’t have imagined doing on my own,
even though I loved singing,” she explained.
“I feel that I am somebody. This is also,
then, about building one’s self-esteem.”
That self-esteem is boosted when the
choir performs at public events marking
multiculturalism in the city. They are also
getting invitations to sing at Indian events.
This week the group was rehearsing to sing
a prayer at the Lincoln Center meditation
event featuring Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Tandon, a financial adviser, a trustee of
New York University and an entrepreneur,
exchanges her business suit for Indian
attire on Sundays at the rehearsals.
On a recent Sunday at one point during
the two hour-long rehearsal, she wanted
them to take a fuller note.
“I am like a dentist,” she said with a smile.
“I will be looking into your mouths.”
M K Ramasubramanian, a retired execu-
tive, attends the choir along with his wife
Nirmala, a retired dietician.
“In a corporate world everything is com-
partmentalized,” he mused. “But here
Chandrika is building a community with-
out walls. She has done something daring –
getting together people who have some
training and those who had to struggle
singing a note – and making them all into
choir singers. It is no small achievement.”
He and his wife have been singing for
over six decades and have led the bhajans
at the temple for many years. “We did not
want to be a part of anything that is
mediocre,” he continued. “We were a bit
skeptical in the beginning with her idea of
putting trained and untrained people
together. Some of us even wondered about
the use of the word ‘choir’ because we asso-
ciate it with Western music. But she
explained that we were going to sing bha-
jans and shoklas but we would be doing it
in harmony as a choir. It was not as if we
were getting trained to sing for the New
York Metropolitan Opera.”
Nirmala Ramasubramanian says they
know some of the biggest Carnatic musi-
cians who have stayed in their home in New
York. “When we tell them about what the
choir has achieved they are very surprised,”
she said. “For many of us, going to the
singing class on a Sunday is also a spiritual
Describing Tandon as “a teacher’s teacher,”
Ramasubramanian said she is especially
patient with newcomers.
Fremont Unity Dinner celebrates diversity
The 10th anniversary Unity Dinner organized by the Indo-American Community
Federation and co-sponsored by the Global
Organization of People of Indian Origin
drew more than 300 hundred guests in
The event provided an opportunity to
honor individuals and organizations for
their extraordinary contributions to promote unity within the community.
San Jose City Council Member Ash Kalra
was honored for his Unity Through Politics.
The Hindu American Foundation was
given the award for being the ‘IACF
Organization of the Year for Religious
Diversity.’ Dr Mihir Meghani, HAF’s co-founder, and other other foundation members, received the award.
The awards were presented by Jeevan
Zutshi, founder, IACF; Dr. Romesh Japra,
president of the Federation of Indo-
American Associations, and Dr Krishna
Reddy, founder of Indian American
Friendship Council, based in Los Angeles.