A life in nada
Visiting Krishnan Mama was always a wonderful experience. Conversations at his home were laid back, with him recollecting many old memories and sharing invaluable stories from his travel and concerts. He took immense pride in how the past masters lived through music. He was constantly filled with nostalgia, and once shared a vivid and detailed account of how every station master would know when they were travelling in the first class compartment, and special hot water arrangements would be made for their bath followed by meals that were freshly prepared and served on banana leaves, all immaculately coordinated bet een stations. While he shared these poignant stories, they always had an important lesson in them, from which we could all learn.
His music was a culmination of all these experiences. Having played for so many great musicians, he followed intently and assimilated the best from all of them. He always mentioned Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, and called him the ideal musician. Having shared the stage with him from a very young age, he firmly believed that his principles are important and relevant even today to maintain the core classical values and learn the nuances of concert presentation and proportion. He instructed me to go listen to a specific recording of Ariyakudi effortlessly singing Ongi ulagalanda at an unusual gait, to understand how deceptively simple his music was, but how difficult it I to sing like that. Needless to say, the kalpanaswaras that followed were a lesson in Arabhi, with Krishnan Mama flowing along breezily.
Semmangudi Mama was held in highest regard, and Krishnan Mama considered it his blessing that he could learn under such a stalwart. He emphasised how much importance Semmangudi gave to pathantara, and how he instilled that discipline in all his disciples. Bhava laden raga delineations were the forte of both, and it is no wonder that they performed so many enthralling concerts together. I can recall, many years ago, when he began playing Surati during a concert, he stopped after a few initial phrases and explained where the Surati nishada should ideally be and how Semmangudi Mama taught him that. He even conceded how he didn’t quite get it right at the beginning. A few seconds later, he quipped “Ah, that’s where it is!” Such was his honesty and humility towards the art, which he always placed above himself.
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