Tuesday, 12 January 2021

T.N. KRISHNAN

 A life in nada

Rithvik Raja

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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T.N. KRISHNAN

 His heart commanded the fingers

Charumathi Raghuraman

Violin maestro Trippunithura Narayana Iyer Krishnan wasborn on 

6 October 1928 and passed away on 2 November 2020 in Chennai. 

It was providence that brought me into the wondrous and most cherished orbit of violin maestro T.N. Krishnan Sir. It happened exactly 25 years ago. I was a young girl, a novice violin student in Mumbai. At the suggestion of a close family friend, my mother and I proceeded to meet TNK Sir at NCPA, where he had a visiting professorship. I was too young and clueless to realise that, at that very moment, I had found the purpose in my life as a violinist.

Upon entering NCPA’s campus, we were taken to Sir’s workshop where I walked into a room brimming with eager eyes and ears, all tuned to a welcoming soft face and a distinguished aura. I was one among many, but his charisma was disarming and personalised to every single person. The violin sat on him like the perfect head jewel of a crown.

Then, like a true Zen master, he wielded the instrument that served his every command and musical gesture. There was no microphone or any other artificial enhancement, just the simple acoustic violin which filled the room at the NCPA and my heart. The sound was complete as its own entity. The richness of the tone, the purity of the bowing, the sway and lilt of the melody and many more magical qualities I was unqualified to know at that time, became imprinted in my mind on that very first encounter with Sir and the violin.

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Monday, 11 January 2021

The Voice of Our Heart: Tribute to S.P. Balasubrahmanyam

It was some years ago that I received a call asking me to be a part of a special concert. I was being asked to play with the legendary ‘SPB’, and I was further told that he wanted these segments to be just with me and no other accompanist on stage.  I grew up in an era where SPB was perhaps the only singer on every song I loved (with maestro Ilayaraaja being the composer of nearly all of them).  For the years that followed, I became a part of his ‘posse’, a dedicated fan group of the person that he was, in addition to the superlative vocalist and performer that he was.  And I will say that to know SPB is to become a part of this privileged group that knows of his extraordinary kindness, sense of humour and ability to inspire joy wherever he went. To be a good musician is to be a keen listener to life, he was to remark on many an occasion. And I saw him living it. He was generous to a fault, and an avid participant in the business of life – negotiating tumult and greatness with grace and agility.

In being asked to write about his musical legacy, it is difficult to know where to begin. I find analysis very tough when it comes to singers as prolific as he was (he has recorded nearly 43,000 songs across languages and genres!) as adjectives do not do justice, language often struggling to encompass what can only be transmitted musically. A turn of phrase, a tremor especially affected for a phrase,  a bass quiver – and you know that your life is changed forever due to that particular rendition, the gravity and depth he confers that particular moment in a narrative. In India, we tend to turn any retrospective into a hagiography, and I know I am already in that zone.

SPB was transcendental in a way few singers were, but knowing him was also loving his approach to music. He saw it as a part of a whole, as his ‘karma’ towards a greater ‘seva’ to humanity, retreating behind his composers and his music directors rather than enjoy the shine.  I feel that it is this quality that endeared him to most of us. We would be discussing Nanda en nila and he would sit like a schoolboy, his face in a reverential trance as he transformed into a young Balu singing for the late, legendary Dakshinamoorthy Sir. He would discuss Kamban emandhan and get palpably excited when discussing MSV and that odd note (the end of the second line is on a different gandharam). He was least aware of the effect he was having on all of us around him, listening in rapt attention as also his vocal acrobatics in providing, on the spot, three or four different sangatis on the same line, as if it is the most natural thing in the world.

So in deciding to write this, I thought I would use five songs of his (I am thrilled to say that I have played these songs with him on stage and on television), as it helps me with the framework for analysis.  Each of these songs also varies by genre, stories they fit into and different stages of his musical trajectory. Each of these selections also reflects a different use for the voice, and I believe there is much to be gleaned from observing them carefully.

For instance, in Teertha Karaiyinile (1980, Varumayin Niram Sivappu, MS Viswanathan) It is the gentle and melancholic ballad that is given prime importance. Bharatiyar’s immortal poetry is used to reflect a protagonist pining for a love that is now irredeemably lost, a song of nostalgic pain and hurt. MSV chooses to characterise this with just the voice and a gentle guitar backing, leaving the former to do most of the heavy lifting. And it does with SPB’s muted and controlled emotion, laying emphasis on the words, their enunciation and that tremendous irony in the lyric. In fact, when the song reaches its end the line Nanoruvan mattilum pirivenbadhor naraga tuzhaluvadho (“When it is only me suffering this separation, it is like being tossed into hell”), the ‘holding back’ that he has done in the previous lines suddenly suffuses into a free-flow of emotional release, and he lingers, mid-phrase – to let the listener empathise with the narrative. It breaks the heart, and makes Bharatiyar’s own tribulations well up and coax the tears out of each of us.  

In Enakku oru kadhali (1976, Muthaana Muthallavo) we see the serenade, beautifully essayed on screen by Vijayakumar and ‘Thengai’ Srinivasan. With a piano and a violin to keep them company, MSV and SPB (a rare combination for singing) take us through a sweet paean to romance. SPB masters this form once again, and the use of his voice to sculpt the beautiful end-phrase of the pallavi is among the masterpieces in film music literature. The violin mimics the voice, and the voice the violin in a pas-de-deux between these two melodic strains, and SPB offers up sangatis that are as evocative as they are wondrous.

I had asked SPB about that turn of phrase and how he decided to craft it that particular way, to which he retreated, in his characteristic style, to the superlative vision of MSV. He went on to remark that MSV made him practice that phrase multiple times, and was quite strict about it. We shall now never know what actually transpired, but we have this delightful melody to savour.

In rendering the classical, such as in Manasa sancharare, Sankarabharanamu or Dorakkuna, I have often been told by purists that this would not pass muster in a classical concert. The heaviness of SPB’s bass notes, and the relative lightness in the uccha sthayis are not desirable, I would be told. But we must remember that these were rendered for film. Indeed, in Naa jeevadhara in Thyagayya (1981, Telugu, KV Mahadevan), the architectonics of the first and second sangatis of the pallavi line are so redolent of the Lalgudi style of rendition. When I referred to this in conversation, he replied that the Lalgudi rendition was his gold standard to practice this, and he ended the comment by his usual self-effacing apology when it comes to the classical. “Unlike you all, I am not classically trained”, he would often remark.  I often wonder if humility is the true hallmark of greatness, because if so, SPB was a great testament to that notion. Purists’ opinion aside, SPB displayed tremendous reverence for the classical, often referring to the late M. Balamuralikrishna and often his ‘Anna’, K J Yesudas as his exemplars and teachers.  

The narrative is important, as is the narrator, he once said: The story is paramount, and all craftspeople in service of that story, he would add. He would become the ‘voice’ of the protagonist, and his rendition the storyline. It was a different era to grow up in music, and he took his cues from the innumerable music directors he worked for across the country. These were times when as a highly sought after performer, he would record four to five songs in a day! To think that he would still take the time to sit down and listen to the story, to the implicit directions of his composers, and become the character is tough to believe in a digital era where singer-celebrities often eclipse the context they represent.

And yet the SPB I knew was not a man who placed undue emphasis on ‘voice management’ or ‘silences before concerts’.  He would be joking in the greenroom, regaling us with some story or the other, and be a perfect marvel minutes later when curtains opened. And he would be able to hold the stage for hours afterwards, getting better with the passing hours!  He loved his food, his indulgences and his life, it would always seem.

In rambunctious melodies such as Ram bam bam (Singaravelan, 1992, Ilayaraaja) or Margo Margo (1990, Vetri Vizha, Ilayaraaja) we see an SPB who is having a whale of a time, imbibing the verve and pizzazz of the great Western pop ballad and swingtime singers, inflecting little phrases of excitement (the ‘ha’s’ and ‘hoo’s’ make those songs!), and he somehow made even these genres his own. To misquote the famous song, “it got that swing so it does mean a thing”). He manages steady doo-wop style passages (one a clock, two a clock three o clock kan muzhichu) with steady energy. He has often mentioned Harry Belafonte and Louis Armstrong in conversations and speeches, and it is easy to see how listening to these masters would have influenced his oeuvre.

But it is perhaps in the lyrical nocturne that SPB becomes an indelible part of our lives. In Nilave Vaa and Kanmaniye kadhal enbadhu and countless others, SPB carries the romance in his phrasing, imbuing phrases with so much tenderness that the listener picturises themselves in the narrative.

The relegation to the self towards serving others, reverence to one’s teachers and colleagues, taking it ‘easy’ and taking things in one’s stride, to be an avid listener and above all, to be compassionate – my list can go on. These are lessons for all of us.

These are the songs of our lives, and these are the melodies of our own youth and romances. In his passing, I do not believe that we have lost a great singer. I believe we have lost the soundtracks to our lives.

ANIL SRINIVASAN is a well-known pianist and respected music educator. He has also worked closely with the late SPB.

Friday, 8 January 2021

NISHA AND VASUNDHRA RAJAGOPALAN Musicians and multipotentialities

 By Lavanya Narayanan

Vocalist Nisha Rajagopalan stands in her kitchen over a pot of simmering Akkaravadisal. It’s her paati’s signature recipe, and amidst the screams and laughs of her children, six-year-old Vidyuth and 16-month-old Kavya, she calls mother Vasundhra in a frenzy to verify that this is actually what it’s supposed to look (and taste) like.

They are adding to the cooking blog, A Pinch of Turmeric, that began as Vasundhra’s aid to daughter Nisha and her two sisters, Deepa and Divya, as they attempted to recreate podis, masalas for their own households. A passion project that took roots as early as May 2019, it became a full-time venture during the lockdown, in light of the Corona virus pandemic that seems to have usurped 2020 and the Margazhi season as well.

Now, Nisha is what mom Vasundhra jokingly calls “tech support”.

“I don’t understand technology at all, so since the beginning, Nisha has been in charge of the website, the formatting, everything. And now, we’ve begun a YouTube channel for it, which she is taking charge of. So a huge thank you to her,” she chuckles. Ask Nisha, and she’s just grateful for the abundance of recipes that have come to her aid and satiated her taste buds.

The blog is just the tip of the iceberg for the mother-daughter duo that share much more than a love of indigenous cooking. Both Carnatic vocalists, an unexpected and rather-delayed love for the arts took hold in the 1960s when, at the age of 16, mother Vasundhra began learning vocal music from Delhi-based vidwan Gopal Iyer. A dream that seemed short-lived at the time, marriage whisked her away to Toronto, Canada, a mere six years later and, occupied with a full-time corporate job, her passion transformed into classes, annual Tyagaraja festivals, and the one-off concert in a city barren of Indian classical arts at the time. 

“Because I had just had around five years of exposure to Carnatic music in India itself, I hardly considered it a career option. It was just something I was passionate about and wanted to share with others, especially with our communities in Toronto and Ottawa,” says Vasundhra.

Hands full with a life abroad and raising her daughters, the family journeyed to the popular Sri Venkateswara Temple in Pittsburgh, PA occasionally, often when visiting artists presented concerts or a festival was being held. It was on one such occasion that they chanced upon a concert by vidwan T.R. Subramanyam (TRS) who Vasundhra happened to know during her time in Delhi, all those years ago.

“He was thrilled to see me, as I was him! As it turned out, he was spending that summer in Pittsburgh, teaching music and running a summer programme,” she adds.


The next day, Vasundhra went to meet him, taking young Nisha, only 10 years-old at the time, along with her. TRS prodded her to sing and she did: she remembers the incident vividly.

“It was Siddhi Vinayakam in Mohanakalyani – Amma had taught it to me,” she smiles fondly. The rendition immediately caught the vidwan’s attention and he had only one piece of advice that he shared with Vasundhra, almost instantly: “Move back to India if you want to have Nisha make it in music”. 

Of  course, it would be a few more years before that move materialised. While Nisha spent her weekends that year attending the summer music camp along with Vasundhra, the family visited Delhi just a year later for more intensive training. It was then that a surprise cancellation in a temple saw Nisha present her very first concert: it was a 45-minute-slot that would trigger a life-altering decision.

“I hadn’t realised the importance of music when I was growing up and honestly, I didn’t want Nisha to have the same regrets I did. So I spoke to my husband and we decided to follow our instincts: we moved back,” Vasundhra says.

Whether or not Nisha would pursue music as a full-time career was yet-to-be-seen, but with the ball rolling, the family packed their bags in 1992 and headed back. They went first to Delhi and, under the guidance of guru TRS, continued to learn from him before journeying and finally settling down in Chennai in 1995. 

Adjustment, of course, is never immediate, and it was far from it in Nisha’s case: plagued with a slight foreign accent and placed in a new environment, immersing herself in both music and its new social strata took time. Despite having led what most people would consider an ‘Indian lifestyle’ in Toronto, the new environment posed a host of challenges. Continuing under the tutelage of guru TRS, she began to grow and evolve as a musician. 

Comfort, however, gradually came calling in the form of additional gurus P.S. Narayanaswamy and Suguna Varadachari, who both Nisha and Vasundhra began to learn from whilst in Chennai, supplementing classes during guru TRS’ short Chennai visits. Guided by the intricacies and nuances of each guru, Nisha blossomed. This novel phase even allowed her to begin to perform, compete, and get involved with the popular youth-led organisation, Youth Association for Classical Music (YACM).

“That was when I really began interacting with musicians my age and got involved,” she tells us. Juggling education as an engineering student and what evolved into a full-time performing schedule as an artist, a seemingly well-timed hiring slump gave Nisha the time to pursue music full-time before, three years later, she was bitten by the ‘work bug’.

“I started wondering what a corporate career would be like, for some reason,” she laughs. She joined the HR department of Flextronics, beginning what would be an incredibly hectic phase as she balanced corporate culture and performance pressure alongside mother Vasundhra’s balancing act of her own.

The stint lasted for two years before finally, Nisha was exhausted. Something had to give and somewhere, she knew what that ‘something’ would be. 

“One day, I was sitting at Nandanam signal, stuck in traffic – as always – and I called Amma and said ‘Amma, I’m quitting my job’. Her only question to me was ‘What took you so long?’ ” They both laugh heartily. Not an ‘aha’ moment, they say, but one that Vasundhra could more than relate to: it’s how she felt when she quit her own job at a prolific multinational firm in India after returning.

“I was working steadily but one day I asked myself: Didn’t I return to India for the sake of music, for me and my daughter? So why was I distracted? That clarity, it seems, was all I needed,” Vasundhra shares. 

It’s been over a decade since that paramount shift and the ladies have only gotten busier with time. They tell us that in the busiest of Margazhi seasons, they will practically not see each other, often occupied with their own concert activities and schedules. 

Strangely, it seems, the ongoing Covid 19 pandemic has been its own blessing in disguise. A forced lockdown means a lack of concert flurry – now, Nisha is able to see mom Vasundhra and dad Raju (alias Rajagopalan) weekly and despite having her hands full with her young toddlers, the two stay intimately connected through their love of food, music, and A Pinch of Turmeric, a venture that has now grown far beyond their initial humble dreams. 

In actuality, it’s far from ‘just a blog’. When Vasundhra’s ‘vaasana podi’, a powder used for organic baths for Nisha’s daughter Kavya, went live on the internet, it attracted the attention of someone who would become her first customer. At her behest, she began to sell it commercially, creating an e-commerce platform that sells homemade, indigenous soaps, herbal powders, and the like as close as in Chennai and even as far as America by way of courier services. 

Despite the almost instantaneous success, Vasundhra decided this was not a venture she wanted to capitalise on for profit. “I never intended to make money of   this -- my focus was simply to share our rare, home recipes with a larger audience.” Instead, she reached out to her network of peers and after intensive research, decided to partner with an NGO, Sri Arunodayam Charitable Trust, located in Kolattur, Chennai. The organisation services 110 rescue children, all with special needs, and through her profits as well as special weekly music classes that Vasundhra has taken up for the children, a beautiful relationship has blossomed.

Of course, the never-ending pandemic has thrown up challenges of its own: shipping products abroad is a tall order, what with the multiple restrictions that have been imposed. But the mother-daughter duo continues to serve their local apartment communities, many of whom have ramped up their purchases, hoping to boost their own immunities in the wake of this deadly virus. 

It has also given the ladies a chance to develop the blog into a YouTube channel, one that continues to grow as Vasundhra now attempts recipes that reach outside the realm of ‘native foods’. For instance, her repertoire has grown: products like ‘tofu’, which have been harder to acquire in the market due to lack of supply, are being made in-house, allowing both Vasundhra and Nisha to continue to innovate and avoid the recipe and food fatigue that seems to plague other households as they attempt to innovate with what they have on-hand.  

Listening to the tale of the blog begs the question: What time is left for music? Especially when concerts are virtual and the hustle, bustle, and demands of the live festival season are absent this year, one would imagine that complacency sets in. But if anything, it seems the opposite is taking place.

“When we listen to these new, young singers nowadays, they all seem so talented, so equipped. There is a technical understanding and prowess that I definitely didn’t have at that age – it’s unbelievably inspiring,” Vasundhra says.

“Definitely. I think the access to material and resources has helped that; the wealth of concerts and knowledge available on the internet now is immense, and young artists are really taking advantage of that! It’s extremely praiseworthy, all the things they are able to do and constantly present,” Nisha adds. 

Ask the ladies what they personally prefer, tradition or innovation, though the answers might shock you ever-so-slightly! While Nisha is more comfortable in the realm of a conventional concert, Vasundhra presents the newer ‘katha kutcheri’ in which storytelling is juxtaposed with kritis to tell a compelling tale, often one taken from mythology or religious texts. 

“The speaking bits can still get me and nowadays, there is an increasing demand to speak on stage, even just to describe the piece you are presenting! I think the audience has become more aware, more knowledgeable even, of what they are listening to and well, I still have those slip-ups when it comes to telling stories, especially in sentamizh, on stage,” Nisha admits while Vasundhra laughs in the background.

So much, it seems, has changed since the days of Toronto, corporate life, and even the family’s heydays in music. There is a settled comfort in the music scene and its community now, one that the ladies have sought solace in during this trying time. A product of the evolving dynamic that surrounds them? Seems so. 

And yet, in some ways, they say it seems like nothing has changed at all. As they speak about those initial struggles, juggling schedules, gulping mouthfuls of ‘thayir satham’ between paatu classes and work shifts in a rapid, almost blink-and-miss-pace, there is a sense of heartwarming nostalgia. It’s one that reveals what the secret of this mother-daughter duo really is -- the tight-knit camaraderie that, if one didn’t know better, would suggest that they were sisters, best friends, or both. 

Entwined by music and food equally, enshrined in the throes of family loyalty and love, it stands testament to what the two have built in these multiple decades and to the years of both that lie ahead, waiting.

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Remembering MSG

Today, 3 January 2020 marks the eighth death anniversary of of vidwan M.S.Gopalakrishnan, popularly known as MSG. It has been my good luck to have known him for a long time.

I was taken by my uncle (husband of my mother’s younger sister) to meet Parur Sundaram Iyer about whom and his two sons M. S. Anantharaman and M. S. Gopalakrishnan, I had already heard a lot. In fact, I had attended a few concerts in which MSG was featured as the violin accompanist.

I paid respects to Sundaram Iyer and we indulged in some small talk. At some stage, he said that contrary to general perception, there was no basic difference between Carnatic and Hindustani music systems. Both had the same basic notes: sa, ri, ga, ma pa, dha, ni. The difference, such as it was, lay in the manner of treatment of these notes and the importance given to lyrics in the Carnatic system and the overwhelming importance given to melody and less importance to words in the Hindustani system; there was a lot more of gamakas in the former.

I also learnt that the Parur residence, a non-descript, two-storied house in Appar Swami Koil Street in Mylapore, had been hallowed by a succession of musicians of both systems. It had reverberated to the tunes of Ravi Shankar and to snippets by leading Hindustani vocalists. It had also hosted Yehudi Menuhin.

Iyer and MSG had accompanied the redoubtable Omkarnath Thakur and D.V.Paluskar. It is said that when Omkarnath visited Chennai for a concert, he was asked who he would prefer to accompany him on strings. He responded, “When my son, Gopalakrishnan, is here, there is no need to look further.”

MSG and his brother were put through a punishing schedule of lessons and practice, practice and yet more practice. That accounted for the tonal purity and impeccable fingering techniques of the brothers. In fact, this style of playing is popularly known as the Parur bani.

I have been a very keen fan of MSG since his and my  younger days. The first time I heard him play was in Tiruvanantapuram in 1945 or thereabouts. He was the violin accompanist to yesteryear titan, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar.

Chembai elaborated a raga for some time. It was the turn of MSG to do so on the violin. Remember he was only 15 or so and was perhaps hesitant or looking for a green signal from Chembai who said into the mike for the audience to hear: “vasi, vasi. ennai kekkava ivaal ellam vantirukka? unnai kekka thaan” (“Do you think these people have come to listen to me? They have come to listen to you!”) Look at the strongly encouraging words of the great man! His heart was as large as his undoubtedly large corps.

Chembai, more than any other musician of his times, was responsible for encouraging and pushing up many promising youngsters.

Thereafter, I do not think I have missed any concert of MSG as soloist or accompanist in the places where I was posted.

In Delhi, my wife and I had hosted MSG for about five days. He had concerts on all these days. He stayed with us but his presence was hardly felt. He did not make any demands on us, quite unlike many others.

Before he left, I requested him to play tanam in ghana raga panchakam. He agreed. He also played Brindaavana Saranga and Revati. I had recorded the event. Alas, now the cassette player is dead as the dodo and I am unable to play his music any longer.

As far as I could gather, MSG was not one to run after or fawn over sabha secretaries, as many in the music world do, to have ‘chances’. He took concerts as they came his way. He was also one among the very few violinists in his times to accompany women singers; many would not. From reports, I gather that he had accompanied MSS and K. B. Sundarambal. I have attended a few MLV concerts where he was the accompanist. And they were marked by a kind of friendly rivalry that brought out the best in both. But all this ended after a while for reasons I could not fathom.

MSG was not given to being interviewed. In a rare interview, he was asked a question that should not have been asked: how did the play of the then top violinists – the violin trio - compare? His answer was as truthful as it was diplomatic. He said that T.N.Krishnan’s violin concerts were replete with soukhyam, and Lalgudi was the undoubted master of layam. As for his own style, he said he was trying to carry forward the ‘Parur bani’, so assiduously inculcated in him by his father.

MSG had provided violin accompaniment to all leading stalwarts of the Carnatic music world. In my view, KV Narayanaswamy, Voleti Venkateswaralu, S. Ramanathan and Balamuralikrishna and MSG performed, complementing each other so well as though they were made for each other.

I would like to briefly touch upon a few memorable concerts wherein MSG excelled himself. One was a solo recital in AIR. His swaraprastaram for Nalinakanthi (Manavyalakim) still remains etched in my memory though the concert was in 1966. In it you could discern-apart from violin sounds- the sounds of sitar, shehanai and the fluteIf I remember right, the previous day, he had accompanied the incomparable flautist, Mali. Two pieces stood out: one was in Kalyani, the other in Kapi. The noted connoisseur, ‘Aeolus”, wrote in Shankar’s Weekly that it was hard to say who was leading whom in the concert.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7lKOttZR7g

The other concert was in Chowdiah Hall, Bangalore. Emani Sankara Sastry, a titan of a vainika on the veena and MSG on the violin. The concert was truly a memorable one but I would note two pieces that stood apart: simply out of this world. One was a kriti in Khamas and the other was Naadaloludai in Kalyanavasantam.  The second was verily a friendly clash of two titans. It was a veritable deep dive by both into melody and rhythm. And rise to ecstatic heights.

MSG was equally adept in playing Hindustani music. He learnt the ropes from Krishnanand, a veteran teacher settled in Madras. I had on my tapes a piece by MSG playing a Fritz Kreisler composition. Alas, there is no way of listening to the tape now.


Before I close this piece, I would like to narrate an incident that shows the man. Narmada, MSG’s daughter and disciple was playing solo violin in Sastri Hall, Mylapore. It was one of her early concerts as a soloist. After some time, MSG came to the hall and the secretary rushed to greet him and ask him to take a front seat. MSG politely declined and a little later, left.

I think the explanation for this rather peculiar behaviour was that it was occasioned by MSG’s natural anxiety how Narmada was faring. More importantly, he not want to stay on which would have put pressure, and cramped her flow.

MSG passed away on 3 January, 2013, leaving behind a void that is hard to fill.  The New Indian Express reported the event thus: ‘The Bow Has Fallen Silent’.

G. Sankaran

(The author was the former President ,Customs, Excise and Gold (Control) Appellate Tribunal, and a Carnatic music rasika)