Song of Surrender

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Out of the Sruti box

(First published 22 November 2006)

By V. Ramnarayan

It was a crazy idea. My uncle Dr N Pattabhi Raman, just retired from the UNDP, wanted to start an English magazine on classical music and dance from Chennai. But in my wife Gowri and me, he found two young assistants who did not run away from crazy ideas, though Gowri took some convincing when it came to recruiting her as a major contributor of articles. Working then on her PhD in comparative aesthetics, she said, “I can only write examination papers.” But Pattabhi did not easily take no for an answer, and she eventually yielded. Slowly, more members of the extended family and other animals joined us in this mad project and Sruti hit the stands in October 1983.

It was an outstanding issue, with D K Pattammal and U Srinivas on the cover, one a stalwart of the great Carnatic tradition and the other a sensational child prodigy. Pattabhi’s family was well represented in the bylines: Gowri wrote the first part of a two- part biographical sketch of Pattammal—‘the trailblazing traditionalist’—Pattabhi himself wrote an analytical piece, I profiled a number of child prodigies (former as well as recently discovered) from S Balachandar and T R Mahalingam to E Gayathri and Ravikiran, my sister Dr Sarojini Parameswaran wrote a scientific piece that tried to explain the phenomenon of prodigies, and my daughter Akhila, barely nine then, did a mini-interview of 13-year-old Srinivas!

The first issue, and those that followed, had tremendous variety, and considerable depth, but did not lack in humour. Sruti paid generous tributes to past masters but did not ignore the brilliant practitioners of Carnatic music of the day. It loved to puncture bloated egos and lampoon the foibles of musicians, administrators and sabha secretaries. It did not spare critics either. Many loved it; some thought it was an upstart that would not last long. Semmangudi Srinivasier received the first copy if I remember right, and he, at least in private, expected it fold up within months. He did not know Pattabhi then, though soon afterwards, on a road trip to his home village they made together, he really got to know that the editor was made of sterner stuff. He himself became the subject of one of Sruti’s classy publications other than the magazine. Though he did not always appreciate all of the magazine’s contents, he came to respect and approve of it.

Those were heady days. Pattabhi made his home Sruti’s headquarters and many, many people devoted to the cause of Carnatic music dropped in there regularly, and the quality of the resultant discourse was uniformly high, though on occasion delightfully gossipy. T Sankaran, S Krishnan, Pattabhi’s own brothers Sundaresan and Venkatraman, S Ramaswami, formerly of Burmah Shell, R Ramachandran—later of Hamsadhwani fame—and many more gathered there and the atmosphere during most of these meetings was quite electric. For someone like me, cutting his teeth in music journalism, it was a fantastic learning experience.

1 comment:

  1. No offence. Sruti flavour was different under Pattabhiraman. Just imagining how he would have reacted to TMKs histrionics.