Song of Surrender

Friday, 10 February 2012

Sruti Remembers S. Rajam on his birthday

By S. Janaki

Rajam sir respected tradition and believed in fostering it. He was a creative artist and encouraged innovation within the traditional framework. He was a classicist and a great rasika of excellence in any form. As these are the very values Sruti stands for, it is no wonder that Rajam and Sruti got on so well.

Rajam sir was a very close friend of Sruti’s founder and Editor-in-Chief N. Pattabhi Raman. In the mid-1980s, soon after Sruti was launched, Pattabhi Raman chanced to come across Rajam’s “music letter pads” with his illustrations for Tyagaraja kriti-s. Impressed by the line drawings Pattabhi Raman immediately drove down to 41 Nadu Street in Mylapore to meet the artist. That meeting laid a strong foundation for the steadfast friendship between Rajam and Pattabhi Raman, and for Rajam’s close association and collaboration with Sruti for almost 25 years. Rajam sir was a great friend of the magazine and was a grandfather figure for all of us at Sruti, especially after the untimely demise of Pattabhi Raman.

Rajam sir took the passing away of his dear friend to heart. He was so emotionally upset that he was hospitalised soon after. And when we called on him to wish him a speedy recovery, he implored us not to be disheartened but to bravely carry forward his friend’s grandiose vision. In fact, he suggested we should have someone as knowledgeable and eminent as K.V. Ramanathan to steer us through the difficult period.

In the 1980s and 90s, Rajam sir would often visit the Sruti editorial office at ‘Alapana’, which was Pattabhi Raman’s home. It was quite an amusing sight to see his tall frame clad in coloured khadi veshti or lungi, perched on a small moped, with a half-helmet on his bald head, leather gloves with openings for fingers to give him a better grip on the handlebar, and a rexin bag he had designed and stitched. He would spend hours with us discussing and explaining matters on music and art. He would not miss a birthday party, get-together or chamber concert at Alapana. Years later, when he was advised by the doctor to cut down his commuting, Pattabhi Raman, P.C. Jayaraman, Gayatri Sundaresan or I would visit him at Nadu Street and take notes. Every meeting with him was a revelation. In recent years, what we did very often was “dial Rajam to clear our doubts”! He was indeed our most dependable resource person as he was a musician, music teacher, scholar and artist – all rolled into one. His knowledge of the arts was amazing, he knew almost every music personality past and present and he so readily and freely shared his knowledge with us. He was very objective in his analysis of music and musicians. He also played a major role in the projects conducted by the Sruti Foundation on the music of GNB, Lalgudi Jayaraman, and the seminar on the North-South Divide: Carnatic and Hindustani music held in Delhi.

Rajam sir was always immersed in his twin passions – music and painting. He was probably the only person to combine both so beautifully and seamlessly – one enriching the other. His illustrations and his classical style of painting with minute details and the layers of text and context he embedded in them – both literally and figuratively, for the raga notes, compositions and composers, complemented and added depth and style to the ‘substance’ published in Sruti. His original paintings of the Saptaswara devata-s adorn the walls of our office at Cathedral Road. He was an invaluable member of the Sruti parivaar.

His Music Appreciation Notes covering the 72 melakarta-s, janya raga-s, and notes on more than 70 raga-s were very popular. In fact, we recently revived it (with additional inputs) on popular demand. He reviewed audio recordings for Sruti under the penname ‘Sundaram Bharadwaj’ (son of Sundaram Iyer/ Bharadwaja gotram!), and embellished many writings with his illustrations. Rajam sir was very happy when we started serialising his 72-melakarta calendar and paintings. It was something very close to his heart. He was very particular about including his views on vivadi raga-s – which he tirelessly propagated. Rajam’s visualisation and exposition of the bhooloka panchalinga kriti-s and Dikshitar’s navagraha kriti-s – published in Sruti have earned us appreciation from various quarters. Even at the ripe old age of 90 he would say “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop!”

Working with him was not only a learning experience, it was great fun. He would at times ask me to search through his shelves for music notes, or climb on to a stool to locate his paintings stacked on top of the almirah! His explanations would be peppered with humorous comments, but he would never talk ill of anyone. To tell the truth, we were not overawed by his greatness, we took liberties with him as he was so affectionate towards all at Sruti. We would go to his house without prior intimation, telephone him during siesta time, and badger him to give us his illustrations in time for the next issue.

The Sruti-Rajam collaboration was mutually enriching and rewarding. During the 10th anniversary celebrations of Sruti, Rajam sir presented a unique three-hour concert of padam-s learnt from Mylapore Gowri Amma. As a good friend of mridanga vidwan Vellore Ramabhadran, Rajam was a regular speaker at the annual Vellore Gopalachariar Memorial award function organised by the Sruti Foundation. A self-effacing gentleman, he was taken by surprise when Sruti chose to honour him with the same award for his lifelong service to music. He was truly happy when we organised an exhibition of his paintings at the same venue.

Another occasion when Sruti had a memorable time with Rajam sir was on 10th February 2009. Loaded with a birthday cake, samosas, tea, special card and poster designed by the Sruti staff (which read “S.Rajam – a rare gem”) the Sruti parivaar marched into 41 Nadu Street and celebrated the Grand Old Man’s birthday in style. We too were in for a treat as he sang the Dikshitar kriti Sankaram Abhirami manoharam for us with gusto to mark the special occasion. He was visibly moved and thanked us: “You have given me the best birthday gift by playing on my name and calling me a rare gem”. He was so fond of this appellation that he mentioned it in the felicitation functions which followed.

For us at Sruti, the past two decades have been a memorable journey with Rajam sir with many an unforgettable moment. He was a raconteur extraordinaire! He is no longer there to greet us with a smile and his customary “namaste, namaste”. But this great man has indeed left his indelible imprint on the sands of time.

(Reproduced from Sruti 305)

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