Tuesday, 18 September 2012

A gift of soulful music

Leela Sekhar at 90


By S Janaki

Payyada… Ayyayo Vegatayane… sang Geetha Raja, deeply immersed in the flow of Nadanamakriya. Though Kshetrayya’s padam reflected the nayika’s despair in the absence of Muvvagopala, the mood in the hall was upbeat and tinged with nostalgia. The occasion was the 90th birthday of Leela Sekhar. A small group of friends, relatives and well-wishers got together to felicitate the multifaceted woman – musician, organiser, social worker, vice-president of the South Madras Bharat Scouts and Guides, and chairperson of the Madras Council of the International Dance Alliance. A woman of grit who  does things with passion and quiet dignity.

In the small community hall of Aashiana in Chennai, a cosy stage was devised with a few sarees as backdrop. Geetha Raja, with vocal support from Jhanani Mahalingam, moved to and from  jaunty javalis and  slow paced padams –  Ela radayane kamini, Niddirayil soppanattil, Bhaamaro, Nee mataley mayanura, Narimani, Ella arumaikalum and Smarasundaranguni. T.R. Murthy (flute) and Kallidaikurichi Sivakumar (mridanga) embellished her recital, playing with sensitivity and restraint. The chamber kutcheri kindled memories of a bygone era. Some rasikas recalled Brinda-Muktha’s music, while others whispered about how the sisters Sarojini and Leela used to sing as a duo several decades ago. At the end of the recital, the nonagenarian was greeted with cards, bouquets, shawls, and gifts. “I am overwhelmed, and what greater gift could I ask for than an evening of reposeful soulful music harking to the past!” said Leela Sekhar.

T.R. Murthy (disciple of T. Viswanathan and close associate of the Bala family) recalled an incident at the Music Academy. Years ago, in a three-hour-concert, T. Balasaraswati danced Rama Rama pranasakhi –  the dance and the music had been memorable – every member of the audience including MS Amma had been moved  to tears. The vocalist then was none other than  Leela  Sekhar.

As Bala’s vocal accompanist, Leela went to the US where she was spotted by Dr. Ben Somers, founder president of the New York-based IDA. He persuaded her to launch and head the Madras chapter. The first edition of the IDA involving top Bharatanatyam exponents in the city was a runaway success in 1987, and the organisation grew from strength to strength under Leela’s leadership. IDA programmes are a popular draw.

Many of Leela’s IDA friends and associates were also present to greet the Grand Old Dame on her 90th birthday. The gathering had a sprinkling of  some more veteran woman achievers like Mrs. YGP, Vyjayantimala Bali, Kalanidhi Narayanan and Mano Bhaktavatsalam – role models for the next generation.

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