Tuesday, 5 August 2014

A Constant Presence at Concerts

By V. Ramnarayan

“You people never encourage young talent,” the overweight, gruff voiced old man bellowed at me. “You are only interested in promoting the same old musicians, and disapprove of anything fresh.”

I did try to convince him that Sruti was not against youth or new ideas, but he was not entirely impressed.

At his invitation, I went to a Charsur concert a couple of days later at the Narada Gana Sabha mini-hall. The young vocalist was someone my recent critic highly recommended.
Unfortunately, I found the youngster to be a half-baked purveyor of new-fangled vocalism of a rather syrupy kind, and told the veteran rasika in so many words much later, having walked out of the concert after about half an hour.

Venkateswaran, a retired chemical engineer and materials management expert who served ITC Ltd., for decades, usually led a three- or four-man group that frequented sabha halls until his death a few days ago, a massive heart attack felling him without any warning.

He was a regular at Chennai concerts for many years, and had a mind of his own. Generous in his praise of music he enjoyed, he never hesitated to condemn anything he considered slipshod or unprofessional. He invariably came on time and stayed till the end of the concert.

You did not agree with all he said, or even all he was party to – as, for instance, the whispered discussion of the identity of songs accompanied by hurried references to his notes by other members of the gang and curious fellow listeners – but you could not help admiring his total devotion to music.

Through the years, Venkateswaran rarely missed a concert, and unlike the average rasika, did not confine himself to free kutcheris, often having to embark on a major expedition from his home via share auto, bus and long walks to listen to music.

A junior member of his group was a final year student of Anna University whom he took under his wing a few years ago, and steadily tutored in the appreciation of both Carnatic and Hindustani music, apart from exposing him to a wide range of reading.

A nattily dressed, middle aged man was another regular concertgoer with whom Venkateswaran made preconcert plans to meet at this sabha or that. The group often stayed on afterwards to discuss the finer points of the performance, sometimes walking up to the vidwans of the evening to offer a word of appreciation.

Venkateswaran was also a constant presence at lecture demonstrations where his queries tended to be thoughtful and based on depth of understanding.

The news of Venkateswaran’s death came to me through an sms from a common friend – another staunch rasika. At a concert a couple of weeks earlier, he had crossed over to my seat from his to say, “Madhuvanti” in a stage whisper – after the raga in play had been announced as Seshadri, said to have been created by the artist on the stage.

Like him, Venkateswaran too had become quite an expert through kelvi gnanam.

At the end of a month of sad bereavements in the music and dance world, I chose to mourn here the passing of a rasika who liked to encourage young musicians and nurtured a love of music among his young friends – because in doing so such men nourish our arts in their own quiet way.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, this gentleman was "one of the regulars" and was very vocal about his appreciation as well. Its a sad and depressing thought that the veterans of this generation of rasikas are passing away one by one - it used to be such a comfort to even *see* them in concerts.