Friday, 1 August 2014

She cast a spell

By Anjana Anand
I first met Savithri Auntie in 1995 when I came to study at Kalakshetra. I had just moved to Chennai from Singapore and wanted to continue my music lessons. I remember being greeted by a stern, pony tail sporting mami who opened the door. She looked at her watch and said, “You are two minutes late!” Quite sure that I was already disqualified from being her student, I mumbled about my interest in music and dance and decision to join Kalakshetra. The next thing I knew, she gave me a big hug and said, “Of course, I will teach you. Kitta has sent you here” Not remembering any such recommendation, I said, “Auntie, I don’t know who Kitta is. I think you’ve got the wrong person.” With a twinkle in her eye, she said, “Follow me”. I entered one of the rooms and stared at a brightly decorated altar with a beautiful Radha and Krishna statuette. “There he is,” she said. It was an Alice in Wonderland moment for me.

For the next three years, Savithri Auntie and Kitta dominated my life. I moved into her Rams Apartments building and after Kalakshetra hours, spent my time with her singing, sitting in her other classes or attending concerts with her. It was the most intense and fruitful years of my student life. She was relentless in her demand for perfection to a point each class was like an exam for me. I had never met a person like her. Of course, I had fallen under the spell of her teaching, but her personality intrigued me. She looked so orthodox but had such liberated views on the world. She had a child like quality about her outside class hours, in sharp contrast with her terrifying personality in class. I remember my years there with so much nostalgia because she taught me to love music and was solely responsible for the good taste I developed in Carnatic music. It was during those three years that I learnt how music could bind people irrespective of age and background. I bonded with students from the age of ten to sixty and the only common thing between us was Auntie’s music.

I remember her spotlessly clean house, huge files of compositions ranging from Tyagaraja’s to Papanasam Sivan’s, meticulously notated and preserved with care. I continued my association with her till she passed away. To say she lived with music, for music and through music, is an understatement.

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