Sruti July 2018
A recent illness has proved to be almost a boon as an informal support group has rallied around with music and stories about musicians old and new and generally proved to be very therapeutic. Many friends shared their favourite music with me and luckily much of it was to my liking though a clear favourite was old recordings of Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer and M.S. Subbulakshmi, especially one recording in which there is a veena in the background by MS herself. Listening to the Bhairavi swarajati by them both and Semmangudi’s Kharaharapriya alapana (followed by Chakkani raja) was a memorable experience while I was still in the hospital and it was the only time I shed tears since I fell ill because the music was so cathartic. I marvelled at the nooks and crevices of ragas that Semmangudi could explore with such feeling, though struggling with his recalcitrant voice and effortlessly repeating his trademark sarvalaghu patterns in swaraprastara.
Some of the stories I heard had to do with Semmangudi himself and one was about his famed wit and candour even on public occasions. This is about an award he had received while replying to felicitations on stage when he apparently said: “They have announced an award but where is the money? And where is the interest?” to the amusement of all present.
Another story was about a young musician who was visiting him, and he asked her: “You have many concerts these days; I am sure you must be paid very well. How much do they pay you?” And she said “No Mama, we accept all kinds of concert engagements, sometimes we even do free concerts. Pat came Semmangudi’s reply: “I don’t believe you”!
Once M.S. Subbulakshmi had asked him if he had heard the Divine Unison CD in which they had sung together, and the violin and mridangam were added later. She told him, “It sounds very good”. To which he replied, “Poovodu serndu naarum manakkum. Nee poo naan naaru!” (You are the flower and I the string, gaining fragrance from the flower).
Another story I heard had to do with Karaikudi Sambasiva Iyer who, impressed by a young child’s musical prowess, gifted her a “baby” veena. This story was told by my wife to Srikumar his great grandson who has promised to bring his veena and play for us. I look forward to that as we don’t get to listen to veena music these days.
A wonderful experience was the song a well known musician sang over the phone for me; I will treasure it for the rest of my life.
Despite warnings from the doctors that I might strain myself too much by talking to visitors, I welcome them all the time. Talking to them at home is a real tonic and I know now that music can be a therapy, though I dread to think what could have happened if I had listened to some bad music. In fact one of my friends to whom classical music is anathema said that my illness might have been caused by listening to too much Carnatic music. Touche!
My recent experience suggests that good music can strike a deep emotional chord, if not heal, especially heard from close quarters.