Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVIII No. 17, December 16-31, 2018
It must have happened in 2001 or it could be 2002, 2003 or 2004. Maybe 2005. I know it was within those years because I was still running Sangeetham.com with Sanjay Subrahmanyan. That year he was to perform at the Music Academy, as usual in the evening slot. And accompanying him was this senior mridangam artiste, a Sangita Kalanidhi to boot. I would happily reveal that maestro’s name here but for the fact that these are sensitive times and you never know what can get blown out of proportion.
It was a packed hall as usual and the curtain went up on the dot.The artistes were all on stage and the concert began. It was very good (do I need to say that) but for one aspect – all was clearly not well with the mridangam artiste. He occasionally tapped the mridangam even while alapanas were in progress and while accompanying it appeared that his hand slipped every once in a while. This was most surprising, given that he was a veteran of many decades.
An hour into the concert, K.N. Shashikiran, who was seated next to me, suggested that we go to the canteen for a coffee. And so he, Sarada and I stole out. I can still recall that I had a rava dosa. We finished our tiffin and came back only to find the audience streaming out in utter chaos. “The mridangam artiste just passed away,” said a senior artiste holding my hand. “What an honour. He died with his boots on, so to speak. Imagine departing this world from the very stage where you got the highest accolade for your art.” There was a tinge of envy in this as well, for this senior artiste, the second one that is, had not got the highest accolade.
The truth as it turned out was not so dramatic but only slightly less so. Some time shortly after we left for the canteen, the mridangam artiste, who had steadily been building up towards a stroke, could take it no longer and lay down flat on stage. Sanjay with remarkable presence of mind, sang the Mangalam and rang down the curtain. The ailing artiste was taken to hospital within the proverbial golden hour and made a full recovery, going on to accompany several performers in their concerts. He is still around.
The irony is that the second artiste, the one who declared the mridangam artiste dead, passed away a few years ago.
* * *
It was a TV Sanakaranarayanan concert at the Music Academy (gosh I realise I have spent a number of hours there) and the rows in the ground floor were quite full. He was singing something in Purvikalyani when one of society’s toasts decided to get up and leave. (That by the way is acceptable Carnatic music behaviour – you can leave or enter a concert as and when you like it). The gaps between the rows are not exactly super wide and when you walk through you are constantly brushing against those seated in rows to your left and right. Your stomach rubs the people in front and your rear the people at the back. It is best you contain your flatulence as you struggle in or out, in the interests of the people behind.
And so society’s toast sashayed along swinging her handbag and it rubbed the hair of everyone in the front row. But since most Academy members, or for that matter any Carnatic music audience, are bald it just did not affect anyone except for those bar-coded maamas who grow their hair long on one side and paste it on their scalp. But then came a seat where there was a matron with an elaborate hairdo and what should happen but the handbag of society toast got caught in the coif of the matron. TV Sankaranarayanan sang on.
There ensued a tug of war between society toast and matron with the hairdo much to the combined amusement/excitement of those in the surrounding seats. TVS sang on. The matter could have gone on endlessly had not friend Parimala Srinivasan, whisked out a small but serviceable pair of scissors from her handbag and cut the offending lock asunder. (Heaven knows what Parimala Mami did not have in her handbag.) The two – toast and matron parted and went their ways, toast’s handbag still having some strands of hair in it, just as TVS’ Kalpana swarams reached a crescendo and were received with thunderous applause. The two rows involved in this hairy tale clapped extra hard and I patted Parimala Mami on her shoulder and said they were clapping for her. She beamed back.
Matron did not look too upset for having lost a curly lock or two. “It is all artificial,” hissed a lady sitting next to me. Fortunately Carnatic music is all real.
* * *
Have you heard of S. Kannan? I have never met him but stories of him at the Academy are legendary. If the lobby and walls of the Academy could talk they could relate several tales about him. Kannan was the brother of S. Natarajan, for long secretary of the Academy. Unlike his brother, who was a pillar of the establishment, Kannan was a man about town and quite notorious at that.
The brothers were never on the best of terms and in one Academy election Kannan actually campaigned against his brother. Natarajan having won, swore to keep Kannan out of the Academy. During the season of 1977 he instructed the Boy Scouts to this effect. Governor Prabhudas Patwari was chief guest that year and M.L. Vasanthakumari, the Sangita Kalanidhi designate.
Came inauguration evening and Kannan turned up in his trademark white. He prowled about the compound not making any attempt to enter the hall. The Governor’s cavalcade came in and Patwari emerged from his car.
The Academy functionaries prepared themselves to greet him when there was a commotion. Kannan broke his way through and greeted Patwari loudly. The Governor turned round and on seeing Kannan was all smiles. “Kannanji,” he cried whereupon Kannan enveloped the Governor in an embrace. The two then interlocked arms and walked hand in hand into the auditorium.
Natarajan was furious. But as a Boy Scout explained, if they had to pull Kannan away it would have involved pushing Patwari!
Till date nobody has solved the puzzle of how Kannan got to know the Gandhian Patwari so well.
(To be concluded)