Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXXI No. 5, June 16-31, 2021
In the passing of C. Ramakrishna, Bar-at-Law and more popularly known as the Chunampet Zamindar, the Music Academy has lost a true friend. A patron member of many years standing, he always made it a point to attend as many concerts as he could during the December Music Season. He also took his role as a member very seriously, ensuring he voted each time there was an election and also making sure he attended the AGMs even during non-election years. A true representative of the old guard, to whom institution memberships were matters of great responsibility.
I would however like to pay my tributes to him by remembering a couple of incidents concerning the old man, which took place at the Academy. The first was when I was introduced to him and must have been in the early 2000s. It was a fairly full house for an artiste I don’t recall. The concert was below par but it was still early stages and so the audience stayed put. Seated in one row on the ground floor were my mentor K.V. Ramanathan, his daughter Jayshree (alas both now departed) and Mr. Ramakrishna. I was just a row behind. Just before the concert started, we were introduced by KVR. Anyway, as the music progressed, Mr. Ramakrishna, not held in thrall by the musician, opened a copy of The Economist and began reading it. After a while he got up and made his way down the row, the canteen being his destination. He was man of impressive bulk and so his exit involved considerable manoeuvring by those seated alongside and it was only when he was near the door that he realised that he had left the magazine on his seat. He signalled to KVR that he would be back and was gone.
The Economist is a staid magazine but on the page which was lying open was a depiction of Adam and Eve. That prompted some titters from those in the seats around. KVR opted to leave the page as it was and pretended to be engrossed in the music. Mr. Ramakrishna eventually returned and as before nudged and prodded those in his row before reaching his seat. KVR whispered to him that in his absence the magazine had caused considerable interest. Whereupon Mr. Ramakrishna in a powerful voice said, “Well at least there was something to hold audience attention.”
Even after he grew frail and moved with great difficulty, Mr. Ramakrishna never missed the December season. On three separate occasions he suffered something of a blackout when he was in the Academy. On the first, he just stood up, forgetting where he was, and those around him had to help him. Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao and I helped him with his footwear and took him to the exit from where an attendant took charge of him. On the remaining two occasions he was walking in the corridor and suddenly lost balance. In what was a remarkable coincidence, my friend VK Shankar was around and helped him each time. I once gently suggested to Mr Ramakrishna that he ought to have his attendant with him at all times. He agreed and a man came along after that. “Don’t worry,” he beamed at me. “I am not going to die in row B of the Academy.”
Mr Ramakrishna never hesitated to ask people around about the raga being performed or the song being sung. His view on music was simple – he liked to listen. In my view people of this kind are the best rasikas. When I got the news of his passing I messaged Shankar who lives in the US. “What a pity,” he replied. “Had I been around maybe he would have survived.” But then Mr Ramakrishna did not pass away in his seat at the Academy. These are sad times when we see old friends whom we took for granted vanishing one by one.
C Ramakrishna (CR) graduated in law from the Cambridge University. He evolved as a senior lawyer at the Madras High Court. He argued cases with passion, deep involvement and masterly logic with copious quotations from case laws.
He was widely known as Mambazha Thatha for his intense involvement in the development of orchards, especially mangoes. The several thousand fruit trees in his sprawling orchards at Chunampet and Vennangupattu were tended on the advice of experts from Maharashtra; this constantly improved the quality and quantity of yields. Hundreds of old mango trees were culled/upgraded to popular varieties. The orchards produce close to 30 exotic/popular varieties.
CR was also known for his mango philanthropy and diplomacy: he used to gift hundreds of well-packed, rich varieties of mangoes to friends, orphanages, hospitals…
He belonged to the lineage of wealthy landowners of Chunampet. Under his care villages around Chunampet underwent tremendous transformation. CR liberally funded new buildings and upgraded facilities at the government school in Vennangupattu and motivated the teachers to excel through interactions. He invited diabetologist Dr. V. Mohan and skin specialist Dr. Murugusundaram to set up quality medical facilities at Illedu. He gifted land to the National Agro Foundation founded by C. Subramaniam for its R&D centre.
CR set apart large acreage of land for an arboretum at Yerrangadu as a monumental bequeath. He availed the expertise of naturalist K.P. Geethakrishnan (former Finance Secretary and former Executive Director-IMF) and Vijayan-Lalitha of the Salim Ali Foundation. Developed over five years, today it has over 500 species of trees raised with saplings brought from across the country. The names of trees are clearly written in Tamil, English and Latin.
Deeply religious, CR renovated and improved the Siva and Vishnu temples for which his family was the traditional trustee. CR constructed a new Vinayaka temple at Vennangupattu on the Puducherry-Chennai highway with passion and dedication.
A perfectionist, CR looked for beauty and elegance in his creations – be it his iconic buildings in Anna Salai or the farm houses in the villages.
CR had great thirst for acquisition of knowledge. Even at a ripe old age, he regularly attended the weekly lectures of Swami Paramatmananda at the Sankara Hall, Chetpet, and learned Sanskrit and Tirukkural with enthusiasm. In later years he also developed a great taste for Carnatic music and was a familiar attendee at Music Academy’s annual concerts. His library had a rich collection with hundreds of books on law. He invited litterateurs and famous lawyers from Britain, the US and India for special lectures at the High Court.
In his demise Chennai has lost one of its most colourful personalities. — (Courtesy: Industrial Economist.)