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When music reigns... Swati fete

Chatline Music is the constant in Aswathy Thirunal Rama Varma’s life but Nita Satyendran finds out that food, books and cinema play a role too


Aswathy Thirunal Rama Varma is a scion of the royal family of erstwhile Travancore and lives in a palace. But that’s where equitability with the proverbial princely traits (read dapper Savile Row suits, chauffer-driven limousines and all the trappings of the high life), ends. Instead, this royal is only ever to be seen in long-sleeved kurtas and dothis, zipping around the city in his trusty 20-year-old Maruti van humming melodies of his all-time favourite singer Kishore Kumar.

Quirky he may be, but thanks to his mastery over the veena and mellifluous Carnatic vocals he is not only a reputed musician but also the organiser of the ‘Swati Sangeethotsavam,’ the 10th edition of which will begin at Kuthiramalika Palace on January 6.

Yet, quite surprisingly, music was not Rama Varma’s first love.

“ In fact, I wanted to be a veterinarian like author James Herriot. The grossness involved in dissecting cockroaches quickly put a stop to that dream!” laughs Rama Varma.

First attempt

The first time he participated in some sort of a music-related programme was not because of a love for music but because the most popular student and the class leader, a boy called Jayakrishnan, was part of a group song troupe. “I still remember singing ‘Hoiaare Hoiaare Hoyya…’ as part of a competition little knowing that it would be the turning point of my life,” reminisces Rama Varma. “When my great-grandmother, Sethu Parvathi Bayi, came to know about it, she was so thrilled to finally have someone in the family with a flair for music that she promptly arranged for music lessons. It was only later on that I found out that she had auditioned every possible music teacher in the city until she settled on my guru Vechoor Harihara Subramania Iyer,” adds the artiste who eventually furthered his musical education under maestro M. Balamuralikrishna and veena gurus K.S. Narayana Swamy and Trivandrum R. Venkataraman. But it is with Dr. Balamuralikrishna that he shares a special camaraderie, much more than that of a guru-shishya. “I try to meet Sir at least once a month and we always have the best of times, singing, sharing jokes, good food, and of course teaching and learning,” says the artiste.

Eternal student

Rama Varma avows that he remains first and foremost a listener and student of music rather than a mere singer. “To me life itself is music,” remarks Rama Varma. “I spend up to 16 hours a day practising, listening to, learning and experimenting with music,” he adds. Perhaps that is why he is such a connoisseur of world music of the “non-electronic, non-synthetic variety.” His favourites include Maori singer Jade Eru, Arabic singer Fairouz and Iranian musician Googoosh, apart from the evergreen hits of Kishore Kumar and K.L Saigal. However, this admirer of MDR and Madurai Mani Iyer is a stickler for tradition when it comes to Carnatic music. “There are infinite possibilities in Carnatic music itself, so why experiment?” Once in a while though, his playful nature reveals itself as it did when he ended a Carnatic concert on World Music Day, with a French composition of Belgian singer Jacques Brel!

“Brel is the lyricist-singer who sensitivised me to the charm of lyrics,” says Rama Varma.

So what does he do when he is not into music? “If music is the constant in my life, so too is food, laughter and tennis, in that order,” he reveals. “I love all kinds of food from Sushi to Italian to my great-grandmother’s pulisheri,” adds the foodie and chocoholic whose self-deprecating sense of humour makes him keep referring to his girth.

Comic book fan

The comic book freak who can sit for hours cracking up with laughter over the likes of ‘The Far Side,’ ‘Asterix,’ ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ and ‘Garfield,’ in that order as he points out, is also a great fan of comedies, in English and Malayalam. His all-time favourite is ‘Sanamanasullavarku Samadhanam,’ adds the fan of Mohanlal, Sreenivasan, Jagathi Sreekumar, Nedumudi Venu and Innocent.

Youtube is another source where he gets his fix of comedy and music. He is constantly watching stand-up comedy routines of Rowan ‘Mr. Bean’ Atkinson.

“A fan of mine called ‘musiquebox’ posts clippings of my concert on Youtube and that was how I got acquainted with Youtube. Now, I post clippings of Dr. Balamuralikrishna and K.L. Saigal through my channel ‘musique4ever.’ Raymond Jenkins, a fan of mine, saw the clippings and it was he who started a website www.ramavarama.synthasite.com.” Rama Varma is also a sedentary tennis follower, especially of Rafael Nadal; a lover of Roald Dahl books and considers himself to be the ultimate Bruce Lee fan. So does he keep fit with Karate? “Does it look like I do? My mantra is Garfield’s mantra: round is also a shape!”

SWATI FETE


Swati Sangeethotsavam also known as the Kuthiramalika festival is an annual festival held in memoriam of Rama Varma’s ancestor, composer and musician Swati Tirunal. “The person giving the concert on that particular day is the chief guest and it is he/she who lights the lamp. This year we are celebrating the 10th anniversary of the festival as a 10-day event with concerts by some illustrious musicians.”

N. S

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