Once upon a time...
Our globe-trotting musicians have riveting tales to tell. Samples:
Reminiscences: (From top left) Bombay Sisters, TVS, TVG, Arun Prakash and Pakala Ramadas.
As travel and musicians invariably go together, artists encounter situations ranging from the amusing to the truly bizarre.
His long innings in the field make mridangam virtuoso and vocalist T.V.Gopalakrishnan a prime candidate for anecdotes. “Once, my guru, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavathar, was approaching Tiruttani for a concert. Troubled by his health, he wished fo
r garuda darshanam, an auspicious sign. Ahead was a rocky terrain with no stirrings of life. To my astonishment, we rounded the next curve only to see several kites majestically circling the skies. Moved, my guru partook of no food that day except for naivedya prasadam. That evening, he sang with renewed vigour.”
The maestro continues, “In 1974, when I performed with Pt. Ravishankar, Ustad Allah Rakha and George Harrison, four shows were scheduled at the famous Madison Square Garden, New York. The Ustad commenced our percussive exchange. His virtuosity drew ringing applause. When my turn came, time was running out. Summoning all my flair, I played just a single chaapu. The sound circled the 22,000-strong audience and rose in concentric spirals to fill the expectant hush. Then, thunderous applause broke out, in waves.” Known for their tradition-bound music, the Bombay Sisters, C. Saroja and C.Lalitha, have this to narrate: “About 30 years ago, while performing at Hassan, we noticed an old man in rags and concluded that he knew nothing about music. When we sang ‘Harichittha Sathya,’ he was moved to tears. After the concert, he approached us with folded palms and prostrated. He said that he had perceived in us a swaroopa of Devi. We felt humbled and regretted that we had misjudged a person on the basis of appearance. Another time, our kutcheri in Rochester, U.S., featuring only Tamil compositions displayed the ‘Houseful’ board. We still cherish the memorable review that ran thus – “It was not a Michael Jackson concert. Nor was it a wartime queue for rations. It was a classical concert, that too on Tamil Isai, for which the tickets were sold out.”
Senior vidwan, T.V. Sankaranarayanan says: “Train-bound for Ernakulam, I was surrounded by Ayyappa devotees. Finding their pleas hard to resist, I obliged with a song.
Soon, my singing session stretched to 45 minutes, with passengers converging at our aisle - a testimony to the power of music to unite. Another time, I began humming Hindolam during a long road journey. By substituting the sadharana gandhara with the antara gandhara, which lent brightness, I moved to a new raga which I named Surya.
“That season, in December 1989, I presented an RTP in Surya at the Music Academy and received a standing ovation. I later discovered that it was called Sallapam. But ‘Surya’ made such an impact that the name persists to this day.”
Fellow artists know violinist Pakala Ramdas as a storehouse of anecdotes and jokes. But he turns serious while recounting a memorable experience on his visit to Russia with the Kalakshetra troupe during the Festival of India, 1987. “A connoisseur gave me two audio cassettes to be handed over to my guru, Lalgudi Sir. One featured Madurai Mani Iyer, the other GNB. with Lalgudi Sir as the accompanist for both. Throughout the tour, we listened repeatedly to the magnificent music that offered fresh insights at each hearing. Musicians and dancers were united, held spellbound by the riveting music.”
“Travel once taught me a lesson in Vedantha. The realisation that all the money in the world cannot bail you out of a situation engineered by karma!” says Arun Prakash, mridangam vidwan. “In November 1984, my father and I were returning from Gudivada after his concert. Monday night we boarded the train, expecting to reach Madras at 9 a.m., Tuesday. But overnight, a cyclone blew in with heavy rain flooding the district. Our train was marooned at Naidupeta junction… And for the next four days we survived on the uppuma packets air-dropped. On Saturday, we left Hyderabad to reach Chennai on Sunday morning. Entering home, guess what my mother said? ‘Shall I make you some uppuma?’ We nearly collapsed,” exclaims the artiste.
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