By Narasimhan Vijayaraghavan
Sir Neville Cardus was a cricket writer and a passionate music critic. Once, he chose to go to Royal Albert Hall,London, to listen to Ignacy Jan Paderewski ( who was a famous Polish pianist, composer and politician who was a spokesman for Polish independence. In 1919, he was the nation’s prime minister and foreign minister during which he signed the Treaty of Versailles, which ended World War I) and chose to miss a visit to Lords, to watch Wally Hammond in full flow. Yet, on the day next, he wrote on both performances. And the readers loved it. For, Cardus wrote with love.
Setting out in pursuit of what you love, is the be all and end all of any one’ s life. It is not given to any and many to be engaged in a profession you passionately believe in. Most of us strolled or strayed into our respective professions, to embark on ‘accidental careers’.
Even the courtroom genius Nani Palkhivala failed to get a job as English lecturer and per chance, became a practising lawyer. A lady beat him to it and it is believed that Nani treated her for a dinner every year, for several decades, for denying him the job. India owes the lady a big treat. Nani of course grew passionate at law and did himself and India proud, as possibly the greatest jurist that has adorned the legal hemisphere, this side of the universe.
Sir Kenneth Robinson in his ‘Element’ quotes with conviction two remarkable instances, one of a fidgety young school kid and another of a proficient concert pianist. Parents took the little school girl to a Counsellor to ‘settle’ her down from a disturbed state, possibly with medication. The counsellor demonstrated to the mother by letting the mother see that the little one was a ‘born dancer who could not stand still’ and not ‘a fidgety and disturbed soul’. The girl was taken to a dance school and turned out for Royal Ballet in London and now CEO of an internationally renowned dance institution and cultural czar of recognition. Imagine the girl being medicated to’ settle her down’.
The other instance was the concert pianist of rare talent who was not so enamoured of her pursuit. Her coach found her not ‘enjoying’ her musician status and instead was craving to be among books and authors. She shifted allegiance and has today become the moving force behind a remarkable publishing institution. She now ‘enjoys’ being a publisher and has gifted away her piano.
What has this got to do with the Margazhi Music Season. Everything. You do not become an accomplished singer or artiste, without being in love with what one was performing and passionately believing in.
Ramakrishnamurthy elevated to the evening slot at the Music Academy,for a concert on 17th Dec, 2015 at 18.45 hrs. It would be seven years ago (as on 30th Dec,2022). He is one character who loves what he is doing. He is not singing because he can or to make a living out of it or possibly for fame and/or lucre. After his graduation from the University of California, he moved to Chennai, India, in 2011, to pursue Carnatic music more intensely. In Chennai, he began to learn from R. K. Shriramkumar under whose tutelage Ramakrishnan blossomed as a musician and also as a performing artist.
He sings, because he loves it like nothing else and cannot be seen to be indulging in anything else. When he sings , one can touch the abundance of joy he swims in . The nasal twang he is bestowed with, a la GN Balasubramanian and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer adds fragrance to his rendering. At his age, when those all round, are zipping in fancy cars and indulging in material pursuits and revelling in the frivolities, this ‘boy’ is simply amazing in his singular focus and devotion to the love of singing . He exudes so much love that he has a lot to spare for some others who may have a commercial streak in their pursuit.
Ramakrishnamurthy falls in that genre. He has a level head on strong shoulders so much so that he, by volition, chose to skip an offer to be elevated even in 2014. He did not want to feel rushed and waited for himself to be sure mouthed or footed,if you will. He took to the evening platform like fish to water and his Asura Sathagam ( Devilish Practice sessions) made his live concerts, like a walk in the park.
He has already been marked out for higher scaling and he is unlikely to fail. He has the inner and physical discipline to train hard and make a concert occasion, just another ‘net practice session’. He realized and understood that Art is a Process not Product.
That he is now tutored R K Sriramkumar, the violin wizard with deep Paadanthiram, and is bold and imaginative enough to pick up the old/golden sahityams and polish them with his Manodharma – innovative flourishes – marks him out, as someone who could and would defy the law of averages. With R K Sriramkumar- No Music; No Life. Know Music; Know Life, as someone said.
Confident as he is, never over-confident, for he is astute enough to appreciate and understand that he was destined to a higher calling, bestowed by divine grace and so reverentially respects his own talent and therefore refuses to flay at it, even at the margins. His music is now the soundtrack of his life!
He plays with a straight bat and respects the bowler or the craft he is engaged in and never takes it for granted or one that he can deliver with nonchalance. He trains hard and that shows. He appeals to the older generation also, by picking up the rare kirthanais and handling them with the ease of a veteran. Murthy believes in the adage ‘Good Music has no expiration date’. He fills the plate of the critic by sticking to discipline and never plays an ugly or arrogant shot. He fascinates the younger lot by going for the jugular with a tuneful dive into the depths of the ragas (Sahana, for one and evergreen Kalyani for another) to come up with flashes of rare yet sustained brilliance. A la pristine pure Sunil Gavaskar straight drives or Saurav Ganguly cover drives ( Rahul Dravidd famously said – on the off side there is God; then there is Ganguly). In effect, he is an e commerce App, in current lingo, to be tapped into,for all wares, with certainty, by all comers.
If there could be a complaint for the sake of inventing one, it could be that he was singing like an old timer. Too much of a veteran too early. He sits and lets go a fusillade of swaras, shot from a ramrod straight bow and not one arrow falls by the wayside, except the bull’s eye.And the ease with which he held his breath , he was toying with it. ( Applause). He would be immensely embarrassed, if any syllable were to fall foul of grammar. Or so, one feared. Or at times, when he feared the swara patterns could be seen as ‘demonstrative’, he pulled them back and lo and behold, the swaras obliged. In so much control. Or so it seemed from his demeanour and humble demonstration- in rendering Raghupatherama. Not humble on substance yet humble in claiming ownership. NyamaMeenakshama- as in Mayamma- was rendered with such feeling that it seemed to be in dedication to the victims of a natural disaster.Surely, a calming influence.
Academy seems to have unleashed an array of young veterans- with Sandeep Narayan, Ramakrishnamurthy, followed by Saketharanan, Sikkil Gurucharan et al. By design? Penance for the past over reliance on the tired and retired lot.? This ‘boy’ has more than made up for the absence of a Vijay Siva known for his balance and equipoise.And that would be saying a lot.
His Shamughapriya/Mohanam RTP ( please, the ragas were identified in the wordings- no big shakes)- in respectful dedication of his guru’s composition- was so huggable- endearingly so Andalish- that I quietly pocketed and parcelled it to Andal herself for keeps, for her to hum to her Vadapathrasayee. Rounded off with a Virutham – Kana Vendamo- as the icing on the sweetened cake. And then, And then, Nadhabindhukaladi NaMo…Full circle.
In two words. The concert was Sublime and Serene.
There was no concert of Ramakrishnamurthy, on 30th Dec,2022 at 18.45 hrs- as the slated/slotted performance was cancelled.(Read the Cardus episode. I was not even in the Academy).
It is a fictional piece. I just harked back to 2015- and relived it, for I am writing today.
And I chose not to cancel MY performance!
As I tuck into my staple diet, during this Margazhi Music Season, of Kasi Halva,Rava Dosa and hot Kumbakonam Filter coffee- here’s Wishing all Readers (hopefully) and their families, the very Best in life.
(Author is practicing advocate in the Madras High Court)