Inspired by the incredible stories of British Carnatic music rasika and student Nick Haynes and Malaysian–Chinese vocalist Chong Chiu Sen that I published earlier, I asked readers to write to me about the craziest thing they have done for the love of Carnatic music. The responses I received were heart-warming (and I don’t mean the ones in which I was asked whether it was a ‘trick’ question and about ‘exclusivity and confidentiality clauses’!) — there is so much love for Carnatic music out there!
Here’s a compilation of the stories I received.
One day I was walking past Ethiraj Kalyana Mandapam in Chennai. I heard the familiar voice of my favourite musician, the pitamaha, Shri Semmangudi. Without a second thought I barged into the Mandapam, listened to the concert, completely oblivious to the hustle and bustle around! When the concert got over, I got up to leave. Somebody came and told me to have dinner. I told them, ‘Sorry, I am not an invitee, I just came in to listen to the concert’! It was only then that I realised what I had done, and I felt so miserable! But that person was so happy and insisted that I take some sweet at least, and gave me thamboolam also. I must have been 16–17 years old then!
After my graduation I took up a job in a nationalised bank. By then, going to the December concerts at the Music academy had become a regular feature for me and my dad (who would get about a week of maintenance holidays from the office, Integral Coach Factory, during the period). Since I worked in the administrative office, there was no ‘half year closing’ pressure. My Deputy General Manager, being an ardent lover of Carnatic music, would happily sanction my leave — on condition that when I reported back for duty, I would give him detailed reports of all the concerts I attended, with all the minute details and nuances!
My name is Hema Shankar. I am a senior citizen and a grandmother, living in Mumbai since 1976. Hailing from Madras, I am ardent lover of Carnatic music. I have attended the Music Academy concerts for nearly 10–12 years, till 1975. A Lalgudi fan, I have attended almost all his concerts during the same period.
The craziest thing I have done because of my love for Carnatic music is going to Hyderabad to learn from my Veena teacher. I am from the Netherlands and I was already learning Bharatanatyam.
– Anine Singh-de Grood
We are a bunch of music lovers who used to be regular at the December Music Festival at the Music Academy. We used to be there dot on time to see the icons of the 50s and 60s who would dominate the festival — Ariyakudi, Semmangudi, GNB and Madurai Mani Iyer the great. Why do I single out MMI, you may ask. He was and is our God of music; we are MMI fanatics, to say the least! In the year when he was conferred the title of Sangeetha Kalanidhi we all celebrated it with gusto. MMI used to sing ‘Eppo Varuvaro’ as one of the thukkadas. When rasikas used to ask for it, the violin maestro Thiruvangadu Sundaresa Iyer used to say, ‘Wait! Varuvar, varuvar!’, meaning he would surely sing that piece. When MMI sang the English Note, we used to dance very spontaneously. MMI is a legend, and was the Sachin of Carnatic Music. We enjoyed MMI’s music immensely. One of my friends used to be emotional and cry at MMI concerts, while another used to say that his fever would be cured on listening to MMI. MMI is synonymous with music for us. We still gather and listen to MMI periodically. When he performed at the Mylapore Kapali temple, rickshaws wouldn’t ply till the end of his concert!
– S. Venugopalan
Shri S. Venugopalan is a retired RBI officer from Chennai. He retired in 2003 from the RBI after serving the bank for a period of four decades. He is the son of late Shri P.G. Sundararajan, the popular Tamil writer, also known as Chitti (of ‘Manikodi’ fame).
A humanitarian like no other, he is known as a social activist in Vannanthurai, where he lives. He has been associated with the Rathnagirishwarar temple in Besant Nagar for more than four decades now.
It was April 23, 2003 and I happened to attend for the first time, a concert of Shri Chitravina N. Ravikiran in Madison, WI. I was expecting my first child, and totally enthralled by the instrument, I listened to the maestro’s chitravina throughout my pregnancy. My next pregnancy was in 2009, but this time in Bengaluru. My biggest craving was to attend a concert of the chitravina maestro. To my dismay, there was none in the vicinity. So I decided to arrange a workshop of the maestro in Bengaluru, barely a month away from my due date. I had just got off a cast, and was very sick with a lingering cold and cough, but that did not deter me one bit. The workshop was my first introduction to his concept of Melharmony, that has since then become very dear to me!
– Vanitha Suresh
Vanitha Suresh is the Founder–Director of Arohana School of Music and Executive Director of the non-profit Melharmony Foundation, in Middleton, WI. She is a computer scientist by training, an avid promoter of Carnatic Music, and a performer herself. She is married to Prof. Krishnan Suresh, and has two sons aged 12 and 6, who are very passionate about Carnatic music as well.
This incident took place about 30 years ago. I was moving to Goa from Chennai to settle there, and I was looking forward to the shifting. In the beginning everything was nice but when it came to music there was no Carnatic music — only Hindustani and Western. So for my regular practice or learning new songs, it was only the cassettes I had with me to fall back on. No guru to correct me. It was very frustrating as I would record my song, play it back and check. One day, in a moment of defiance, I penned down my thoughts and posted it to — guess whom? Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi! And forgot about it! I was at peace for some time.
About ten days later, I received a letter from Shri Atmaraman, who was with her in Kotturpuram and wrote on behalf of her. He conveyed Smt. M.S. Subbalakshmi response through the letter — that she was very happy with my regular practice. She encouraged me to listen to stalwarts which would improve my ‘kelvi jnanam’ and also sent me an autographed picture of the trinity! It was a pleasant shock for me for I did not expect a reply. I still preserve the letter as well the picture of the Trinity! I considered it her blessing and that gave me a new surge of energy. I went on to complete my BA and MA in Carnatic music and continue my musical journey till date.
This experience I wanted to share as it is her centenary year.
– Meena (Hema) Sundaram from Vasco-da-gama, Goa
I am passionate about Carnatic music as music runs in our family. My mother Smt T.V. Seetha (who is 86 and still sings) is one of the earliest students of Shri A.S. Panchapakesha Iyer (author of many books on Carnatic music for students and Principal of Bharatiya Music College, Bombay). She has been my music guru. What with work and family, I was not able to devote much time to music but would listen to many concerts. After my voluntary retirement from a nationalised bank, I took up music and completed my BA and later MA in music. I taught the theory of music in BITS Pilani, Goa Campus for three semesters as an elective subject. I have conducted lec-dems on topics like Ganesha and music, ‘Sangam’ — meeting point of Carnatic and Hindustani music, ‘Mile sur mera’ — Bhimsen Joshi and Purandaradasa kirtanas, and Smt. M.S. Subbulakshmi.
I was 11 years old then. There was a concert coming up — a concert by my favourite artist, O.S. Arun. I like the way he can sing bass so effortlessly and his style of music is truly mesmerizing. There was only one problem. I had promised my friends that I would come to school the next day no matter what, as it was my friend’s birthday. But then, the concert was on the same day. I really wanted to go to school but I wanted to go to the concert even more! Boy, was I confused! I decided that the concert was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. All my ‘Am sick’s and my ‘I have mild fever’s were countered by my friends’ ‘Come to school and you’ll be fine – with us!’ But no! That didn’t help my plan! So, I had to spice it up a little. I told them that my temperature had touched a hundred and I had a nose block. That my head was splitting in two and felt like someone was hammering me! The next day, I went to the concert and enjoyed to my fullest. His voice was wonderful and the bhava in his music was marvelous! Altogether, the concert was splendid.
– Lakshmi Ramawami
I am Lakshmi Ramawami, a ninth grader at the PSBB Millennium school. My non-academic interests include music (Carnatic and western) and books. Learning new languages is my passion. I write a lot and I am a blogger too.
I woke up at 3 am (sometimes at 2 am!) and stood in long queues to get tickets for certain artistes at various sabhas during the music season; spent an entire month’s salary buying CDs of some of my favourite artistes; traded work hours to attend Sanjay Subrahmanyan’s concert and got back to work after concert to complete assignments; worked with a bunch of techie/music enthusiasts to help in redesigning the kutcheris.com website and mobile app (That it didn’t take off for various reasons is another matter)!
– Swathi Ravichandran
Swathi Ravichandran is an up-and-coming vocalist, and the granddaughter and disciple of Shri Thirupoonthuruthy V. Venkatesan. She is currently under the tutelage of Smt. Sumithra Vasudev. She has a B grade from All India Radio in classical vocal as well as devotional vocal music.
Many more people have shared their stories — of quitting their day jobs to design Carnatic music apps, of attending an MSS concert on the eve of an IIT entrance exam and then passing with flying colours, of surviving a road accident in icy weather and then tailing a truck for about 75 miles to listen to the legend Shri R.K. Shrikantan! Read them all here on rasikas.org.
If you have a crazy story you’d like to share, do write about it in the comments section below. Spread the Carnatic craziness!