Monday, November 24, 2008


OH CAPTAIN! MY CAPTAIN! (An Article on Our Guru)

Have you met a person who lived all his life by the rules he wrote?

We have!

Yes - we are referring to – “SIR” - the great Veenai Vidwan and a fantastic teacher – Late Shri Anantharama Iyer whose contribution to the world of music is by all counts truly immeasurable.

His pedigree was indeed impeccable. But that was not his claim to fame. He was a colossus in his own right! For Countless people like us he was a source of inspiration. Yet he was down to earth, humble, and affectionate. He could be incredibly humorous and his sense of timing was amazing! He taught us what it is to be passionate and what it means to live for one’s belief.

To write about SIR is an honor and at the same time a real challenge! How does one do justice to such a multi-faceted personality? Having taken up this mammoth challenge we sure are going to try!

Having learnt from SIR for more than three decades, we have had great moments of inspiration. Memories of our gurukulavasam-like learning days are fresh in our minds and will continue to be.

The first thing that set SIR apart was his ability to induce people – young and old – to love music! He convinced each of us that Music is a way of life. Each Class would be unique - a different experience. He would expose us to the subtleties of various facets in the way which was distinctly his own! He was a great enabler. He would lead us to the desired destination with minimum fuss and no coercion.

We do not remember toiling hard to grasp the nuances of a Bhairavi or a Todi or a Yadukula Khamboji - however we toiled extremely hard to reproduce the same in our own chosen field. The ethos of a ragam would be seamlessly imparted by SIR but he would ensure we got it right by rigorous practice. He was a stickler for hard work. No compromises from him in that department. His golden words - “ to get something right – a vocalist has to practice at least 10 times ; a Violinist has to play it 100 times and if you were a Veena player you have to practice the same a 1000 times”.

He had a unique way of imparting knowledge. The key feature that differentiated his style from others was his instinctive approach to music. He could gauge the talent of each of his students and would work tirelessly to bring the unique talent in each individual to the fore without comprising on basics. This way he ensured his students moved away from the “herd” mentality, had a distinctive style of their own and at the same time adhered to the core tenets of classical music. He believed in his disciples. We have never seen him give up on ANYBODY. We have seen miracles which only he was capable of producing.

He was a purist yet extremely innovative. A Shankarabharanam would always be of the classical style – but would never be repetitive. Ragas like Begada, Darbar and Saveri would be steeped in the traditions of Carnatic Music – yet his Miya ki Malhar or Gurjari Todi would make one go in a trance. He was extremely capable of singing Mecha Kalyani and Yaman or Madhyamavati and Megh or Jujavanti and Jayjaywanti in the same breath. He could switch from Nayaki to Darbar in quick succession to elaborate the subtle yet poignant differences! It was a treat for us! All of us who have attended those classes would be speechless and would be in a world of own! Yes! We have tasted Nirvana! Surprised? It is true! Did we not say that we were fortunate?
His style of rendering Tanam, Neraval and Kalpana Swaram was truly magnificent. Without being biased we can proudly say that his style of rendering tanam (especially in Veena) remains unsurpassed. He would sing Nereval steeped in “sarva laghu” - yet would be pregnant with innumerable mathematical variations. He could move effortlessly between chathushram, thisram and kantam. It would never be hard on the ears! A layman could sit back and enjoy and a student could be delighted in figuring out the laya intricacies. None of this would be imposed on the students – the students would however find it extremely easy to imbibe his technique – it only needed focus and attention!

His Gamakas! Ah! One more of his sweet spots! He had his own style. Perfection! Thou were a slave in SIR’s hands! Each Gamaka was measured and to the point! He was a king in the art of alternating between “Vellinam” and “Mellinam”!

Unknown to many - he had a great fascination for RTP! In one of his visits to Chennai – after dinner – he happened to hear a recorded Pallavi concert of the great Alathur Brothers (our personal favorites!). Sir then proceeded to give us some insights as to how to sing Pallavis and the various facets that would need special attention. At once we were amazed and very sad! Amazed at how simple things can be and sad as to how the world has missed knowing this “gentle giant”.

Another interesting aspect of SIR was his ability to be agnostic to musical forms. Once when we were in a class – a ghazal sung by Begum Akhtar wafted in through the open window. Sir stopped teaching, beckoned all of us to be quiet, closed his eye and listened to the entire ghazal in a meditative mode. At the end of the ghazal he quietly closed shop for the day as he wanted to dwell upon what he had heard! He would appreciate good music from any quarter.

He was Childlike. On a lighter note - at times when we would be less than prepared with the previous day’s lessons – we would try our tricks to get out of an embarrassing situation. We would play a ragam even though SIR would not have specifically asked us to play! We would play specific phrases that were SIR’s favorites! Objective was to take “his eye off the ball”! Sure enough – simple that he was – he would get into the mood and the class would take a different hue! Yet – we would still be nervous! Wonder why? Here in comes SIR’s sister - our beloved TEACHER! At the end of the session - teacher would quietly come in and ask us to follow her into the other room and then start with the “KRITI” taught the previous day! No guesses for what would be our state of affairs at the end of the class! Perfect team work – the best BROTHER – SISTER combination that one can think of!

Punctuality was his buzz word. He would be extremely nervous if people around him did not meet his exacting standards. Here - “yours truly” was hardly successful in coming close to his expectations! I managed to constantly “irk” him despite best efforts! We had to be ready and on stage for a concert at least 15 minutes before time! I have always been a “just in time” person! I would never meet his eye till the concert commenced. This could be resolved only by commencing the concert strongly with a couple of his favorite phrases and I would be back in favor! Well! Jaysri has had no such issues! But true to SIR’s wishes – though we play as a duet team we don’t believe in the “herd” mentality – we have our individual styles that has had its impact on our definition of what is punctual!

We could go on and on about SIR! But some thoughts are too personal and may be a little difficult to share! They can only be experienced!

Whenever we think of SIR (and one cannot separate SIR and TEACHER!) we are reminded of the great Poem – “OH CAPTAIN MY CAPTAIN” - by Walt Whitman.

Some excerpts from the Poem that that are close to our hearts:

"O Captain my Captain! Our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack; the prize we sought is won;
The Port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting”

O Captain! My Captain! Rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up – for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills;
For you the bouquets and ribbon wreaths for you the shores a-crowding;
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning……"

SIR was a phenomenon! He lives in all of us!
SIR -we owe you for what we are! You continue to be the guiding light that guides our Ship through difficult waters! We know we will reach the shore – because you are with us!


This is an extract from an article published in the souvenir of Guruguha Sangeeth Sammelan dedicated to the memory of SIR on his 80th Birth Anniversary.


G.Narayan said...

I could not agree more. Your article brought back a lot of wonderful memories. A better individual has not walked the earth. my late dad used to say we are lucky to have lived at the same time as our belovea Sir.

Nice blog. nice to catch up!!!

Hema Narayan (viswanathan)


Thanks Hema! Yes, not a day goes by without remembering Sir. They way he has touched our lives is unimaginable.