Ravi Santosham on medicos who were also proficient musicians, the thrill of being in a student band and being influenced by The Beatles
Music was integral to life at the medical colleges of Madras. Bands that emerged out of them promoted camaraderie among medicos. Therefore, authorities in these institutions fostered these bands, sometimes going out of the way to show their support. Here's an example. Student Times organised ‘Musical Knockout' in 1966 at The Music Academy. The competition had two categories: judging by an expert panel and voting by the audience.
Mustangs from Madras Christian College gave a mesmerising performance and cantered away with the top prize in the judging event. The Medics from Madras Medical College won by popular vote. The Dean of MMC had sent a fleet of buses to bring students from various medical colleges to the venue!
In those days, beat bands — usually a quartet consisting of three guitarists and a drummer — were in vogue (Y.Gee Mahendra, who played the drums, and I combined to form a beat band named Phantoms). To break away from this trend and give its line-up greater variety, The Medics hoped to take in a saxophonist named Pacheco. For this to happen, Pacheco had to succeed in his attempt to get into MMC. When I told the dean how valuable this saxophonist could be to The Medics, he responded positively. ‘All other things being equal, Pacheco will get a nod if he performed moderately well in the interview,' he said. Our hopes were dashed when Pacheco developed cold feet and did not turn up for the interview.
When a candidate was being assessed for admission to a medical college, his accomplishments in areas such as sports and music were also given weightage. A letter from music director M.S. Viswanathan stating that I was a good musician helped me get into MMC.
Given the importance accorded to music, it was no surprise that The Medics were popular across the medical colleges of Madras. The band, however, received a mortal blow when its leader Hugh Broughton passed away. The tragedy happened on a cricket field. After hitting a sixer, he fell down and died instantly: he had suffered a cerebral haemorrhage.
It was an irreplaceable loss, but the Singing Surgeons — a group we formed when Kalyan T. Subramanyam, a brilliant pianist, joined MMC — ensured the college's flag continued to fly high at inter-collegiate competitions. One at Guindy Engineering remains etched in my memory.
Sixty teams were in the fray. Singing Surgeons and Kash-Allan-Murali, a group from IIT, could not perform because both were one member short of their complete line-ups. At the eleventh hour, Usha Iyer (now Usha Uthup) drove the ‘missing' musicians — Kalyan and Allan — to the venue. Without sufficient time to tune their instruments, both groups gave ‘a cappella' performances. To our pleasant surprise, we read from the papers the next day that the Singing Surgeons had won the contest, followed by Kash-Allan-Murali!
Singing Surgeons were up to date with international music trends. In awe of The Beatles, we aped their methods. We would have loved to use the Hammond organ — which Paul McCartney employed commendably in ‘Your Mother Should Know' — but got ourselves a less expensive Farfisa organ from Italy. Most other bands in Madras also bore the influences of The Beatles.
Not just The Beatles, the counter-culture of the late-1960s also left a mark on these music groups. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, badges based on the peace symbol of Woodstock sold like hot cakes in Madras.
Dr. RAVI SANTOSHAM Born in 1949, he has achieved distinction as a chest physician, musician and squash administrator. Chief consultant physician at the Santosham Chest Hospital, Ravi is also the International Governor of the American College of Chest Physicians and the founder-member of the Asthma Foundation of India. He is the president of the Madras Musical Association (MMA) and a member both of the GATT Quintet and the Male Voice Ensemble. He is the founder-member of the Tamil Nadu Squash Racquets Association and the joint-secretary of the Squash Racquets Federation of India. In addition, he is the vice-president of the MCC alumni association and the president of the Indian Christian Association.
During a performance by The Medics, a youngster came on to the stage with a request. He was carrying a violin and a paper with music notes. He handed us the paper and requested that we play it. Since none of us could read music fluently, we asked him to play it on his violin while we followed him. As he played, we were wonder-struck. We took our hands off our instruments and were lost in the grandeur of his music. That youngster was L. Subramaniam — a fellow student at MMC. He later became the kingpin of the MMC orchestra which won many contests around the country.