“I am averse to working in journals because I may be asked to do illustrations on topics that I am not comfortable with”
Good music is inseparable from good food. And a visit to sabhas in Chennai during the December Season proves the point. There are many people who relish the food in the canteens as those who savour music in the auditoria. But in Kumbakonam, once the cradle of Carnatic music, a hotel serves its customers crispy rava dosa, hot pongal soaking in ghee and mouth-watering kesari, with a visual treat of sketches of composers, scholars and saints.
The menu board of the Sri Venkatramana Hotel in Kumbakonam informs customers about “Today's special” along with the day's significance. On Friday, the portrait of Muthuswami Dikshitar, one of the Carnatic Trinity, Abhirami Pattar of Thirukadaiyur, who composed Abhirami Antadi, Bhaskara Rayar, who wrote the commentary for Devi Bhagavatam and Sampanthandan, are displayed along with badusha, gulab jamun, coconut poli and other items.
“Since it is Friday, I have featured Devi Upasakas (worshippers). Monday, I will concentrate on Lord Shiva, Tuesday on Lord Durga and Muruga, Wednesday, on freedom fighters and the concept of patriotism, Thursday, on Dakshinamurthy, Saturday, on Lord Vishnu,” says N. Rajendran, the artist, who once worked as a bearer in the hotel. Rajendran is the son of Chitraleka, the staff artist of Ananda Vikatan between 1943 and 1960, who, however, did not like to follow in his father's footsteps. “I am averse to working in journals because I may be asked to do illustrations on topics that I am not comfortable with,” he said, adding that that was behind his decision to join the hotel. The idea to draw the pictures on the menu board struck him three years ago. Since Rajendran was not keeping well, the hotel management did not want to tax him with the rigorous job of running between the kitchen and the customers' tables.
He was assigned jobs that were much less demanding. It was at that time he had suggested to the owner of the hotel M. Balachandran his desire to draw portraits of composers and saints on the menu board and he agreed immediately. “The credit goes to the owner,” says Rajendran, who is no longer the employee of the hotel. Now he is in demand as a calendar artist, but comes to the hotel every morning to fill the menu board that is his canvas for the last three years. “I draw portraits of Gods for the calendar industry,” Rajendran, a native of Tiruneelakudi, told The Hindu.
Keywords: Chennai Margazhi season