Looking back at the early days of Palghat Mani Iyer.
My grandfather Palghat Mani Iyer was hardly eight years old when he performed his first concert – and that very first concert was full of drama and emotions. Mani Iyer had casually gone to Mukhai Sivaramakrishna Bhagavathar’s kathakalakshepam in which Kalpathy Viswanatha Iyer (one of Mani Iyer’s early gurus) was accompanying on the mridangam.
After an hour or so during the concert, Vicha anna, (as Viswanatha Iyer was fondly called) pointed to the eight-year-old boy and asked him to take over and stepped down from the dais. Everyone, including Mani Iyer’s father, who was the support vocalist, was stunned.
Vicha anna listened to Mani Iyer play for about half an hour, and left the place with the words, “inime ivan paathupaan,” (he will take care henceforth).
An eventful beginning
After this eventful debut, for a couple of months, Mani Iyer did not have any outing until one evening, a horse-cart came to his house from a near-by village. The horse-man told Mani Iyer’s father that the mridangam vidwan, who was supposed to perform for the kathakalakshepam, that evening could not make it; and that the organisers came to know of a small boy (Mani Iyer) who played the mridangam, and that he should play instead, that evening.
The boy had gone with his friends to play on the river bank as was usual. The father went to fetch him and Mani was put on the cart. He was paid Rs. 2 (not a small sum in the late 1910s).
The next day, at the same time, the same cart with the horse-man came narrating the same story, and picked up the young percussion artist. This happened for four consecutive days, and the anxious father restrained the boy from going out to play, anticipating summons. A much displeased Mani would mutter, “Why can’t the organisers inform me a day ahead?” That Mani Iyer’s career graph zoomed to great heights thereafter is a different story.
My father Palghat T.R. Rajaram and myself have arranged a modest celebration of the 101st anniversary of my grandfather Palghat Mani Iyer, this Sunday, June 9, at Raga Sudha Hall, Mylapore. Vidwans T.V. Gopalakrishnan and T.R. Subramaniam will speak on Mani Iyer’s genius on and off the stage. My father will recall Mani Iyer’s practice practice sessions at home. The speech will be followed by a concert of Vijay Siva accompanied by Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi and J. Vaithyanathan.