Biographer and rasika, Lakshmi Devnath shares her memories of Lalgudi Jayaraman.
Time froze for Lakshmi Devnath, who was entering the ICU to see the ailing Lalgudi Jayaraman. “He is stable,” the nurse had told her at the doorway and seconds later the doctor came out to say he had expired. “I couldn’t believe it,” she says.
She has been working on the stalwart’s biography for the past few years and with the release almost fixed, was looking forward to the day but that is not to be. “No. It is not the spotlight I’m thinking of. He would have loved it. He worked as hard as I did on the book. Any detail I asked for, he would get it. He took my work so seriously, placing the book in his hands would have been the best gift or tribute that I could have paid him. I read the manuscript to him not once but three times. Yet, the release will never be the same without him.”
It is Jayaraman’s honesty and integrity that Lakshmi points out as first among his sterling qualities. “I have been his admirer from age ten. Opportunity to get close to him happened only after 2000, when my daughter became his disciple. The book happened much later. He never mixed up the two. Not once would he discuss the issue with his student and never all these years he asked me about the release of the book. His duty was to supply all the details; he did it and how!”
Lakshmi speaks of the intensity with which he worshipped music. “He was an embodiment of music. With his permission I sat as an observer when he taught his students and his personality as a guru opened up in all its dimensions.”
Never one to give up, the veteran would go over a nuance any number of times until the pupil got it right. “Not for him the I-have-taught-you-it-is-up-to-you-to-practise-and-perfect approach. He would agonise when the disciple struggled. ‘What should I do to make you get it right?’ He thought it was his fault if the student did not measure up.
And the student would be wise to skip a session if he or she is not prepared. For him time was precious for both the teacher and the taught.
He could not brook rough edges. Notes mutilated would bring tears of pain. ‘Falter but don’t leave the class until you get it right.’” That toil for perfection was almost moving. “But he only said he was trying to be perfect. It was an incredible combination of intellect, effort and creativity ruled by aesthetics. Not even a tiny movement should defy grammar. ‘Do be creative but think it out before implementing it.’” Impulse had no role here.
Lalgudi’s memory stunned Lakshmi. “A meticulous chronicler, he neatly documented each and every concert, solo and as accompanist, the songs played etc. “What literally took my breath away was he remembered every detail and could come up with the detail, date and co-artist including, without referring to the diary. This was extended to the book case at his house. He knew the contents of each book, page-wise. A student who implied that he might be wrong would have to sheepishly admit that she made a mistake in the search.”
Music and math go together. Don’t they? “Definitely so, in his case. A math wizard, he had such appetite for puzzles. So much so that a puzzle - book or toy - always made an ideal gift. With child like enthusiasm he would take it and start tackling it.”
Himself a towering personality, what was his attitude to other musicians? “Oh, he had high regard for Palghat Mani Iyer, GNB, MDR, whom he thought never got his due, and so on. He loved Mozart. He was an innovator, who kept improving his own work.”
How much did awards and titles matter to him?
“He respected them but moved on. To him rasikas were the best award. He would do anything for him. As a child of 11, I saw him at a wedding and simply asked him, ‘I’m your fan. Will you please come to our house?’ ‘Sure,’ he replied and kept his promise. I was a total stranger to him. Later, when I sent a request for his notation of Neelambari, the notes came in his beautiful hand in the next post.”
Pious, he did not indulge in long hours of puja but dedicated everything to his favourite Muruga.
A talk about Lalgudi Jayaraman would be incomplete without a word about his wife. Rajam adored the man, who gave a new definition to the violin. “She is a walking encyclopaedia on the maestro. She underplayed her musical talent but was a perfect foil to him. His alter ego, she cherished the treasure that he was and took care of him despite her advancing years.”
“He led by example. Sincerity, commitment and hard work – that summed him up. There was absolutely no dichotomy between word and deed. First violinist to cross the shores and perform a jugal bandi (with Amjad ali Khan), he put the country on the world map. A true son of the soil, he definitely is a Bharat Ratna, whether or not the Government decorates him,” concludes Lakshmi.