Guests reminisced about the whimsical but endearing genius and his mesmerising flute.
Dr. N. Ramani's Academy of Flute organised ‘Mali Remembrance Day' at Vizha Vendhan N.K.T.Muthu Hall, Triplicane, on May 31. The programme began with a flute recital by L.V.Mukund, whose pleasant one-hour concert had pieces that ranged from the weighty ‘Evari Mata' to the lilting ‘Chinnan Chiru Kiliye.'
Flautist Mali was known as a whimsical genius, whose admirers found even his unpredictability endearing. But the guests on this occasion spoke of other traits of Mali too. Vikku Vinayakaram recalled that he first played for Mali, in the Thiruvatteeswaran temple Navaratri series. Vikku's father, Harihara Sarma, used to play the morsing for Mali's concerts. For some reason All India Radio (AIR) banned the morsing in radio concerts.
Mali wrote articles in The Hindu arguing for the inclusion of the morsing. Every Thursday evening, AIR had a programme titled ‘Ragam Thanam Pallavi,' and Mali was invited to perform. He turned up at the radio station, but refused to play unless the morsing was included. Left with no option, the authorities had to send a car to fetch Vikku's father. In course of time, AIR lifted the ban on the morsing and Mali had a significant role to play in this happy denouement.
When Harihara Sarma was in a fix, not having the money to celebrate his daughter's marriage, Mali gave a concert for the Tiruchi R.R. Sabha and gifted his remuneration to Harihara Sarma for the marriage.
N.K.T. Muthu said that Mali would remain unfazed even if he arrived just in the nick of time for a concert. Once Mali had a 6.45 p.m. concert in Triplicane, but he arrived at the Madras airport only at 6 p.m. He went to Muthu's house, had his bath and still managed to begin the concert on time.
Packet of pakodas
Koothapiran recalled Mali playing in Sikkal once, during the Soora Samhara utsavam. All that Mali had been given by way of ‘remuneration' was a packet of pakodas. Yet Mali was quite content to play with no promise of any monetary payment. Artists are known to be fussy people, and they prefer to use their own instruments. But not Mali. Once he forgot to take his flute for an AIR concert, so he just borrowed one from an AIR staff artist.
P.B. Sreenivos had the misfortune of being taught Carnatic music by a guru, who didn't quite bring out the beauty of the genre through his lessons. As a result, PBS developed a dislike for Carnatic music, until, one day, he heard a radio concert and was mesmerised. The concert was that of Mali's.
As compere Subhashini rightly observed, the word ‘Flute' became a kind of title for Mali, who came to be known as Flute Mali. PBS, as usual, had composed a verse about Mali, which he sang in the ‘Kaalangalil Aval Vasantham' tune. Vikku's solo marked the grand finale of the evening of tributes to Flute Mali.