TNR played for four hours, and his music could keep a nine-year-old transfixed all the time!
Heading one music sabha is daunting enough; presiding over seven of them is, therefore, no mean achievement. But Nalli Kuppuswami Chetti does this effortlessly.
“I love dance and music. That is one of the main reasons why I promote them,” says this patron of the arts. But how and when did he get his first taste of music? “I vaguely remember accompanying my father to The Museum Theatre where concerts were held regularly.”
“However, my earliest memory is when I was nine. S.S. Vasan had bought his house (demolished two years ago) on TTK Road (next to the Music Academy) and conducted the wedding of his daughter there. It was a three-day affair and on one of the days, nagaswaram wizard T.N. Rajarathinam Pillai performed. He played for four hours, and what was amazing was that his music could keep a nine-year-old transfixed all the time! Yes, according to my father, I never moved from the place till he finished playing! That is the power of music.”
“Later, in the early 1950, when T. Nagar was a quiet neighbourhood, the empty site next to our shop (which is now Kumaran Silks) was the venue for Sri Krishna Gana Sabha. So, whenever a kutcheri was in progress, I would come out and listen to the music for about half-an-hour. That's how I got to listen to many legends including Ariyakkudi, 'Flute' Mali, GNB, MLV, MS and Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. I never understood what they were singing or playing. But I was drawn to the music; it touched a chord and I would feel light and happy. In a way, they were responsible for my pursuit of music as a patron.”
“Another incident I recall goes back to 1956. The venue was R.R. Sabha, Mylapore. TNR was very ill at that time, but since he had made a promise, he decided to play. He came on the stage and played for just 15 minutes… but the music which emanated from his nagaswaram was simply divine. He was truly a gifted artist! I think every sabha should host a nagaswaram festival as a tribute to the genius of TNR.”
“Things have changed quite dramatically since then. Do you know that from 40 sabhas in 2000, today there are over 120 organisations promoting music and dance across the city? This is in direct proportion to the number of artists taking the stage. One good fallout of having so many sabhas is that sub-senior and junior artists also get an opportunity to showcase their talent, something that never happened earlier.”
“Here's something interesting… Sentiment plays a great role in sabha culture. For over 20 years now, the December 25, 9.30 a.m. slot is always reserved for Sudha Ragunathan. Similarly, Lalgudi Jayaraman would perform at the Mylapore Fine Arts Club January 1 morning slot, till recently. And now his son Krishnan continues the tradition. That's the greatness about our culture!”