World Music Day, in its true spirit, must be a celebration of all kinds of music. On the occasion, musician Bombay Jayashri remembers her guru Lalgudi Jayaraman who was a true blue musician. He was not merely passionate in his pursuit of Carnatic music, but was moved by all forms of music
In a general sense of the term, World Music Day is a day to celebrate music — each in his own idiom, in his own home of music. Taking it a little further, where does home end and the world begin? Are they two separate entities? If the home has the world in it, and the world constitutes many homes, then home and the world, in the most artistic sense, are made up of each other.
Often on, one hears of how the seamlessness of musical expression is regimented by individual choice and taste. One also hears of fascinating stories where boundaries are crossed to enrich one’s own music and the self. In this act of crossing over, time and space collapse, setting in motion a timelessness where Tyagaraja, Bach, Dikshitar, Purandara Dasa, Monteverdi and Manikkavacakar exist together, in their common urgency to explore truth through music.
One legendary musician, among several others, who remained ever curious and moved by other forms of music was the violinist Lalgudi G. Jayaraman. Recalling anecdotes, his student, the accomplished Bombay Jayashri remembers how her guru had no notion of inferior or super music. “I am filled with gratitude,” says Jayashri, recollecting the course of her own musical life on the occasion of World Music Day. “There’s a wonderful trail of three cities and their distinct music within me,” she says, recalling her upbringing in Kolkata, Mumbai and Chennai. “I was a happy teenager in Mumbai, singing for my own band Seven Colours. We were a group of 25 music loving youngsters from various colleges, doing shows of Hindi and Marathi numbers. Lata, Asha, and Mehdi Hasan were like rice and dhal to me. All my references to classical music came from Hindi film songs,” she says, going back in time. The staple at home was Carnatic classical, but her family was receptive to all kinds of music.
“It was in the late 80s,” Jayashri narrates. Lalgudi was performing at the Chembur Fine Arts and it was packed to the brim. Jayashri begged the security and somehow made her way in and found herself a place right in front of the dias. “That was the first time I heard Lalgudi Jayaraman’s violin recital live. It’s impossible to explain what happened to me on that day… I was deeply moved by his music. I felt I just had to be a part of his world, even if it meant being a tiny dot…” Jayashri gave up her band, stopped singing for jingles, packed her bags and landed at the Lalgudi household in Chennai. “There was something very spiritual about that household – his mother praying to Lord Muruga, my Guru’s music, so many musicians visiting him… In that house, there was music in every moment. Those days, I didn’t even have a remote thought of becoming a musician. But I just wanted to be there and learn from him. My guru was music personified, what he wrote was music, what he spoke was music…”
One afternoon, when Jayashri turned up for class, Lalgudi was watching a video of Michael Jackson. “I was quite shocked. I stood there, not knowing whether I could enter.” But ‘sir’ had sensed that she had come. “Come fast, and watch him,” he insisted, ushering her in. After the video was over, Lalgudi had said: “See how he becomes one with his music. That’s what sadhana is all about; it’s the final destination for every musician. When your personality becomes one with the note, music is born. And in that oneness you create a world for your listeners too.”
Lalgudi listened to every kind of music. From Yehudi Menuin to Pandit Ravi Shankar to Scottish folk – he was fascinated by every form. “It’s not about 200 concerts or 20 years as a performing musician. Life doesn’t stop with performing classical music. Be an open page, learn from everyone…,” he always said. “He was such a big influence in my life – I changed as a person and a musician. When knowledge shines all around you, it quietens you from within… I began to slowly understand that I knew was so little of music.” Even the smallest thing like singing a prayer before a concert was an act of utmost seriousness for Lalgudi. “Practise it 500 times,” he would be firm. “Every performance is like an examination. There’s no going back,” he would say, demanding a total surrender. “He was 70 plus and not in the best of health, yet, he would wake up at 4 a.m. to practice… There was nothing that interested him more than music,” Jayashri remembers.
“I used to sing a Telugu folk song, which I had learnt as a child. One day, my guru asked me sing it for him. I was nervous and hesitated to sing. But he wouldn’t let me wriggle away. I relented. He brought his mono tape recorder, and asked me to sing it again. Tears flowed down his cheeks…,” Jayashri reminisces. The next few weeks neither of them spoke about it. Much later, Lalgudi told her that he was immensely moved by the innocence and purity of the folk song. “I am also moved by music in its refined form. In this journey of music – from a raw note to a sophisticated one -- I am scared I will lose my innocence…,” he had quietly said.
What Lalgudi was perhaps talking about was being vulnerable to a good piece of music, irrespective of its form. Jayashri, picking up the thread, says: “My guru’s pure passion for music used to humble me. I don’t know how much music I have imbibed from him, but I am certain that I have learnt to be a true rasika.”