'That simple farmer taught me a lesson' - N.C. Soundaravalli
Over four decades in the field and after several awards and accolades, it is difficult to pick out a few as memorable. The accompaniment, audience, venue… any of these could make a performance significant. In my long career at least on three occasions, I have thanked the Lord for blessing me with the gift of music:
The Bangalore Gayana Samaja had organised the annual tribute to Yogasanam Sundaram. My guru, Maharajapuram Santhanam and myself had been invited to sing Sundaram’s compositions. We took the stage to find a houseful audience. I was nervous because master had given me a cassette of the songs and I learnt it within a short period. We never rehearse before a concert but this one was special and I was not sure whether I would rise to the expectations. Once the concert started, all doubts vanished and we sang for three hours, perfect foil to each other. M. Chandrasekaran and Panchapakesan were the accompanists. Both the organisers and rasikas were extremely happy and it was personal milestone for me.
I was invited to sing at a Murugan temple in Madurantakam and our party left the city in the afternoon to reach the place early in the evening. Madurantakam was reeling under drought and we saw cracked lake beds and parched lands on the way. And the downpour started. Such rain the people had not seen in years and the venue was flooded. The lake nearby was full. “Let’s have darshan at the temple and start for Chennai,” I thought aloud but the organisers would have none of it.
Huge haystacks were piled one on the other, thick blankets spread with a canopy on top. The makeshift dais was ready. A small ladder was brought and I climbed to sit on the elevated platform. The concert was a huge success, going on for nearly three hours. The villagers showered affection on our team and thanked us for bringing rain. An unforgettable day!
This happened at Tirumuruganpoondi near Coimbatore. Again a temple. An agricultural area, the listeners were farmers. So I chose to sing songs, simple without technical inputs. After the third song, a man from the audience in a dhoti and a towel over his shoulder came up to me and said in a humble tone: “Madam, we have come to hear a Carnatic music concert, with all the regular features. And we have heard of your patanthara. Please don’t stop with singing simple songs.” I was stunned. That simple farmer taught me a lesson – not to judge the audience by their appearance. Well, I changed tack and launched into a pucca recital and the response was overwhelming.