Lalgudi G Jayaraman on bonhomie among musicians, people's appreciation for kutcheris and the city's sabhas
The year was 1946 and the venue, the Siva Vishnu temple in T. Nagar. I was 16, and visiting Madras to further my prospects in music. I was excited about the opportunity to perform in the temple, my first stage appearance in the city. One kutcheri led to another. In 1952, I shifted to Madras from Lalgudi.
I used to stay in Jones Road, Saidapet (shifted to T. Nagar in 1961). Open roads, quiet lanes, well-spaced streets, few vehicles… walking was a pleasure. I would often take an electric train to T. Nagar to meet musicians V.V. Sadagopan and Dandapani Desikar. The roads would get desolate and dark after sunset. Imagine being scared to walk alone in T. Nagar!
There was a lot of bonhomie among musicians, and mutual respect too. I vividly remember the illustrious G.N. Balasubramaniam coming to meet me in the green room after an afternoon concert with K.V. Narayanaswamy at the Music Academy. He quietly put a 10-rupee note into the pocket of my kurta and said, ‘this is what I can give you now. I want you to play for my next concert'.
Personal interaction among musicians was common. We would visit each other's house and discuss various aspects of music. GNB and I used to chat for three to four hours and he would refer to these sessions as a form of prayer.
When I began performing the violin-venu-veena kutcheris along with N. Ramani and Trivandrum Venkatraman, the duo would spend almost the entire day in my house. From morning till afternoon, we would play non-stop, breaking only for lunch and a nap before proceeding on a post-lunch practice session that went on till evening.
As nobody seemed to be in a hurry, kutcheris were savoured from start to finish. The utsavam concerts, such as those during Ramanavami, would be held in pandals on the roadside. They began at 8 in the evening and went on till midnight. And, the listeners sat through them all.
There were not many sabhas. The prominent ones were R.R. Sabha, the Music Academy, Bhakta Jana Sabha (Egmore), Indian Fine Arts and Tamil Isai Sangam.
Concerts were also held at the Museum Theatre, Ayodhya Mandapam, Simpson grounds, Sangeeth Vidwath Samajam (Mylapore), Perambur Sangeeth Sabha, Hindu High School, and a few other places.
None of the sabhas had a permanent hall. A small makeshift stage would be put up, or we sat on a jamakalam laid out on the floor. There would be one mike that was placed before the main artiste. We were offered a goli soda during performances. I used carry a flask full of coffee and have it through the concert.
Lack of infrastructure facilities apart, the remuneration was also very less. Both musicians and rasikas were driven by passion alone. If sustenance for artistes was extremely difficult, listeners did not mind walking long distances or travelling in jatkas and cycle rickshaws to attend kutcheris. Once, after a very successful concert, the teary-eyed organiser offered a small envelope to Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, who commented in a lighter vein, ‘It's not you, but I who should cry after opening the envelope'.
Most musicians, including me, wore only a white khaddar kurta and veshti for kutcheris. We would buy the yardage and get kurtas stitched. My asthana tailor was Excels in T. Nagar. There was a man who used visit homes of musicians and supply attar.
After concerts many ardent fans would come home to tell how much they enjoyed the music, but my father did not encourage my meeting them. He felt the praise might go to my head.
One well-known rasika was Sastri Amma, who lived where the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanam temple in T. Nagar now stands. She distributed chocolates to artistes after concerts. Then, there was Ramachandra Apparao, a zamindar, who organised chamber concerts at his sprawling house on Burkit Road. A club comprising music-lovers was run by ‘Autoparts' Natarjan, who used to organise concerts at the Little Hut hall in Hotel Ashoka. After the kutcheri, members were treated to a good meal.
Though music took away much of the time, I never missed going to the beach at least once a week. It was the best way to relax. The circus was another attraction; the tent used to be put up near the Moore Market.
I also looked forward to outstation performances and train journeys. I would pack a lot of food, including kozhambu and pidi kozhukattai, and kaapi.
Born in 1930, this well-known violinist and composer received his initial training in Carnatic music from his father V.R. Gopala Iyer. At the age of 12, he began as an accompanying artiste, and performed along with greats such as Chembai Vaidyantha Bhagvathar, Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar, K.V. Narayanaswamy, G.N. Balasubramaniam, Maharajapuram Santhanam and Madurai Mani Iyer. Later, he went solo. He has many varnams and tillanas to his credit. A recipient of the Padma Bhushan, he also won the National award for best music direction for the film ‘Sringaram'.
Sometime in the early 1950s, when I lived in Saidapet, I saw a big crowd outside my house, and wondered what was wrong. Apparently, popular actor T.S. Balaiah had come to invite me to perform at his daughter's wedding. My father never allowed me to watch films, and so, I did not recognise the star. Only when I heard people shouting out his name did I realise who it was.