KLN Sastry, who passed away this past Sunday in New Delhi, was an institution in the Carnatic music circles of the Capital. Though over the past decade or so, age kept him largely out of the limelight, his mastery over the violin was unanimously acknowledged by his fellow musicians and audiences. The lifestyle of Chennai, the city whose approval is most significant for a Carnatic musician today, remains simple and unostentatious — even in an era of globalisation. Delhi, in contrast, is as much about show as about skills. Its reputation is of a place where it is not enough, for recognition, to have great knowledge; one has to flaunt it. And musicians have to be seen as much as heard. Vidwans, it would seem, need to look the part. In this scenario, Sastry ‘Garu’, the short statured gentleman with a receding hairline and glasses, dressed in a simple white kurta and dhoti and carrying his violin case unassumingly, a smile lighting up his mild features, held his own. Luckily, his music lives on in countless recordings. But where, in the rough and tumble of material existence, will we get another such warm spirit, a musician so untouched by the harshness that frequently creeps into professional life, a master so lacking in ego? His pleasant dignity, his patience during rehearsals, his genuine pleasure in praising even a much younger artiste, and that ready smile, that spoke through his husky voice and sparkled in his eyes, will always be remembered with affection and a sense of immense loss.
Here some Delhi-based Carnatic musicians pay tribute to the violin vidwan:
To be associated with an artiste like Sastry sir was rather a blessing to me. More than a hundred concerts I would have sung with him, and in every concert he would be totally involved and sometimes in tears, as he was saint Tyagaraja’s devotee and could understand the meaning of the lyrics. Most encouraging he used to be, especially with youngsters, never hurting them or degrading anyone. I have noticed that as a violinist his bowing was with absolute clarity and his playing very melodious. His passing is a great loss to all of us.
I learnt the violin from him. I have seen so many violinists no one played as sweetly as him. Moreover, he was of a very sweet nature and never talked ill of anyone. So many artistes indulge in politics but he certainly never did. He played for Marie’s arangetram (Marie Elangovan, Bharatanatyam dancer and wife of Elangovan) in 1993. There was a time when the great soloists of Carnatic music on their Delhi trips would not travel with a violin accompanist, as they all engaged Sastri sir. He had the ability to mould his playing to every soloist’s style. There is a fine poster displayed in Mother’s International School that shows him accompanying MS Subbulakshmi.
He was a great vidwan. He was very innocent person, in the sense that he didn’t hanker after riches, or set material goals for himself. I held him in high esteem like a guru. His playing was of a very high level. Being a staff artiste of All India Radio, he accompanied all the well known musicians who came to record there. But being a staff artiste, perhaps he did not get the personal fame that ought to have come his way.
I worked with him 20 years in All India Radio. He was a great vidwan. He was among the senior most musicians here. We played together a lot, whether in the Vadya Vrinda orchestra or in accompanying Carnatic musicians during recordings, where we would alternate. He was not given to speaking much. He played as an accompanist with classical dancers too and never differentiated between big and small artistes.
(As told to Anjana Rajan)