Smriti Ranjani, a commemorative volume in memory of the late Carnatic vocalist Ranjani Hebbar, is a compilation of articles that movingly take you through her musical journey
One could call it a commemorative volume. “It was not so easy to get Ranjani’s parents out of the tragedy that had struck them. The only way I thought I could do this was to bring out a book in her memory which would make her live with them forever,” writes P. Nityananda Rao, the editor of Smriti Ranjani, a book in memory of the late Carnatic vocalist Ranjani Hebbar from Udupi, who succumbed to cancer in 2013.
The well-produced book is a moving account of Ranjani’s life and death from people who were close to her. Her parents, brother, other family members, friends and well-wishers -- the book is a compilation of memories and perceptions of Ranjani as a musician and individual. Divided into six parts, the book also has letters, photographs, paper clippings, list of awards, and citations etc.
Ranjani’s father Aravind Hebbar’s account is exhaustive – it maps his life’s journey and dreams for his daughter. His essay, “Ranjani Nammanu Bittu Horate Hodalu”, is the journey of a man who was wildly passionate about music and couldn’t accomplish his dreams. He wanted to realise them in his daughter Ranjani. Fortunately enough, Ranjani turns out to be a gifted vocalist who hones and nurtures her talent with parental support and single-minded devotion. The nucleus of the Hebbar family, as you discover from the book is music, and there is a glimpse of it in the affectionate and caring letter that Ranjani’s father writes to her. He advices: “You should give a balance in your singing. Depth of MDR and Voletti, clarity of DKP, precision of brighas and phrases of GNB, subtlety of ragas of S. Ramanathan and Soumyakka and Vedavalli maami, confidence of Sanjay, stress on sahitya and swaras of Vijaya siva…. Include dasa keertanas in all your concerts…” Ranjani finds her place in the musical firmament, and is even appreciated by veteran musicians. With great fondness and admiration for her father, she begs to differ with him on issues of fame and publicity, as he himself records in the essay. The writing is candid and poignant, of a life that is full of lows and highs, and unanticipated turns. Most people who write about Ranjani in this volume, talk about the power of her music and the simplicity of her persona in the same breath. Even her brother, Saranga who spent several years with Ranjani in Chennai, says her sincerity was “scary”. Narration of Ranjani’s turn to spirituality, her battle with cancer, holding on to her music till her last moments is very touching.
B. Surendra Rao in his tribute “Do Musicians Die?” raises philosophical questions. Arguing that one can experience deathlessness even in physical death, he writes, “Death of a person is noticed for the way he has lived, for his achievements and for the impact he had on the life around. His memory stays and sometimes we relate to it more and more. Many memories about him converge and dialogue with each other, so much so the person who is dead is resurrected into life again and again.”
The book which intends to be a commemorative work recording the life and music of the 31-year-old Ranjani is a mosaic of thoughts and images, dreams and aspirations, trying to capture the fleeting nature of life itself.
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