M. Chandrasekaran, the veteran violinist, feels that with vision, his achievements may not have scaled this high
Just as Helen Keller said in many of her writings, India's visually impaired and much acclaimed violinist M. Chandrasekaran also feels: “It is a terrible thing to see and have no vision…” He adds: “My mother imparted a rich visualisation of the world, and got me inclined to the melodic world. When I look back, I feel even with eyesight, I wouldn't have achieved so much…”
Chandrasekaran, rewinding to his initial days of hard work and resolve, brought in an overpowering sense of musicality to the conversation and enriched it with spontaneous serenades, explanations and demonstrations. “You have to get a face-to-face feel of my musical personality, only then can you write,” his modest expressions went on unrestrained.
Struck by a severe form of jaundice even before he had turned two, his mother Charubala Mohan, a violinist, was forced to take a decision to get his eyes removed to avoid further damage. “My mother showed the nerve and fortitude to go ahead. “That was just the beginning of her determination… before long she learnt Braille and put me on a daily routine of Braille-and-violin-classes everyday,” recalls the violinist who lost his father when he was seven.
Born in Kolkata, Chandrasekaran spent his early years in Kanpur, and has lived in Tamil Nadu (Tiruvaiyaru and later Chennai) for the last 65 years. “My mother says I could recognise ragas even as a three-year-old and was constantly humming, which provided a background to her mundane, household chores. It was difficult for me to hold the violin on my leg and use the bow. My mother moved heaven-and-earth for hours together everyday to see me balance the instrument and get the bowing mechanism right, ” recalls Chandrasekaran.
Vocal lessons, as a rule, preceded his violin classes. Only after he mastered the sangatis and got the bhava right could he try it on the violin, he says. “You have to sing on the violin,” my mother insisted “and years later I realised that it had helped me bring clarity in my expressions.” Vocal music too became a significant constituent of his presentations and as a 11-year-old, he had already stepped on to the stage. In 1950, he received the Best Violinist Award (as a 13-year-old) from the Music Academy in Chennai. He continued his vocal lessons under Mannargudi Sambasiva Bhagavatar and Kumbakonam Vishwanatha Iyer. Later, he was trained in padam rendering by Vidyala Narasimha Naidu and even today he renders padam and javalis along with his daughter for Bharatanatya recitals, the recent ones being their Cleveland Festival performances.
“It was during my growing up years that my mother often took me to the sacred festivities in temples and that's where my senses opened up to the sublime “Yadukula Kambodhi” and Gambheeranatte raga on nadaswara.” Chandrasekaran's Todi on the National Programme of AIR came in for appreciation by nadaswara vidwans of the late 1950s and the manner in which he essayed Kadanakuthoohala had Rajaratnam Pillai comment: “This hand is going to play lakhs of krithis.” Consciously, he was taken to the nadaswara style and the unique chemistry of the wind-instrument was also evident in his playing. The amalgam was palpable vidwans T.Chowdiah, Dwaram Venkataswamy Naidu would often notice this.
Chandrasekharan has accompanied an entire gamut of stalwarts from old-timers Ariyakudi, Maharajapuram Vishwanatha Iyer, GNB, Madurai Mani, flute Mahalingam to Dr. Balamurali Krishna, N. Ramani and the reigning stars of today. His solo performances termed ‘voco-violin' (with vocal renderings) have come in for appreciation although the master thinks, “accompanying has its challenges,” as he is known for his ‘deep shadow-follow' of the main artistes which requires a different mindset. And this painstaking focus has helped him deal with absolutely teasing pallavis, as also the age-old avadhana-pallavi set to more than one tala and simultaneously at that.
Titles and honours run into several paragraphs for Chandrasekaran that include the Sangeetha Kalanidhi and the Sangeeth Natak Academy award and his profound gratitude to his mother has him running the ‘Charubala Mohan Trust' that honours music vidwans and conducts music programmes.