On January 5, we lost a great veena vidwan, a kind and large hearted teacher besides a gentle soul. There are many things I want to write about Venkatraman mama. Forty years back when I heard him play ‘Mohana Rama’ as part of “Veena-Venu-Violin” trio, (Venkataraman, N. Ramani and Lalgudi Jayaraman), little did I realise then that I would get to know him so close, as my daughter’s guru and then as a close family friend many years later.
The most striking aspect of his veena playing was how he gave life to the instrument and made it sound so close to “vocal” singing – his ‘Janani Ninuvina’ in Ritigowla still rings in my ears when I write this. Very rarely does one find a musician who infuses such life energy into an instrument.
Few Carnatic music teachers evoke an endearing, father-figure type affection from their students. To him, his students where people who had to be trained in music and whose liking for music would get shaped and influenced strongly by how much he inculcated a love for themselves, love for the song besides the music itself. In fact, quite a few students learnt vocal music from him, which is not a big surprise given the way his veena would “sing.” Rarely one with a harsh word, a sarcastic smile or a tough stare, he made sure his students learnt to love music as much as they got to love and respect him.
Venkataraman nurtured music in his family. His children, two daughters and a son, learnt music though they have gone onto do other things professionally. They grew up to become connoisseurs of chaste Carnatic music and naturally turned out to be his great admirers and critics. To all their criticisms and views, a big beaming smile was his answer.
His wife Parvathi retired as Deputy Tahsildar in the Kerala Government. In her retired life, she enjoyed managing the schedules of her artist husband in addition to managing the home front. There have been so many occasions when he would turn to his wife and ask about his schedule for the day, the disciples expected etc. Whenever students asked him after their classes, when the next class would be, his standard answer was ‘Mamitta Kettuko.’
That Music was the closest to his heart was evident when he gave a superlative concert on December 26, 2009 at Raga Sudha Hall barely 15 days after his wife passed away – this was to be his last one as well. The rasikas in the hall saw grief in the face but the fingers played to a divine tune.
Venkataraman and his daughter Jayashree Ragupathy passed away on January 5 in a road accident. We miss him - his smile, his music, his large heartedness.
(The writer is wife of Musiri S. Thiagarajan)