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Updated: April 11, 2013 18:41 IST

The wizard of the veena

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Veenaiyeen Kural. Biography of S. Balachandar. Author: Vikram Sampath. Translation to tamil Veeyesse.
Veenaiyeen Kural. Biography of S. Balachandar. Author: Vikram Sampath. Translation to tamil Veeyesse.

Veenaiyin Kural- S. Balachandar – Ore Vazhkai Charitham

Vikram Sampath; Translated into Tamil by Veeyesvee

Kalachuvadu Publications Pvt Ltd,669 .K.P.Road,Nagercoil -629001.Ph: 4652-278525. Price: Rs. 350.

Known for his satire-filled music reviews during the annual Music Season in the Tamil weekly Ananda Vikatan and for his books on the Trinity and other leading musicians of yore, Veeyesvee comes up trumps in his Tamil translation of the biography of veena maestro S. Balachandar (SB).

Born as the fourth child to Sundaram Iyer-Chellammal (Parvathi) , Balachandar was a prodigy. Sundaram Iyer, a connoisseur of the fine arts, hosted many leading musicians in his house. A keen observer, Balachander grasped not only the music but also the essence of the discussions that took place in the first floor of their home at Nadu Street, Mylapore, Chennai.

A ganjira presented to young kid Chandru (as he was called at home) was instrumental in exhibiting his musical prowess. With no initiation whatsoever, SB could play difficult korvais with single minded devotion. Alongside his elder brother S. Rajam, he started giving concerts and soon their popularity was on the rise.

Equally proficient was he in chess. In fact, his approach to solving a chess problem published in this paper on April 18, 1937, received rave reviews from experts.

A chance to act in the Tamil film ‘Sita Kalyanam’ produced by V. Shantharam made the brothers a household name in South India. Rajam and SB travelled all over India presenting programmes where SB would sing, dance and play the harmonium, tabla and ganjira enthralling rasikas.

After listening to the duo, Krishnabai of Karachi was in a state of ecstasy and presented SB with a sitar during the siblings’ Karachi tour. That was the turning point in his musical career.

SB, still a minor, joined the ranks of All India Radio as a staff artist, which is a record of sorts. His stint with AIR paved the way for his becoming familiar with many new instruments such as the dilruba, surbahar, piano and the tarang to name a few. AIR also led to the love of life -- the veena. Thereafter, it became part of his life as he fell in love with the instrument, amazed at its capability in bringing out the nuances of Carnatic ragas. There was no looking back.

Hours of practice and creating a style that’s his own, Balachandar carved a niche for himself in the Carnatic music field, which was at that point dominated by stalwarts. At the same, time, SB could not resist the lure of tinsel town with which he had established a connection as a seven-year-old. He created a new genre, an achievement that is still talked about by film enthusiasts. He donned practically all the roles of film making… he was a one-man art factory.

SB’s compositions, in particular ‘Engo Pirandavanam’ in Sahana by P. Suseela, are evergreen. K.J. Yesudas was given his first break in Tamil films with ‘Neeyum Bommai’ with only the bulbultara and thamuku serving as the orchestra. Even today SB’s films, ‘Anda Naal’ (the song-less film with Sivaji as a villain), ‘Bommai,’ ‘Avana Ivan’ and ‘Nadu Iravil’ are still quoted by young directors as a reference point.

At some point, SB realised that he wanted to dedicate his life to the veena and quit films abruptly. His focus was on the veena and veena alone. This led to invitational tours to foreign countries, including Seoul. SB holds the record for most number of long playing records popular then.

Veeyesvee’s is not a word to word translation of the English version. He uses his own skills and imagination to present various incidents from the musician’s life but without losing track of the original sketch. It’s a gripping narration, co-relating events from SB’s life at different points in time yet never waning from the mainstream. A noteworthy effort, indeed.

S. Balachandar’s death anniversary falls on April 13, and this book will be a treat to his followers, fans and researchers who will be interested in learning more about this doyen.

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