Friday Review » Music

Updated: May 31, 2012 20:52 IST

The wizard's witty side

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Palghat Mani Iyer. Photo: Special Arrangement
Palghat Mani Iyer. Photo: Special Arrangement

Palghat Mani Iyer’s grandson Palghat R. Ramprasad recalls some anecdotes...

Hailed as perhaps the greatest mridangam vidwans of all time by artists and music lovers alike, Palghat Mani Iyer belongs to a rare breed of musicians whose intermittent pauses were as musical and enjoyable as his playing.

On the occasion of the upcoming centenary celebrations this month, I wish to share a few witty anecdotes involving my grandfather, who was generally perceived to be staid.

My father Rajaram, during his primary school days, was living with my uncle Rajamani in Madras. One day, my grandfather came down from Thanjavur to my uncle's home (for a concert) and informed the family that my grandmother back home was unwell.

Immediately, my father pestered him to take him along to see my grandmother. My grandfather tried to convince him that it was hard to get a train ticket, besides other problems associated with travel. After an hour of convincing, my father struck the following deal: “If I cannot visit my mother, you have to buy me a bicycle.”

My grandfather interpreted it this way: “So if you get a bicycle, you will be fine not visiting your mother; and if you can visit your mother, then you won't need a bicycle.” And continued, “So, it is possible for you to be without both. So why not be without both for some time until we plan on an alternative?” My dad still does not have an answer to this!

Journey interrupted

On another occasion, the violin maestro Chowdiah and my grandfather, after a concert in Bangalore, were to travel to Mysore.

Chowdiah requested him to travel along with him in his car the same night. After some initial hesitation, Mani Iyer yielded to the request. Chowdiah drove the car, with his disciples sitting in the front, and provided the entire back seat to my grandfather so that he could lie down as he would do on a train berth. Soon, my grandfather realised that the car kept halting on more than one occasion for minutes together. A couple of times, Chowdiah comforted my grandfather saying that the issue was nothing major; it was only a flat tyre.

The next time when the car stopped, Mani Iyer asked, “Chowdiah Garu, I understand that it is only a flat tyre, but can you kindly tell me if we are at the same spot or a different one?”

As much as he was witty, he was also sportive in taking remarks made on his own comments.

Once he was talking to his children about the importance of waking up early. He explained, “A person who wakes up at 6 a.m. is destined to earn Rs. 1,000 a month (a big sum those days), one who wakes up at 5 a.m., Rs. 2,000, and so on…..”

My uncle Thyagarajan interrupted him and said, “Based on your logic, the sastrigal (priest) who lives across our house should be earning Rs. 4,000 a month, and by now, should have become a multi-millionaire!” My grandfather laughed heartily in appreciation of the reverse logic.

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