A student remembers an unusual side to violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman, who passed away on April 22 last year

Winding up lessons after a three-hour class, Lalgudi sir decided to sketch for me one day. This was in the 1990s when I was not yet in my teens. I remember watching him curiously as he picked up an old envelope lying on his table before he swiftly squatted on the floor. He tore the envelope’s perforated edges neatly and spread it out. 

In a few minutes, he had drawn three elephants on the sheet using my modest ballpoint pen.  Forever enchanted by elephants, he drew the animal from three different perspectives. 

One, a view of the animal from one side, giving a sort of two-dimensional picture with its four legs — two in partial view, and two fully visible — highlighted with care. The other elephant was looking at me.  I could see her piercing eyes, big ears, flowing trunk and bulging body. Then there was a third, my favourite. Flaunting his curvy rear, this elephant was wagging his tiny tail.  Lalgudi sir also drew a peacock and a swan by the side, using the same pen as if it were an arty sketch pencil, showing gradation in shading. 

My teacher was a passionate artiste, with and without that ‘e’. “Do you draw? Draw elephants, they are fascinating. Do you know that they can pick up the tiniest of things with that trunk?” he asked. I didn’t at that point. Over the years, I got more elephant trivia — that they are vegetarian, they run fast, they have good memory, that the colour of the Asian elephant is different from that of the African, that their ears come in different shapes. Every time I saw an elephant, I would tell sir about it. After my move to Sri Lanka last year, I have seen many more.  During every visit to Pinnawala, a well-known elephant shelter near Kandy with nearly 80 elephants in different sizes, I saw baby elephants up close, their prickly hair strands standing stiff on top of their forehead. I saw their hurried, unstable gait. I saw adult elephants walk majestically in a rhythmic sway. 

I remember how, while explaining the misra gati (seven beats in a pattern of 3+4) to me in class once, he told me that elephants seemed to walk in that sort of rhythm. I noticed that only recently, when the elephants walked together towards the river and I want to tell him that. I want to tell him how my hands shivered while I fed watermelons to a giant elephant, for I remembered him telling me that as a schoolboy he was once terrified when a baby elephant clasped his hand with his trunk. I want to tell him that the baby elephant I saw had circular and shifty eyes, while the adult elephant had narrow eyes and a sharper gaze. I want to tell him of the baby elephant that was playing merrily in the water. 

I want to tell him how right he was when he said elephants are fascinating. I want to tell him how much I miss him.