Daughter of the late classical violinist M.S. Gopalakrishnan to perform in his honour on April 7 at Palakkad
Growing up in a city off the Bay of Bengal, M. Narmadha used to speak in Malayalam at her home till she was around 10 years old, when she had already debuted as a violinist. This was because her legendary grandfather preferred to talk in his mother tongue to the members of his family residing in a cultural pocket of Chennai.
A. Sundaram Iyer, who had become a trailblazing Carnatic instrumentalist much before Narmadha’s birth, was a native of Parur —a coastal pocket north of Kochi, and locally called Vadakkan Paravur.
“Thatha (grandpa) taught me for 14 years at our Mylapore home. All the verbal tips would come in Malayalam,” recalls Narmadha, who is the daughter of late classical violinist M.S. Gopalakrishnan, also her guru. “Only that by when I was around 10, I had drifted completely onto Tamil — because my circle of social interaction had become broader and not many in it were Malayalis.”
Sundaram Iyer (1898-1974) has some of his relatives living in Ernakulam today, but Narmadha has lost touch with a chunk of them. After all, it has been a century after her own grandfather left Kerala — not just for Tamil Nadu, but the rest of India. It was such journeys to Mumbai and other parts of the country that enabled Sundaram Iyer to learn various systems of Indian classical music.
“The journey turned out to be historic, as it led to the introduction of the violin in Hindustani music. My grandpa did it — in 1909,” points out Narmadha.
What’s more, a tasteful amalgamation of such aesthetics, including Western, and their techniques helped the instrumentalist find his own style. “That subsequently came to be known as the Parur style of bowing in the Carnatic idiom,” notes the granddaughter about Sundaram Iyer, who returned to Chennai in 1922 when he was 31. By 1925, his style had gained a distinct timbre and currency.
“If it came to be known as Parur style, instead of getting prefixed by the founder’s name which is the general norm in Carnatic music, it was because of my family’s love for Kerala,” says Narmadha, who is a top-grade artiste with the All India Radio and Doordarshan.
Much like her grandfather and father, Narmadha went on to master both the southern and northern streams of Indian classical music. In fact, she holds a doctorate from Delhi University, courtesy a PhD. thesis that authentically deals with ucchar — and delves deep into the difference in the manner of pronunciation of notes lending each raga its character in the Carnatic and Hindustani systems.
As she braces up for a concert in Palakkad on Sunday being organised by Swaralaya cultural organisation in memory of her father, Narmadha notes that her legacy tracks back to a style called Parur-MSG, originally developed by Padma Bhushan Gopalakrishnan who died on January 3 this year aged 81. “It incorporates fingering of international standards, with one-finger playing and long-bow slides being its special attributes,” says the artiste, who has 40 violin students under her, besides 15 foreigners learning the art through Skype.
“There is a beautiful blend of the complex Carnatic gamakas, fast Western passages and the lovely Hindustani meend.” Also a vocalist, Narmadha’s subsequent tryst with Kerala will be a music show in mid-May at Kottayam, where she will sing hit film songs in Malayalam. “I’ve short-listed them, and am practising each number.” The family’s Malayalam link looks set for a new chapter.