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Peerless perfectionist

TIME FLIES. A year has gone by since KVN passed into history. In view of my long and close association with him, I wish to share a few thoughts with his rasikas.

The first aspect that comes to mind when you mention KVN is the impeccable, immaculate, amazingly consistent sruti suddham he achieved and maintained throughout his long career. To my mind this was not just one of the virtues of his music. It was a stupendous achievement, almost without parallel in South India in the latter half of the 20th century. He was a peerless perfectionist who conquered and transcended all the usual limiting factors (such as speed, octave and syllable) as if to proclaim that consistent unison with the sruti is not the exclusive prerogative of the Hindustani singer. For demonstrating that fact alone, every Carnatic musician is beholden to KVN.

The same goes for his stunning expertise and mastery in the far from easy but very important department of neraval singing. The effortless ease with which he could nicely distribute the words of the lyric line over the time cycle, the clear enunciation of the sahitya, the tight grip on the kaalapramanna, the imaginative exploration of the vistas of the raga in different speeds, every syllable soaked in the sruti — all of these added up to a skill which very few could have equalled, let alone surpassed. Regardless of the raga, the speed or the octave, his neraval prowess was consummate and more than equal to the task every time!

Countless are the KVN concerts I have sat through, admiring the way he added glory to the Ariyakkudi legacy. Especially in the 1970s and 80s, he exhibited such mastery of the madhyamakaala, the hallmark of the Ariyakkudi style. And thanks to his tutelage under the inimitable Palghat Mani Iyer, he acquired such a sure grip of the laya aspects that his neraval bouts and pallavi singing in collaboration with Palghat Raghu were sheer delight to the cognoscenti. (It was reminiscent of the famed Ariyakudi-Palghat Mani Iyer rapport).

Rich and varied as was the repertoire he acquired from our great guru Ariyakkudi, KVN did not rest content with the legacy but was constantly adding to it and enriching the inheritance and thus made his own contributions to the body of knowledge. Who can forget his inimitable rendering of "Varugalaamo" which used to transport his listeners, as it were, to the holy shrine of Chidambaram?

It never even occurred to this upholder of dignified sangita sampradaya to indulge in the cheap or the meretricious just to attract the laity. But then he did not need to. He was able to put across the real thing so tunefully that it earned him the respect of the learned and the admiration of the lay listeners. I have nostalgic memories of the several occasions when he had discussed with me the nuances and subtleties of the music of our guru. I can still recall the light of admiration and reverence in his eyes whenever he talked about the Master.

It is gratifying for me that KVN had attended several of my concerts. But to him these were not mere token expressions of patronage or aashirvaadam. It was done in the true spirit of an elder brother who wanted to guide a younger sibling on the path. KVN was never one of those artistes demeaning and dishonouring themselves by chasing "honours". Several of these came to him in due season.

He will go into the annals of music as an exemplar of all-round excellence, practised with uncompromising fidelity to the finest classical values and presented with great dignity on the concert platform. In sum, the suswaram that we have lost, the Gods have gained!


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