HOMAGE S. Sundar's recital transported the audience to the maestro's vintage days. V. BALASUBRAMANIAN

I t was really thoughtful of Nayaki, a 15-year old sabha catering to the needs of music lovers in and around Kotturpuram, Chennai, to have organised a function in memory of veena vidvan R. Chittibabu on the occasion of his 75 {+t} {+h} birthday. The sabha executive is to be commended for this laudable effort, bearing in mind the fact that Chittibabu had never played for them. S.S.R. Rajkumar, the sabha's vice-president gave a brief sketch of Chttibabu's life and how they were close to each other.

Chittibabu, born to Chalapalli Ranga Rao and Sundaramma in Kakinada, was trained earlier in veena by Pandarala Vupramakkaya, Singaralu and Eyeunni Applacharyalu. Later he came under the tutelage of Guru Emani Sankara Sastri. It was interesting to learn that Chittibabu's original name was Challapalli Hanumanlu.

Reminisces of Durai

Mridangam vidwan Guruvayur Durai who had followed Chttibabu like a shadow accompanying him in concerts reminisced how Chittibabu who was initially playing in films, came into the concert circuit on his suggestion. ( Who can ever forget his bits in the songs ‘Thanga Radham Vandhadu…' and Manamae Muruganin Mayilvahanam').

“I was slated to go Japan on a concert tour accompanying Veenai S. Balachander. Chttibabu had a U.S. tour in the offing during the same period and wanted me to play for him. SB was magnanimous to relieve me, for he felt a U.S. tour was more important than Japan. Incidentally that was my maiden trip to the US.” Chittibabu's accent was always on melody and his playing was full of grace he described. Sudkashinadevi, wife of Chittibabu and S.G. Rajagopalan, Nayaki secretary also spoke.

Disciple performs

This was followed by a veena recital of S. Sundar , a disciple of Chittibabu. It was virtually a Chittibabu retro that evening for the fare offered by Sundar comprised regulars in Chittibabu's concerts. Chittibabu's meetu with his nails (he never used any artificial means) produced mellifluous notes with elongated karvai that were soothing to the ears that attracted a large following. The auditoriums wherever he performed, be it a city or a village were always full.

Sundar has completely adopted his Guru's style - the plucking, the deft movement of the fingers through the length and breadth of the frets, the precise spuritams, all proved it. Veteran Guruvayur Durai's rhythmic exposition that evening was at its peak and sadly there weren't students of mridangam in the hall. With just his index finger on the chapu and a liberal array of gumkis on the toppi he lifted the concert to another plane. Years of playing for Chittibabu helped him respond to sangatis with immaculate anticipation. The mel kalachatusram beats, belying his age were breathtaking.

Keeps audience attentive

“Vatapi Ganapathim” with a brief niraval at “Pranava Swrupa” followed by kalpanaswaras made the crowd sit up. “Bhuvaneswariya” (Mohana Kalyani), “Ganamurthey” (Ganamurthi ) and “Manavinalakincharathatay” (Nalinakanthi) were kritis that enlivened the atmosphere.

It was emotional when Sundar played “Nadaloludai” (Kalyanavasantham). As a lone crusader Chittibabu had popularised this kriti in every second concert of his. The evening's main Kalyani (Etavunaraa) was pregnant with phrases typical of his Guru. Attractive and honey-soaked raga sketches and a balmy tanam were the highlights. The tani once again showcased Durai's mastery. His weaving myriad patterns in Kanda nadai were gripping. Ever smiling Tiruchi Murali on the ghatam proved a good foil. His varied approach to the kanda nadai phrases was equally interesting.

Bharathiar's ‘Chinnanchiru kiliye' tuned soulfully by yesteryear music director C.R. Sundararaman gave a romantic touch. Sundar then went on to play “The kuyil song,” Chitibabu's favourite tukkada piece. (An old lady, probably a fan of Chittibabu had requested for this song even while Sundar was onto playing Kalyani).