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With Madurai Mani Iyer on a rainy evening

Charukesi
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REWIND A CD was played to an audience of his ardent fans. Charukesi

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I t was an unusual meet of rasikas gathered to listen to a music concert. Not a live concert. It was a CD of a 1957 kutcheri. And it was an evening when it just incessantly poured. That, however, did not stop people from attending. For them the singer was a God.

“We are celebrating the 98th birth anniversary of Madurai Mani Iyer, and on this occasion, we recall the friendship of my father Chitti, the writer, and Guhan, the poet. What united them all as a thread was Iyer's music!” announced Venugopal at the informal get-together at the sprawling hall of Kuppusamy's residence in Shastri Nagar, Chennai.

According to him, all the three were chums. “A group of fans of MMI including Chitti, Guhan and R.A. Padmanabhan, Bharati scholar, were great admirers of his music. MMI would not begin his concert unless this group arrived, whenever he performed in Tiruchi or around and the group had even built a ‘Mani' Mantapam in his memory in Tiruchi. Ramanavami concerts were held in this mandapam for fifteen years,” he added.

R.A. Padmanabhan, nonagenarian scholar who produced ‘Chithira Bharati' was the chief guest. Everyone reverentially greeted him till he settled down in a chair. Venugopal mentioned that he was honoured by Dr. Kalam when the third edition of his book was published recently. Padmanabhan was also on the staff of Tiruchi AIR for some time, when Chitti and Guhan served there, we are told.

The trickling flow of audience was received warmly by Venugopal and Kuppusamy. They settled down in vacant chairs or on the blanket spread in the corner.

Venugopal recalled an incident when the Kanchi Mahaswami came to Mylapore. He visited Madurai Mani Iyer's house early morning, unannounced. Mani Iyer was doing the usual sadakam, when some one said that Paramacharya was entering his house. A stunned Mani Iyer took time to react.

Mahaswami asked Mani Iyer to sing a song. Mani Iyer replied hesitantly that he had not even had his bath. “You always swim in the sangita saharam, you do not have to have a bath to sing before me!” told the smiling Acharya. Moved to tears, Madurai Mani fell at his feet, crying “Parameswara!” Meanwhile, the mridanga vidwan had left after being blessed by Mahaswami.

“Now, start!” said the Acharya. “You saw the mridanga vidwan leaving. How do I sing?” pleaded Madurai Mani. “Don't worry, I will keep the taalam for you!” Paramacharya began the beats with his hands and Mani Iyer had to sing.

Vishnu, nephew of A.K. Ramanujan, an ardent fan of Madurai Mani Iyer, had visited all the cities and towns where MMI had sung! He had arranged to play the CD of MMI's concert, in which Tiruvalangadu Sundaresayyar had played the violin and Ramanathapuram C.S. Murugaboopathy had accompanied on the mridangam. “I chose this particular concert today, because Tiruvalangadu Sundaresayyar's son had promised to come here,” briefed Vishnu.

There was never a dull moment in the one hundred minutes of CD music. Everyone was mesmerised. Tiruvalangadu Sundaresa Iyer was at his best and so too, was mridangam Murugaboopathy.

All the rasikas were linked by the Trio – MMI, Chitti and Guhan. They were fifty in all, from different walks of life for whom MMI's music was nectar. But for the inclement weather, it would have easily touched a hundred or more, felt Venugopal. Half of them belonged to the younger generation and it showed how Madurai Mani's rhythmic music had a special quality to attract the younger lot, too.


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