An Indian among Indians

FRUITFUL COLLABORATION: Prof. William Skelton and Sudharani Raghupathy with students of Shree Bharatalaya and Colgate University. File PHOTO  

Foreigners visiting India and falling in love with the country is not a rare phenomenon. Quite a few have even settled down here, trying to understand the country's diverse and complex culture. For some India is second home and they make periodic visits. To this league belonged William Skelton, who passed away recently in Hamilton, New York.

To quote him: "This body is a hindrance to me, my soul would have been in India most of my life." He first came here with his mentor, Dr. Ken Morgan, in the early 1960s and the mysteries of India captured him, making him come again and again. It was at that time that I had the privilege of meeting and performing for Bill and Ken. Much later I started working with Bill.

Bill created the India Study Group at the Colgate University, Hamilton, New York, and brought students once in two years to imbibe various facets of Indian culture. This was not just a tour, but a purposeful, graded programme for the students who received credits at the University for the work done here.

Wide range of subjects

The subjects covered were: Indian Philosophy (participation in religious functions also), Yoga, Carnatic music (vocal and instrumental), Bharatanatyam, Languages (Tamil, Sanskrit, etc.), Batik and other crafts and folk traditions.

Many well known artists have been involved in this programme over the years, to mention a few: Prof. S. Ramanathan, Prof. T.K.V. Desikachari, Dr. R. Balasubramanian, Dr. Shanthi Raghavan, Dr. K.S. Balasubramnian, Prof. J.J. Jagraj, Rajalakshmi Narayanan and Govind Narayanan, Dr. N. Ramani, Saidapet Natarajan, Mambalam M.K.S. Siva, Dr. Rama. Kausalya, Kuppuswami Shastri Institute and the list goes on.

The one person who was a strong support to Bill in his mission, that is the creation of the Colgate India study group was Dr. John Carter who heads the Chapel House (Chapel House is a unique place on the campus of Colgate University with a meditation hall where people from all religions of the world can meet and have seminars and discussions) after Dr. Ken Morgan who founded it.

I had the honour and privilege of working with him and the groups for over 26 years. Some of the acclaimed productions were the Ramayana {ndash} Balakandam and Silappadikaram, where Shree Bharatalaya and the Colgate students collaborated.

He was 'Bill' to everybody, young and old, was a versatile and a multi-faceted personality: a true sensitive artist, a great conductor of symphony orchestra, a bassoon artiste who took to nagaswaram in Chennai.

He even did the nattuvangam for many dance productions. To add to all this, he was a decorated World War II veteran, Eighth Air Force; a B-17 pilot flying 25 missions over Europe. Flying from Snetterton Heath in England, one mission earned him a Distinguished Flying Cross.

Early years

Bill received a Bachelors degree in music from the University of Illinois, and Bachelors and Masters degrees from Yale University in music theory, composition, and orchestra. While at Yale, he studied bassoon with Clarke Kessler and Dall Fields, clarionet with Keith Wilson, theory with Paul Hindemith and Hubert Kessler and composition with Richard Donovan. During his student years, Bill was also a solo bassoonist with the student orchestra at the Tanglewood Music Festival. While at the University of Illinois he met and married Mary Louise Hayes on June 17, 1946. Mary Lou supported and challenged him, whether it was in the field of music, yoga, cooking or flying, until her death in 1995.

He held various teaching positions at the University of Illinois, Yale University, Taft School, Waterbury Catholic High School, and Wesleyan College before being hired in 1954 by Colgate University in Hamilton, New York.

There was nothing Bill did not know locally (in India), he even knew and would visit an old nagaswaram maker to buy reeds in a remote village in Kumbakonam. Many a time I was surprised by the intricate details and information he had which even I had no clue about being a local inhabitant

Bill will be missed for his kindness, sense of humour and knowledge. Truly he was an Indian among Indians

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Printable version | Oct 8, 2021 2:42:46 AM |

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