Humility, his middle name

Palghat Mani Iyer with legends. Photo: The Hindu Archives  

“I was lucky to have come in close contact with stalwarts thanks to my grandfather, Papanasam Sivan. I would visit Semmangudi mama regularly, and once I asked him about the great Palghat Mani Iyer. He said that whenever he or Ariyakkudi were approached for concert dates, the first thing they would want to know is if Mani Iyer was free on those dates. Such was their confidence in his ability to enrich their concerts.

A few months before Mani Iyer passed away, a sabha secretary from Kerala met him in Cochin, where the vidwan spent his final years. He subtly told the maestro that his decision not to join concerts where the mike was used, did not have much impact either on the artists or the organisers. To his utter surprise, Mani Iyer asked what was expected from him. The secretary suggested that he would organise a concert and asked if Mani Iyer would return to the stage. When asked if he preferred any particular artist, Mani Iyer said he was willing to accompany anybody. So, the sabha secretary chose a young flautist from Kerala which Mani Iyer wholly approved. However, when the secretary said they would announce that Palghat Mani Iyer would be accompanied by the flautist, the vidwan exclaimed, “ Apacharam, apacharam.” He stunned the organiser by telling him to highlight the main artist while Mani Iyer should be mentioned only as an accompanying artist! That was his greatness and humility.

I have heard my grandfather talk about Mani Iyer for hours together. He used to say, “It was Mani Iyer who started the present trend of the mridangam playing, not just keeping the time with tekkas and moras, but actively accompanying the musical phrasing.” Mani Iyer was an amazing human being, who helped shape the careers of many artists. During an interview, Mani Iyer was asked, “What would be the bench mark for a great artist?” He answered, “If anyone can perform impressively on the stage for 40 or 50 years, he is considered great.” What a simple, yet amazing assessment!

When asked about the basic difference in his style of playing, he said, “Not playing at some points.” More important, an accompanying artist should know when and where not to play.

My mother Rukmini Ramani used to talk about a fantastic concert of my grandfather with Mani Iyer, organised by some rasikas at Ashoka Hotel. Mani Iyer got so immersed in the composer’s singing of ‘Enthanine’ (Mukhari) of Tyagaraja that he refused to play the thani. Mani Iyer declared that after such soulful singing, the thani was not important!”

(The writer is a popular Carnatic vocalist)

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Printable version | Jan 16, 2022 2:23:11 PM |

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