Friday Review

A stroll down music street

Parur house on Appar Swamy Koil Street, Mylapore in Chennai. Photo: K.V. Srinivasan  

This street in Mylapore can perhaps lay claim to the title of ‘Music street’, for there was music here throughout the year. Tiger Varadachari, Dhandapani Desigar, Parur Sundaram Iyer, all lived here. Kothamangalam Brothers — Subbu and Seenu — lived here too, and every Saturday in the Tamil month of Purattasi, there would be a concert in their house. Two houses away from them lived Sirkazhi Govindarajan. Every morning, Sirkazhi would practise on the terrace of the house of P.S. Chettiar, his patron, and Kothamangalam Subbu would embarrass a shy Sirkazhi with his fulsome praise: “My terrace is swarming with ants, because of the flow of honey from your sweet voice!” The street is Apparsami Kovil Street, still known by the same name.

Development has taken a toll on the old houses in the street and only a few remain. One music family, however, has chosen to stay put — the Parur family. I meet 90-year-old M.S. Anantharaman, Parur Sundaram Iyer’s son, in Parur house- Number 110, Apparsami Kovil Street — which Sundaram Iyer bought in 1923, for 1,000 rupees.

Sundaram Iyer and Musiri attended Veena Dhanammal’s classes in Town, and every day, they would sit down together in the terrace of Parur house and write down the notations of what they had learned. “My father learnt Navagraha and Navavarna kritis, and padams from Dhanammal,” says Anantharaman, who used to accompany his father to Dhanammal’s house. Whenever Dhanammal visited Dr. Seethapathy, a family friend, in Mundagakanni Amman Kovil Street, Sundaram Iyer would go to meet her.

Koteeswara Iyer, who lived in Paripurna Vinayakam Street, near Mundagakanni Amman temple, would come to Parur house, to teach Anantharaman his Melakarta raga kritis and Mylapore Gowri amma would come to teach Bharatanatyam to Sundaram Iyer’s daughters.

Musicians often gathered at T.L. Venkatrama Iyer’s house in Sannidhi Street, Mylapore, to discuss music theory and to sing. On one such occasion in 1929, it was decided to establish the Tyagaraja Vidwat Samajam, with Muthaiah Bhagavatar as its president, Tiger [Varadachari] as vice-president and Sundaram Iyer as the secretary. Every month on Panchami, concerts would take place at vocalist Umayalpuram Venkatrama Iyer’s house in Adam’s Street. Sundaram Iyer would supply the vadai malai for the portrait of Lord Rama, at Venkatrama Iyer’s house. Membership in the samajam was four annas for sangita vidwans and eight annas for others. Non-members could attend the concerts too, but only members would get vadai prasadam! “The biggest donor to the samajam was vocalist Alamelu Jayaraman, who gave 100 rupees,” says Anantharaman.

Anantharaman’s formal education began at the Corporation School in Veeraperumal Kovil Street. He then moved to Dhadi School, in R.K. Mutt Road. Was Dhadi an acronym? “No,” he laughs. “Dharmaraja Iyer, who ran the school, had a dhadi (beard), hence the name!”

Anantharaman then moved to P.S. Higher Elementary school, near Mundagakanni Amman Kovil Street. “Musiri lived in a house opposite our school. The house belonged to one Kantham Iyer, and the garden was huge with 100 coconut trees. Everyday, during lunch hour, I would go and listen to Musiri sing!”

Later Anantharaman moved to the main campus of P.S. School, and for his Inter and B.A. Maths, he was at Pachaiappa’s. In college, students enacted Kalidasa’s plays and Anantharaman set to tune some verses. “My Sanskrit lecturer, Shanmuga Mudaliar lived in Muthaiah Mudali Street, near Stella Maris College, and I would often get a ride home in his Morris car.”

In 1932, Sundaram Iyer became a teacher in the Music Department of the Madras University, the year the classes moved to Limbdi Gardens, Royapettah, and until 1946, he was Professor of both Hindustani and Carnatic Music. It was an informal set up, and whether it was Tiger or Veena Visalakshi Ammal, they did not object to Anantharaman’s presence, although he wasn’t officially a student.

Meanwhile, in Parur house, music lessons for Anantharaman continued. At night the family would gather in the first floor, to listen to music on the radio. Once, Anantharaman heard Paganini’s Moto Perpetuo, on an Australian radio station, notated it and included it in concerts. “If we liked a piece, we would order the records from Mohammed Ibrahim.” Their gramophone record collection thus came to include records by violinists Mischa Elman and Fritz Kreisler.

Parur house was home to Sundaram Iyer’s nephews, who stayed there when they learnt music from him. One of them later became a music director with Gemini Studios. “We used to call him Gemini anna. The Gemini orchestra then included excellent music directors such as Emani Sankara Sastri, Lingappa, Rajeswar Rao and M.D. Parthasarathy. Mridangam in the orchestra was played by Appakutti, son of Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar’s brother, Appavu Iyer,” says Anantharaman, who has played in Gemini’s ‘Nandanar’ and ‘Avvaiyar.’

Music director S.V. Venkatraman heard Anantharaman play during one of the Purattasi concerts at Kothamangalam Subbu’s house, and asked him to play for ‘Kaatrinile Varum Geetham’ in the film ‘Meera.’ He gave Anantharaman a 12-hour non-stop rehearsal, and the recording was on the next day at Newtone studio (the place now houses Bhavan’s Rajaji Vidyashram school, Kilpauk).

Next door to Parur house stands an old house with a board that says, “Scientific Advance Company.” Sundaram Iyer didn’t have a phone and anyone who wished to call him, would make a call to Scientific Advance Company.

The list of Carnatic musicians who have performed at Parur House is huge. Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, Gangubai Hangal, Harisankar Misra, Alauddin Khan, Aladia Khan, Swami Vallabhdasji, were some of the Hindustani musicians who performed here. Anantharaman, who lost his mother at the age of 10, learnt the art of cooking at a young age. When Omkarnath Thakur stayed at Parur House, Anantharaman bowled him over with his morkozhambu!

Papanasam Sivan’s book ‘Kirtana Malai’ was released in the first floor of Parur House. When Uday Sankar shot his film ‘Kalpana’ at Gemini studios, Ravi Sankar came to Parur house, because his guru Alauddin Khan had told him to get Sundaram Iyer’s blessings. “Ravi Sankar played at our house and my brother Gopalakrishnan accompanied him!” says Anantharaman.

Pandit Krishna Anand, disciple of Gangubai Hangal, stayed at Parur House, and taught Hindustani music to M.S. Gopalakrishnan. Classes often ended at 10.30 p.m., and he would walk to Pycrofts Road, where he lived. Later, he taught Anantharaman’s sons - Sundaresan and Krishnaswamy and MSG’s daughter Narmadha too.

Sundaram Iyer bought a land for Tyagaraja Vidwat Samajam near Madhava Perumal temple, and the area derived its name- Tyagarajapuram- from the samajam.

As for ‘Parur House,' it was refurbished in 1927, and the first floor was added that year. The wooden pillars in the courtyard were replaced with iron pillars that were shipped. “Each iron pillar cost five rupees!” says Anantharaman, as I walk out of the house that holds so many stories within its four walls.

Anantharaman had so much to say about Mylapore and about Parur House that I had to have two sessions with him, each lasting three hours!

When Anantharaman was in Isabel Hospital, the hospital choir would rehearse in his room, and he would give them pointers! He is never parted from his violin, and it was on his bed, even when he was at the hospital.

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Printable version | Sep 28, 2021 2:14:01 AM |

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