FRIDAY REVIEW

‘I’ve gone places with my guru’s blessings’

Neyveli Venkatesh  

The foreign audience has graduated. Their discipline is something uniform and exemplary.

Neyveli Venkatesh, when on stage, has nothing else in focus. His mind and body, heart and soul have their undivided attention on the main artist, grasping, absorbing and then aligning swiftly to the pattern of the concert to make it soar. A conversation with him. Excerpts… Association with Perumpallam Venkatesan…

I started as a ganjira artist and gradually took to the mridangam. My father Balaraman was my first guru but the person who opened my eyes regarding laya and its infinite mathematical orientations was thavil vidwan Perumpallam Venkatesan. I casually accompanied him on the ganjira in a concert and got a faint glimpse of the enormity of the arithmetic involved. I made a plea to learn from him and used to travel all the way from Neyveli to his place. He taught me with the patience of an Aasan as thavil kanakku methods were not easy to grasp. My stint with Perumpallam Venkatesan, where he would explain things as many times as I had wanted, stood me in good stead when I had the opportunity to accompany Yazhpanam Ganesan or Palanivel.

About guru M.N.Kandasamy Pillai…

More than being a guru, he treated me like his son and that applies without variation to his other disciples too - Arun Prakash, Balaji and so on – for instance. Whoever entered his house never could leave without having lunch or dinner. My first tour abroad to South Africa, with a team of youngsters — Balaji Shanker, Kalpana Kishore, Raju (mandolin), Mala and Jaya — was in 1994. My father had passed away in 1993. My guru travelled to the airport to bless and see me take the flight, a rare occurrence that left the entire team amazed. And such has been his power that it has been a success-story from then till the present moment. I have so far had the fortune of being the organiser of tours to many countries, a direct result of his blessings.

The list of countries you visited must be long… L.Subramaniam had heard me during the South African tour and offered me a chance to accompany him at the Royal Albert Hall in 1995. It was success and growth thereafter as I was subsequently invited to Europe by Mandala Haus Center (1996), by Singapore Indian Fine Arts Society (1997), accompanied Sashank in 1998 (Europe) and in 1999 (Australia) and during the following years to the U.S. and Canada. Recently I accompanied Sanjay in Spain at places like Santander and the historic church-town, Cartigena. It is a matter of great recognition to accompany him when he is at his peak. I have given my best on all these tours and all artists have preferred me for my integrity and amiable disposition.

About experiences abroad…

The audience in France or Spain comprises people of their respective nationalities. A stage has come when foreigners are desirous of listening to our vocal classical music — I stress on the word vocal — which means their capacity to appreciate our music has extended beyond mere recognition of the instruments. The foreign audience has graduated. Audience discipline is something uniform and exemplary. They leave their seat only when the concert is completed. The audio equipment – well - they give two hundred per cent attention to this aspect, somethin pathetically lacking here. The applause after the concert sometimes seems endless. This is slowly becoming the case with countries such as Austria, Luxemburg, Belgium and Switzerland.

NLC’s role…

My father was with the Neyveli Lignite Corporation (NLC) and I too had joined this organisation. After reaching a level with the mridangam I played a marathon at Neyveli for 28 hours at the Vinayagar temple. Chingelpet Ranganathan and Srirangam Ranganathan sang when I performed this feat. The news reached my chairman, M.P.Narayanan, who called me and proffered his hand and in another six months I acquired an elevation — from industrial worker to cultural staff. My first day at NLC saw me pushing the wheelbarrow around and these days when I push the luggage-trolley, which is a similar three-wheeler, at the airports I think of my humble beginnings. A word for the youngsters…

My father strived to make us, my sister and myself, first generation musicians. My sister is a violinist with AIR Puducherry. We have made his dream come true and my mother Krishnaveni has seen our progress. I have as many as 300 disciples. I have carried forward my father’s tradition of hospitality and of maintaining an endearing nature towards all — which is for youngsters to see and believe in. That has given me my strength.

The sollus of the masters of today - Sarvashri Murthy, Raghu, Sivaraman, Mani, Sankaran - carry an authoritative originality and if mridangam vidwans of my generation manage to achieve at least fifty per cent of what they have done, we would have accomplished something. Abhyasam could be combined with a cricket or football match shown on the TV. Your practice could be for hours and in proportion to the duration of the match. Your playing would have matured, mellowed, creating within you a vision that would take you to newer horizons.

S.SIVAKUMAR