Half a century, not out

DEVOTED AND DOGGED Vijayarajan Master.

DEVOTED AND DOGGED Vijayarajan Master.   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: VIPINCHANDRAN

Vijayarajan Master's music school, Sangeeta Kalaniketan is more than 50 years old. He shares memories with K.PRADEEP

Unlike other music schools, with its plush interiors, flashy signboards and swanky musical gadgets, this one may hardly be noticed. Hidden in a corner of a narrow Mattancherry by-lane, wedged in by the uncared for back entrances of two shops is a small room. Weeds overrun the whole place outside; there is a barely used pond and a run down temple nearby. There is a faded signboard but that is sure to be missed. This is Sangeeta Kalaniketan, one of Kochi's oldest music schools.For Vijayarajan Master, who founded this institution way back in 1954, this has been a part of his life. This school has provided him a source of livelihood and more than that a legion of students, many of who have made a mark as musicians. Down the years the number of students have dwindled. The Master now teaches here only twice a week to four students who swear to keep the school going.

Bad days

But Vijayarajan Master is not quite sure. "I will soon close this down. I had plans to do so much earlier but the insistence of these few students kept me going. I fear what would come of it after my time. So far, in all these years, I have managed to retain its reputation. I don't want it to be ruined after I have gone," says the septuagenarian.There was a time when West Kochi reverberated with music. There were concerts every other day, most of the legendary Indian singers have graced the stages here and there was a load of musical talent. "But unfortunately most of the talents were not allowed to bloom. There was very little support for those like us who loved music. I remember listening to my elder brother learning music, how I used to sneak away after school to learn music and the scolding I used to get from my father for that. Studies were affected and my father tried to wean me away from music by sending me to work in a shop at Ernakulam. I tried doing this for a couple of days and as a sort of protest ran away to Madras. There I realised life was not easy and came back. But after that my father relented."Vijayarajan Master was trained by eminent musicians like Ranganatha Kamath, first, and later by Vathakad Raghava Menon and M. R. Sivaraman Nair. "Those days you had to take a boat to Ernakulam and then a bus to reach Raghava Menon's place in Tripunithura. He was a tough taskmaster and had a terrible temper. He was such a gifted musician but very unlucky. I used to accompany him for programmes, like for the radio concerts. Sivaraman Nair was more of a friend and guide though much senior to me. He had begun music classes and was on the lookout for someone to assist him. I doubled up as a teacher and student here." That association with Sivaraman Nair continues even today. Vijayarajan Master is now the principal of the M. R. Sivaraman Nair Memorial Society that conducts music classes. "There was a special bond that united Sivaraman Nair to me. We used sing together in concerts, our voices blending, matching and complimenting. This also happened when I sang with T. K. Govinda Rao, my friend and well wisher."In fact, Vijayarajan Master believes that his life would have taken a different turn had he acceded to Govinda Rao's suggestion that he join him in Madras. "He asked me to come over and stay with him. This would have enabled me to further my training in music and would have also opened a lot of doors. But somehow it did not happen."

Humble beginnings

By then Vijayarajan Master had started Sangeeta Kalaniketan. "In the beginning it functioned from a room at Cherlai (in Mattancherry). Classes used to be held four days a week. There have been so many boys and girls who have cut their musical teeth here. Maybe the prominent among them are music director M. K. Arjunan, Prof. James, Soubhagyavathi, G. N. Prabhu to Sadique of the present group. We organise music concerts on special functions and festivals and it was for one such occasion that K. J. Jesudas sang here the first time years back." Vijayarajan Master had a reason to remember that day. He was witness to this extraordinary talent and his loving father. "Jesudas came with his father Augustine Joseph in a rickshaw from Thoppumpady. The young boy sang well. But I think a lot of credit should go to Augustine Joseph for being so persistent and patient. He was a fine singer but not trained. So, he wanted his son to be groomed. He must have taken young Jesudas to almost every musician around asking them to help the boy. He must have requested almost every organiser to give the young boy a chance to sing. That kind of encouragement paid off."

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