(This being my first blogpost makes me a tad nervous. Nevertheless, there’s a first time for everything. So here goes.)
I must have been around 10 when I walked into the then HQ of Shanmukhananda’s Music School in Essar Hall, Bhaudaji Road. Radha Teacher greeted the shorts-clad sheepish-looking kid with a warm smile. 10 years hence, as I wait on stage, in Mudhra Sabha’s Studio in Nungambakkam, waiting for the clock to strike 6:30pm, my phone buzzes and I get one of the most gratifying messages of my life. Radha Teacher would be receiving the Sangeeta Kala Acharya Award from The Music Academy Madras, which is the “highest civilian honour” for a Music Teacher.
The last 10 years have been a part of a great learning experience of my life. The Semmangudi Bani is one that is “Janaranjaka”, but it is not “Sulabha”; far from it, on the contrary. What helped us (I collectively include the students of Radha Teacher whom I have learnt alongside: Suja Aunty, Vimarshini, Dharini, Krittika and Gayathry) was the fact that the inspiration which was required to drive us in order to get a hold of this particular discipline was provided to us in abundance, by our Guru.
Be it a crisp Javali like “Parulanna Mata” in Karnataka Kapi, or the piece de resistance “Shri Kamalambikayam” in Sahana or “Shri Shukra Bhagavantham” in Paras. The teaching process of every krithi had its innate rhetoric, its own set of nuances and Radha Teacher’s own set of anecdotes related to how the Master, Shri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer used to teach those particular songs. Once, inspired by Shri TN Seshagopalan’s recording of Ranganayakam in Nayaki, I asked for it in the next class. Radha Teacher readily agreed, and, with eyes glistening, said, “Namba Paattu idu” (This is OUR song), referring to how Semmangudi Mama made this beautiful composition his own, by virtue of his extraordinary renditions of it.
The happy-sad melancholy of “Naan Oru Vilayattu Bommaiyya”, the sobriety of “Dakshinamurte”, the structural elegance of “Gajavadana” in Thodi, why, the subtle three different Nishadas occurring in the Mukthayi swaram of the Surutti varnam “Entho Prema” (Can be compared to the pronunciation of the three a’s in Australia :P); all these were brought out explicitly, delivering the melody in a way that would stun both student and rasika. I credit a lot of what I was able to gather as a student to the fact that I was firstly a big fan of Radha Teacher’s music. She got us to make sure that every krithi is rendered the way it has been taught; even the slightest of nuances were given utmost importance, for “the small things like these are the ones that make the real difference in the rendering”, maintains Radha Teacher.
As a student, I was impatient, highly selective but also crazy about music (probably what a Mylapore Mami might call “Paattu Paithyam”). Radha Teacher dealt with all this, obliging to my constant nagging for new songs every class, but was very firm about getting a hold of the Krithis we learnt, all the same. This made all of us grow, right from hardcore Shyama Shastri-Dikshitar followers to music rasikas who started enjoying viruttams and varnams alike.
From what I gather from general millennial environment, teaching is one of the toughest jobs out there. Radha Teacher, however, used to make it look so easy. It was as if the gamakas and brughas were just there. To be sung and perfected. This factor, I feel, is essential in proving how much the title of Sangeetha Kala Acharya given to Radha Teacher, enhances the prestige of the award.
The fact that Radha Teacher manages to encapsulate the essence of a 3-hour kutcheri within 75 minutes blows my mind. That perfectly accurate amount of manodharma for every piece, that juxtaposition of the Madhyamas, the variety of Thala, that piquant sangathi thrown in with Semmangudi-esque oeuvre, all that would be accompanied by the feeling that “this has been done in the best possible way”. The fundamentals of planning concerts, once etched so well in one’s mind, seldom gives way, and further has helped all of us plan concerts to a creditable standard of sophistication.
I can go on and on, but nonetheless, I am extremely happy with the news. (I am also kinda bad at ending articles. :P) However, I pray to the Almighty that Sangeeta Kala Acharya Designate Smt. Radha Namboodiri continues to give many others the opportunity to be inspired by her music for a long long time to come.