P. UNNIKRISHNAN - The all rounder among musicians
He was born into an aristocratic family of Madras, but unlike many of his contemporaries in Carnatic music, not into a Mylapore brahmin household. The sprawling mansion that housed his ancestral home as well as the family business, Kesari Kuteeram, on Westcott Road, was opposite the Royapettah Hospital, to many, as important a landmark as well. His great grandfather K.N. Kesari was the founder of one of the better known Ayurvedic dispensaries in this part of the world, made familiar to Madras residents by Lodhra, its widely advertised uterine tonic for women. He has been described as an almost self-taught ayurvedic physician, shrewd businessman, patron and connoisseur of the arts and culture, a scholar of many parts.
Neighbouring Kesari High School, a popular destination for boys from Telugu families in the city, bore Carnatic vocalist Parakkal Unnikrishnan’s great grandfather’s name, too, just like the dispensary. For Dr. Kesari was an Andhra by birth – who established the school as well as numerous charities in gratitude for the success and wealth he enjoyed in his lifetime. Unnikrishnan’s great grandmother (and Kesari’s second wife) Madhavi was a Malayali by birth and “well-versed in ayurvedic treatment”, and that is how the family has come to acquire its Kerala identity and culture, rather than reflect its Andhra origins.
A SURVEY BY CRITICS AND RASIKAS - A smorgasbord of delights
It had all the trappings of a Grammy Awards night! The moment of truth arrived when after a spell of mangala isai from the nagaswaram set the pace, Sudha Ragunathan was conferred the title of Sangita Kalanidhi, the most prestigious title of the Chennai music festival at that shrine of musical homage, the Madras Music Academy. The swirl of Kanchipuram silks, dazzling diamonds (American costume jewellery?), shimmering “angavastrams” and a liberal sprinkling of the latest smart phones added to the ambience. It was indeed an occasion to be seen and spotted by the cognoscenti.
The Chennai global music festival of 2013-14 may easily be described as one of the most remarkable in recent years. A maze of organisations numbering over 50 churning out roughly 2000 concerts, dance recitals, bhajans, discourses, workshops and lecdems over a jam-packed three-week period cannot be rivalled by any other global festival, though other musical extravaganzas like the Salzburg, Helsinki or Edinburgh International do have prodigious variety but over shorter periods. The Chennai `Season’ runs from 15th December to 1st January, but it has in recent years been stretched at both ends and the festival virtually runs from 1st December to 31st January and more. The initial accent is on music concerts but later it swings into various dance forms, operas and allied productions with theatre running concurrently.
RADHA BURNIER - Theosophist and artist
Radha Burnier was the seventh president of the Theosophical Society. She was born on 15 November 1923 and passed away on 31 October 2013 in Chennai. She was the daughter of N. Sriram and niece of Rukmini Devi. Radha had been more than a sister to me since I knew her from the age of four, and we were neighbours. I was comforted a bit as she looked very peaceful in death.
I also visited Radha just a couple of days before she passed on. She was fully aware that her end was nearing, and told me she was not going to the Indo-Pacific Theosophical Conference in Bali because she was coming to her end. “They will probably announce my death at the conference,” she told me. I just smiled and kept quiet. She passed away at 9 pm and the vice president of the Theosophical Society and the international secretary who were about to board the plane for Bali, returned to organise things.
V. SUBRAHMANIAM - He gave us confidence
My association with V. Subrahmaniam – Mama as I called him – began in 2001, almost 12 years ago on the day of Vijayadasami. From the first day, he was more a friend than a teacher. He struck a warm and affectionate bond with every student. In matters of music however, Mama was always strict. Not once did he let us off before we got the sangati right and never did he compromise on his own pathantaram from his esteemed guru Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer. Mama reaffirmed in us a self-belief to value our own singing that improved our music naturally.
Mama was a stickler for punctuality – he was always on time, for classes and concerts. He had a professional approach. His planning for concerts was along the lines that he preached – a contrasting variation of ragam, talam and tempo along with a strong sense of proportion. Giving vocal support to him on stage was an eye opener; to sit close to him and see how he handled every raga and kriti was a great learning experience. To us, he would say “Nanna vaayi vittu paadungo, appo daan effect kidaikkum” (open your mouth well and sing, only then will it have the desired effect). He encouraged his students to sing full throated, and attempt challenging sangatis at challenging speeds. He gave us immense confidence. The demanding kriti Marubalka was a perennial favourite; he would insist on us singing it in every other kutcheri. To the apprehensive among us, he would say, “Neengallaam daan ithai challenge-aa edutthu paadanum” (Such like you should take it up as a challenge and sing!)