Interview : Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurti

February 12, 2014

Interview : Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurti

Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurti interviewed by SANJAY SUBRAHMANYAN

Calcutta could be deemed fruitful, though he himself was less than fully satisfied with his musical career there for, at bottom, he wanted to succeed as a concert artist as well. He told an interviewer not too long ago that he did not have a successful concert career because he stayed in Calcutta in the prime of his life. During that time he did get some performance opportunities in the South, but generally the sabha-s concerned found the financial burden arising from the travel costs unacceptable.

Even later, he did not get many opportunities to Some Of KSK's Compositions Varna-s Into parakela - Kuntalavarali - Adi Mandara giridhara tgraha bheda varnam) - Madhyamavati/Ragamalika - Adi Naameeda daya - Janaranjani - Adi Ninney kori - Malavi - Adi Saranagata vatsaley - Kadanakutoohalam - Adi Tillana-s Naatrudeem • Brindavana Saranga - Adi Naatrutadeem - Hamsanandi - Adi Udanatom - Bhimplas - Khanda Chapu give performances. "After being associated with stalwarts like Sabesa Iyer, Tiger, Ponniah Pillai and Muthiah Bhagavatar," he explained, "I could never ask anyone else for a favour. I thought this was a very demeaning thing for me to do, but I don't think I have been haughty....

In the event, I do have pent-up emotions about not performing enough." Back in Madras, his career continued on the same lines, with teaching rather than concert performances as the mainline. During the seventies, he was mostly in the shadows, collaborating quietly with Lalgudi.

Learning Days ...

The following is an English transcription of excerpts from an interview conducted in Tamil with Calcutta K.S. Krishnamurti by SANJAY SUBRAHMANYAN and put on San jay's own website. In this interview, KSK talked about bis learning experiences.

What was your experience as a student of music?

I joined the music college of the Annamalai University in 1939. Even before that, during my school days, I had become aware of music. Papanasam Sivan and Harikesanallur Muthiah Bhagavatar were my neighbours. I learnt a number of kriti-s from them and could sing them in the same way they did. Those were the days when they did not expect money for what they taught. Later, after completing high school, I wanted to study mathematics at the two-year Intermediate college level at Annamalai University.

Even while I was making arrangements for this in Chidambaram, I happened to chance on an interview that was being conducted to select students for the music college. Tiger Varadachariar, who was in charge, saw me and asked: "Haven’t seen you before?" I confirmed he had and said: "At Narayanaswamy Iyer's house [in Triplicane]. Tiger then asked: "Do you sing?" When I replied in the affirmative, he said: "Go on, sing then!" I sang a Muthiah Bhagavatar kriti in Suddha Dhanyasi. When I completed the kriti, he said, rather informed me: "I will write a letter to your father,- you can join this college and I will give you a special scholarship." My father did not think high of a career in music but, when he read Tiger's letter, he agreed to send me to the music college. At the college, Tiger, Sattur Krishna lyengar and T.K. Rangachari would wake us up at 4:30 in the morning and make us do akara sadhakam.

How was it done in those days?

We used to take a raga like Sankarabharanam every day and practice varisai-s in it. We would do the same with other sampoorna raga-s. This was the approach in the first six months' of training. Then we practised singing the alankara-s in raga-s with the same number of swara-s in the arohana and the avarohana. Actually, our first assignment within a month of joining the college was to identify the raga-s that could be arrived at by doing sruti bhedam for all the 72 melakarta raga-s. We were given a month's time to submit our papers. I finished my studies at the college in 1942 or 43.

By this time, Sattur Krishna lyengar had settled down in Bangalore. He had had a paralytic stroke and was bed-ridden. He wrote to me, this was in December, and inquired if I could come over and help him. I considered myself fortunate to be given this opportunity. I did not reply to his letter but rightaway went to Bangalore. As soon as I reached his place, he said: "Ah you've come, Krishna!" From that day on and for the next three years, I had the privilege of learning music from him even as I took care of him. He had three daughters but I was to him the son he never had. While he would get angry with me if I erred, he never slapped me like he did others who made the slightest Jayaraman for some years. He entered public life, however, when he was conscripted to teach music  mistake. I served him in many ways, like I'd wash his clothes. Even his wife would enquire why I was doing it. After those three years, he said that he couldn't take classes any more and asked me to go and be with my parents, I returned home.

I can say that if I have learnt and understood the intricacies and subtleties of our music, it was mainly during my sojourn with Krishna Iyengar. Whatever little I know today is due to his efforts to educate me. He opened my eyes to its many nuances. He didn't talk theory; he looked at everything practically. Nadamadi tirinda, he wanted to make sure that I did not sing the dha ni sa prayoga when oscillating the dhaivata. He went on to explain that these nuances were very important.

You follow the same practical approach in teaching your students, don't you?

Indeed I do. Let me tell you more about Krishna Iyengar. On one occasion, he recalled that, when I joined the music college, I had a penchant for speed and that he had to apply the brakes on me to slow me down. For example, after listening to me sing the pallavi of Rama nannu brovara, he asked me: "Is this Sankarabharanam or Harikamboji?" His point: the prayoga in the lower octave in the pallavi sounded why was that? doubtful. His explained previously the song used to be sung differently, giving no room for doubt about its raga swaroopa.

He further advised me to guard whatever I learnt, irrespective of whether I gave concerts or not. He also warned me never to teach women. Krishna Iyengar would frown if anyone oscillated the madhyama in Brovabarama, the kriti in Bahudari, and say the oscillation of that note was more appropriate for Sankarabharanam. His remarks were always concise and to the point. At another time, he made me sing Bilahari and when I had done that, he wanted to know whether the sa ni sa dha pa was appropriate. I replied, rather hesitatingly, that this prayoga was used in the anupallavi of the Dikshitar kriti Sree Balasubramanyaya and that Tiger had taught it to us. He said he had merely wanted to see if I was aware of what I was singing or if I had made a mistake. Again, in the Kambhoji kriti

He explained the reason was he had attracted voice problems because he taught women. His experience was that the tenor and flexibility of the male voice were lost when it had to be lowered to match the higher pitch of women. In those days, the teachers didn't like even to change the tambura-aligned sruti when they were tutoring males. In fact they were very particular in maintaining the mandra string after it had been tuned. In my own case, I was finding it strenuous to sing even in 1-kattai; it has today stabilised at 1-1/2. I teach everyone at the same sruti.

How much of what you learned have you retained?

I have retained much of it.

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