Reminiscences of another time…..

Flashback to July 1974 , San Francisco. One of our theatre troupe member invites me to visit the school she just joined in Berkeley .

So off we go in her old VW bug .

It is the newly opened Centre for World Music , a brain child of Ethno-Musicologist Dr Bob Brown.  . With significant financial help from Louise Scrips , of the wealthy San Diego Scripps family , an old church building on College avenue was purchased .

Louise Scripps was an ardent and devoted student of T Balasaraswatii .

So here we arrive one afternoon there . There on the lawn in front of the main building KVN and Palghat Raghu are laying on the grass . I had seen Palghat Raghu’s name in Ravi Shankar’s double LP ” Festival of India ” , so greet him and even ask him to convey my regards to his guru Palghat Mani Iyer .

For that summer session , some of the topmost artistes from South India , North India , indonesia , and other countries had been brought  to Berkeley .

The South Indian contingent comprised KNV ( with wife Padma Narayanaswami and kid daughter Anuradha ) . T N Krishna , with wife and Kids Sriram and Vidya , Palghat Raghu , T H Vinayakram and V Nagarajan ( kanjira ) . Also T Balsaraswati , her daughter Lakshmia and two others whose names I cannot recollect .

The friend who has given me a ride to Berkeley was a dancer and started taking Javaneses dance classes . I was at that time an amateur percussionist and was very must intrigued by the intricacies of the India Tabla . Next to the main building there was a small annex where Table , Mridangam and Ghatam classes were held , on the first floor .

As I wanted to learn tablas , I somehow began taking classes without registering in the school . I got away with it for a couple of weeks before being found out . Fortunately one of our theatre troupe members has just gotten an inheritance and  he gave me $ 400 to pay for the summer course .

So there i was taking beginner tabla classes , I think the teacher was a North India tabla vidwan by the name of Anand Bolas .  So on the same floor Palghat Raghu was teaching Mridamgam and I took his class too and i also joined T H Vinayakram’s Ghatam class .

To be continued …

Correction : T N Krishnan ‘s daughter is Viji , not Vidya

so … continued .

One day as I was coming down from one of the percussion classes , probably ghatam , I see the door of the main room ( small one story house , annex of the main building , right next door ),

so the door of the big main room on the grounds floor ( that might have been the living room of the pastor ) was open and there was KVN teaching a group of about ten boys  , all mid twenties to mid thirties , teaching the simple

arohana avarohana of mayamalava gaula . i entered and asked permission to sit ( in the back )  i had never heard anything like that before . After the class was over I asked permission to join.

After a few weeks the summer session was over and I had no funds to pay for the fall session . By that time i had become somewhat closer to KNV and  family and i continued taking classes from him free of charge at his small apartment  a couple of blocks down the street from the centre for world music . Balasaraswati ‘s apartment was in the same building and all the south Indians had apartments within a short radius of the school . I used to also visit Palghat Raghu and TH Vinayakram in their apartments . Raghu  used to practically live on uppuma that he cooked himself . he left back to India a few months before the rest of the South Indians due to a financial disagreement with Bob Brown . Before leaving he gave me a few khadi veshtis and shirts ( that were too big for me ) . I wore those as soon as i reached Bombay the following year in September 75 . Also i gave him $ 85 to buy a Mridngam in preparation of my future arrival in India the following year with the intention of continuing learning under him later in Madras .

Th summer session was a very big affair   with all kinds of mesmerizing musics emanating from all corners of the centre .

to be continued …..

9 Jan 2016

Now a word about the Centre for World Music.

As I said , it was the brain child of Dr Bob Brown.

Bob Brown was a musician and ethno-musicologist. In the mid fifties  he has come to India on a

Fulbright scholarship under Wesleyan University to study classical Indian music.

At that time it was not much known that there were two systems of Indian music and he was was sent to Madras .

Later the late Jon Higgins who was his student at Wesleyan also benefited from the same program , and the rest is history. .

So the summer session ( and first  ) of the centre at  Berkeley  was very large and ambitious . Industrial quantities of all kinds of Indian and Indonesian instruments were shipped to Berkeley.

There was also a big Gamelan and Indonesian /Javanese delegation .

Gamelan music could be heard wafting at all hours . Much more can be said about the Centre.

Now back to KVN and before I go on let me mention some of the boys who were in KVN’s singing class . Some of them later made their way to india as well

There was  Micheal Davis , who later learned flute in Madras (Chennai) under the Sikkil sisters

Jeff London , August Karlson  , Craig Moro , who spoke some Tamil and others I cannot remember  . So here we are now in the fall of 1974 . I spent lots of time at KVN’s place , sometimes staying overnight . KVN and family also visit our theatre commune house in San Francisco and even attend one of our shows . Palghat Raghu also visits us in San francisco and we walk around in SF going here and  there sightseeing .

Beginning of  75 KVN and  family leave for India .

 to be continued  ..

10 Jan 2016

A little flash back to Centre for Word Music .

As I said the summer session was very ambitious and ended up going over budget , that caused some of the faculty to leave back to india  after the fall session . That  included T Balasaraswati and party , Palghat Raghu I do not recall, nor about T N Krishnan and R H Vinayakram but i think they also left . KVN stayed on till about Feb or march 75 .

After Balasarawati left KVN switched apartements and moved into Bala’s in the same  building  .

  1. Viswanathan and T ,Ranganathan had visited during the summer from Wesleyan and came to KVN for lunch . Upon learning about my french connection Ranga told one small joke : “do you know why French people et only one egg ? because un oeuf is enough !” He also mentioned how they knew this French Bharata Natyam dancer  and teacher  in Paris  called Kumari Malavika . ( i got to know her in India and France some years later. Ranga had T shirts with Carnatic composer  portraits  printed on them .

I remember Bala’s daughter Lakshmi making a very big kolam ( rangoli ) with multi coloured chalks  on the floor in the main building hall during Navaratri .

The South indian carnatic group used to give  a weekly concert and that was the first time I got to wear a veshti ( dhoti ) and operate the sruti box .these concerts we

Also one time we took the centrer’s van and went to a college in Petaluma or Santa Rosa for a concert  and I  remember being very impressed by TN Krishnan’s playing .

to be continued  ..

11 Jan 2016

Overland to India

After KVN and family left back to India we kept in touch by regular postal mail. No email those days .

The Overland trip to India .

By the summer of 75 with some financial help from the Theater commune, myself and a friend left San Francisco en route to India .

We got a ride share with some Persians, from San Francisco to New York . After spending a couple of weeks with my friends family in Manhattan we fly to Europe .

In France we spend about one and a half months with my family and by August  75 we set off India bound  .

We hitch  hike to southern France and spend a couple of days with my maternal aunt in Marseilles , then on to Italy , still hitch  hiking .

We somehow make it to Naples then as our hitch  hiking luck ran out in the south of Italy we continue on by train to a city called Brindisi  ( or Bari ) from where we take a boat to the Greek island of Corfu .

One week camping under the stars  on a beach and we take another boat to Irgumenista on mainland  Greece . From there an overnight bus ride takes us to Tesaloniki on the way to Turkey . From Tesaloniki a slow overnight train takes us to Istanbul .

In Istanbul we run in an acquaintance from the the bay area , Krishna Bhatt  , a sitarist from  Berkeley ,on his way back from India ., . He gives us a two rupee note.

About ten days or so in Istanbu and we take  a three day bus journey from there to Teheran .

In Teheran we make friends with some Italian people  , Luigi and Loredana ( I ran into them at Madras two years later ) Also in Teheran we ran out of money and a Persian friend of a friend helps us out .

A phone call to San Francisco and we get some funds wired .

Two weeks in Teheran and back on the road . On the bus to  the northern city of Meshad we ask some girls if they know a nice  hotel in that city . They actually invite us to stay with their family and we experience one week of wondreful persian family hospitality . They took us to visit the famous Imam Reza Shiite shrine , and that was very impressive .

to be continued .

15 Jan 2016

So we are at the beginning of September 1975 in Mashad , Iran .

Mashad is a holly city for Shiite Muslim and has  has a shrine  for Imam Reza .

After one week in Mashad and  we make our way to the Afghan border and cross into Afghanistan.

The contrast  between Iran and Afghanistan was quite something to behold .

Complete pandemonium on the Afghan side .

We  board a bus full of people and various small members of the poultry race  and reach the western city of Herat .

From here another bus and  we are in Kabul .

We spent two pleasant weeks in Kabul and off to Pakistan .

So we board this Pakistani bus , with right hand drive and go down the Khyber pass to a city called Jalalabad Jalalabad is still in Afghanistan but now we have entered the Indian subcontinent and we feel its flavour , we see green bananas etc.

We cross the border into Pakistan and make our  way to Rawalpindi by bus . One night in Rawalpindi and on the overnight  train to Lahore . One night in Lahore and we are on the way to the Wagah border crossing to India ….

to be continued .

18 Jan 2016

India .

26 September 1975 around 10 am .

After clearing  the Pakistani border PST we walk about 200 meters to the Indian border post at Wagah .

I had a bunch of electronic gadgets requested by KVN which I had purchased in New York .

These are entered in my passport .

Our Indian tourist visas are verified , we had gotten them in Teheran.

Teheran flashback : in Teheran at the  hotel we had befriended some Sikhs and we were invited to the local Gurdwara .

Back to Wagah – So we finally clear Indian customs and set foot in India . Outside  a bunch of rikshaw guys are waiting . One of them agrees to take us for free to Amritsar a few miles away .

In Amritsat we visit the Golden Temple. At the main entry gate there is a small running water shallow ditch so all automatically wash their feet upon entering .

After the Golden Temple we make our way to the railway station and we get tickets for the overnight Frontier mail train to New Delhi .

Morning arrival in Delhi . There I forget a small bag under the seat in the train wit some important papers . By the time I realize , the train is already gone . At Delhi we see out first kids begging for money etc .

We book a luxurious hotel room for the humongous price of Rs 30 and donate all our warm clothes now that we have reached tropical India !

After a couple of days in Delhi we are on the train on the way to Bombay , following our original plan to visit Goa before reaching Madras ..

At Bombay we wander a little bit before finding a hotel in a street behind The famous Hotel Taj Mahal .

I think that was Raffles  hotel . We get a regal room for a kingly Rs 12 . As it is September it is the fag end of the west coast monsoon and we experience the heavy rains .

There were some Arab  families too in the hotel , I guess they were there to enjoy the rain as well .

We manage to find much missed avocadoes  in a near by coffee shop called Dipti Nivas , were  avocado sandwiches are served .

From there we get precious info on where to find avocadoes in Bombay , at the big Crawford fruit market .

Now that we have reached Bombay now called Mumbai, we go to the main post office near VT station and ring up KVN in Madras .

KVN and Padma mami instruct us to leave the hotel and go stay with Padma’s elder sister Neela at Anushakti Nagar .

We cancel the trip to Goa and donate the boat tickets to a frizzy haired Algerian hippy and take a taxi all the way to Anushakti Nagar in the suburbs .

Now one word about KVN ‘s sister in law Neela .  

From scholarship to scholarship she ended up becoming a nuclear scientist with a PhD from America and now works in the Babha Atomic Center in Bombay  .

So we take a long and costly 30 rupee taxi ride ( the muslim taxi driver was overjoyed ) to Anushakti nagar , where the elite of india’s nuclear scientists is housed in modern high rise buildings , with all the modern comforts of the day available in India at that time. The elevator is not working. We walk up to the 13 th floor to Neela’s spacious three bedroom flat .

At that time she was past her mid thirties and not yet married on account of many years of study .Her younger sister Revati  , one of numerous siblings , was there also keeping her company

We are given a very good  south indian family welcome of course and enjoy spicy South India Iyengar cooking after a few weeks of nearly fruitarian diet on the overland route from France .

I immediately develop a bad ear infection .

A couple of days more in Bombay and we are finally on the way to Madras now called by its original name, Chennai, by train .

to be continued . ..

24th January 2016

After a two day train ride from Bombay , we alight from Bombay mail ( or Madras mail )

and finally reach our last destination .

Madras at last

 A fifty paisa coin in the red pay phone and I have KNV on the line

 “Take a taxi via Beach road and come to Mandaveli post office , I will wait for you there “

So we arrive at Mandavelli , KVN is there waiting for us at the post office ,

We go to his home at 59/2B Gurukkal Colony  , just across the street .

Gurukkal Colony is a small dead end street , the place belongs to The Kapalishwar temple

and houses about 15 mostly Brahmin families . At that time KVN’s rent is about an astronomical Rs 75 .

We meet again with Padma maami and Anuradha and and also are introduced to Ramaa (KVN’s other daughter) and gradually to the rest of KVN’s extended and numerous in law family. So now we are in Madras

It is Deepavali time and also monsoon time .

to be continued!

31 Jan 2016

So here we are in Madras , it is around Deepavali time . We are staying in KVN’s house and exploring Madras . the lighthouse , the fruit market at Parry,s corner etc ..

After a few days we go visit MS Subbulakshmi  with KVN at the Kalki garden house .

There we meet the whole extended family , Sadasivam , Radha Vishwanathan etc .

We are served delicious iddlies and engage in conversation visit the big puja room etc . I remember one bribe of conversation between Radha Vishwanathan how they discussed having the same birth star , Avittam .

After a few day MS sent her small black Fiat car to fetch us from KVN’s house to take us to her concert at Madras University .

Now it is about mid October and we all make a train journey en route to Trivandrum to attend the Navaratri festival . We alight at Trichur after the overnight train journey from Madras and step into the luxuriant tropical greenery of God’d own country , Kerala . At Trichur we are given a wonderful welcome at Narendran’s family home , ” Chandni ” ( hence the name Trichr C Narendran ) . It is a traditional Kerala house .

We meet Narendran’s great artistic family , his poet mom , his aristocratic father late  Sri Venugoplal Raja , his  violinist brother  Rajendran and also their sister Gita .

 There I discover the great Kerala bananas . Those days I was on a fruitarian diet . I counted 23 different types of bananas in Kearala . No kidding .

After having spent a few days in Trichur we make a stop over in Allepey en route to Trivandrum and pay a visit to Allepey Venkatesan’s family .

We reach Trivandrum and we are put up in the Navaratri mandapam guest quarters on the compound of the old Travancore family palace near the Anantapadmanabha temple .

 To  be continued .

17 Feb 2016.

So we are in Trivandrum . The Navaratri mandapam where the concerts take place is an annex of both the old palace and the Anantapadmanabha temple . It is therefore is considered to be part and parcel of the temple itself .  Only men are allowed inside the main hall , but there is as secluded area in the back from where ladies can witness the various events thru a lattice work partition , Purdah style .

On the evening of KVN’s concert , some objections were raised about my presence as a non hindu inside the mandapam . Those were overlooked after reassurances and explanations  from KVN as of my being according to his words ” better than a Brahmin ” ( quote ). As the place as I said is part of the temple , men as a mark of humility and submission to the supreme wear no upper garments and are bare chested . Saivite vibhudi ( sacred ashes ) were applied to my torso and arms and I was good to go for my sruthi box solo sitting behind KVN .

While in Trivandrum we also visited KNV’s nephew Radhakrishnan and other local musicians  and aquantances .

One night I went for a walk and chanced upon an all night Kathakali event inside the temple premises .  I only stayed about half an hour .

Another very interesting event  was the grand annual procession that went from the temple to the sea  ,  it was led by the puny then Maharaja ( elder brother of late Martanda Varma ) .  A very s spectacular event with many elephants and all kinds of colourful  things . I noticed the elephant’s droppings were as big as footballs . The procession took a few hours , at then of which the Maharaha throws something into the sea. I attended the whole thing , walking behind the elephants

I also remember some temple ceremony where hundreds of coconuts were broken at some temple and I remember well Padma mami had something to do with that .

After one week or so in Kerala we returned to Madras .

to be continued .

27th Feb 2016

So here we are back in Madras from the Kerala trip . Must be about the end of Oct or beginning of Nov . Having stayed a couple of weeks at KVN’s house  , my friend and I rent an upstairs flat on  R K Mutt Road, Mandevelli, about midway between Gurukkal Colony and the Music college on Greenways road, Adyar.

The rent is a Astoundingly high Rs 300 per month . many mosquitoes residing in the cupboards. The landlord says we can have as many papayas  from the tree outside as we like .  There is a very nice rooftop terrace , like most homes at that time , from where we can admire the beautiful starry night sky .

KVN stops by once in a while on the way to and from the college ., sometimes riding a bicycle and checks out what we have in the kitchen .

Among the people and places we visit at that time are Padma Subramaniam and also Kalakshetra , in view of my friends taking dance classes .  At Kalakshetra  we meet MD Ramanathan and also meet the then principal , one Sethuraman .

By the end of December , my friend has to  return to the US and we vacate the flat and I move back into KVN’s house and that is the actual beginning of my gurukulavasam life …..

to be continued …

1st March 2016

……before we go on let me quickly describe the “notion ” of Gurukulavasam .

Guru means “teacher or guide ‘ Kula means , abode , house , and ” Vasam ” means dwelling 

so the state of ” Gurukula vasam is when a pupil or student lives in the teachers home as part of the family and undergoes training with performing various services for the Guru and often by extension to his extended family as well .

So here  we  are  , it is the very beginning of 1976 , we are a 59/2B Gurukkal Colony at Mandavelli.

It is a small dead end street ,  very near the crossroads of Ramakrishna Mutt road and Venkatakrishna road , That carrefour has the Mandaveli bus strand on one corner , opposite of which is the Raja Annamalaipuram post office , next to Prakash Hotel  . Hotel in south india does not mean hotel , it means restaurant . but actually Prakash hotel did have some rooms for rent on the upper floor . On the other side of the carrefour going towards Santome is the taxi stand and the bus depot and a petrol bunk ( indian for gas station ) opposite of that . Gurukkal colony is the very first left going south towards Adyar .

 A brief description of KVN’s home . It is the  second house on the left turning from R K Mutt road . It is the usptairs portion of a two story house , like all the houses on the Alley . Downstairs is the D Krishnamurthy family , he is an advocate . All families are Iyer brahmin families except one saiva pillai family and an Urdu speaking Muslim family across the  street . We never see them and all their windows are always closed . They occupy both floors of the house .

KVN’s upper flat has hardly any furniture at all , only a couple of  green arm chairs in the living room ” cum reception area and a small square table . On a widow still  sits the old rotary dial bakelite telephone . In those days , land line  telephones are rare in homes , KVN has one due a previous medical condition .

So hardly any furniture art all . no beds , no tables , no chairs . all sleep and eat on the l

floor .  no fridge  , no gas stove , Cooking is done with a kerosene stove . No running water , there is a hand pump in the bath room . The hot water samovar uses coal  .

to be continued .

4th March 2016

More about KVN’s flat .

As I said it was very sparsely furnished , There was however also a music room and a small puja room.

In the bathing room there was a coal operated samovar for making hot water . It was later electrified .

We used to go to a small alley off R K  Mutt road to buy charcoal .

At that time an elderly brahmin lady whom all called mámi was the house cook  . She left after a few months .

More about the domestic scene later , now on to the Gurukulavasam life …

A typical day schedule : up at 5 am to pick flowers from a small tree across the  street . At that hour it is still dark and many hands are picking the few white flowers  .

That done it is time to go fetch the milk . so i go on a bicycle with two ” goojas ” ( containers ) , one for cows milk and one for buffalo milk ( for making curd ) . Each guja hanging on either side of the handle bar . I proceed to some mysterious back street in the mandaveli labyrinth to an urban/pastoral dairy farm  and return to the house with the milky bounty . In those days the monthly milk  budget was  a whooping Rs 600. Upon returning home I would attempt to sit for practice  , but often times I was sent on a variety of different errands.

Type of errands : get train tickets from Madras central , or Egmore station , take bus 21 to central or bus 23 to Egmore .

Shop for vegetables , coffee powder , butter , etc  convey messages to mámis family in Triplicane ( 5 Tanikachalam street ) as they had no phone . ( for example : got tell my mom to make chappaties )

go get taxi or auto from the taxi stand  . Our usual taxi driver was one Selvaraj . ( I attended his wedding later )  All of that of course entailed learning tamil.

I figured out I could make a sentence with  two words ( Takkali Irrukka ? )

Learning the language was not too difficult as I found myself in a similar non European culture akin to the one I had grown up in in  North Africa , same sitting on the floor , same eating with hands , same big extended multi generation families , same use of a two languages in everyday life

 one  “foreign ” language and one local vernacular , same spicy foods etc ..

to be continued

5th March 2016

Before we go on a little bit more about the neighbourhood , that was to become my “territory ” for the next few years . There was  a Nadar fruit and juice shop where I had a banana account . I used to have my daily glass of fresh squeezed sweet lime juice , no  syrup please , that cost one rupee. I paid my banana account at the end of the month . I got to be familiar with all the shops in the area on account of running errands for the house.

There was the portly tailor Chellapa , who had looked at my palm and predicted a ” Kozhappu  kalyanam ” ( mixed marriage ) , the Fatima hardware store Mohamed Ibrahim  ,  and many others I forget .

Now back to life at KVN’s . KVN has a very large in-law contingent consisting of Padma mámi’s brother , sisters and parents . At that time . KVN’s elder daughter had already been married off , Mukta to Balakrishnan in Tanjavur and Lalitha to Janakiraman in Trichy ,. His son Vishwanathan ( Vicchu ) was also in  Trichy at engineering college . The only kids left at home were Rammá and Anuradha .

One of my many jobs was to take Anu to school . As a child she was very playful .

KVN’s home was always very busy at all times including meal times .   At that time KVN has a student called Parameshwaran , we called him Jesudas Parameshwaran on account of his deep voice . From hearsay i learned that  one Krishnamachary had also been a student and that according to Padma Mámi he ate lots of rice .

Trichur Narendran was often there too and of course we are best friends up to this day .

Around Jan 76 we  entrained for New Delhi  . In the train  we travelled with  Trichur Narendran V V Ravi and also if I remember well Vilon Kanya Kumari , whom i called ( privately ) “tania KUmari on account of her permanent spinster status  .

In Delhi we we stayed with some family . is was a little bit cold and  we took walks in the neighborhood , i think that was Karol Nagar . I noticed that the carrots were red and that the buffaloes were different from the ones in the south . We also  ate lots of Gobi ( califlower )

The reason we were there was the annual function of Dharmic Samaj . I remember well I was made to play tambura for ML Vasantha Kumari .  We also  visited the Birla mandiir ( ?) and homes of some people known to KVN.

We also met one MR Mani  who arranged for my permanent stay in India . Good to know people in hight places . He only asked for my last name and had everything arranged .

Also  back in Madras both KVN and Palghat Raghu came with me to the foreign registration office to vouch for me .

to be continued .

9th March 2016

So here we are in the beginning of 1976 , I am now living at KVN’s house and living the Gurukulavasam life .That traditional system is almost at its end , and I might have more or less caught its last stages , of course with no idea or awareness of it .

Now one word about the family life  at KVN”s home . Besides Máma ( KVN) , Mami (Padma mámi ) , Anu and Ramaa , Mami’s , brothers , sisters and parents are almost there every day and also eating there , along with frequent guests .

Now a small flash back to November 1975 .

Neela’s marriage .

Neela is Padma mámi elder sister . She had a PHD in nuclear science from America . She is now empoyed at Babha  Atomic center in Bombay  . At the time she is almost 36 and still not married on account of many years of post graduate studies .   Her marriage is finally arranged with one  Chakravarti , alias Chax . He is about forty two  and has a good job in Bombay . . The wedding takes place in Tirupatti  , so  we all travel there  . ( first visit for me ) . Very interesting experience

 visit to the temple etc . more about Neela later .

Now back to Madras 1976

In April 76 we travel to  Bombay for a two month stay . The Mahararai of Travancore  Rani Sethuparvati bai ( queen mother ) has requested KVN to formally record  Swathi Tirunal ‘s nvaratri kritis , so arrangements are made with the National centre For Performing Arts at Nariman point . The building is brand new , and its director is Narayana Menon . We stay at Neela’s flat in Anushakti Nagar , the home of India’s elite nuclear scientists . 

We travel everydy from Anushakti Nagar to Nariman Point . During the recordings , KVN has the lyrics ( sahitya ) written in Malayalam script in front of him . Padma mámi and  myself are sitting behind him , with one tambura each  . At that time  no electronic tamburas or sruti boxes .

As they do this for many  days , I end up being able to read the malayalam script , now almost forgotten .

For lunch we are graciously and daily invited to Narayana Menons personal quarters at NPCA . This goes on for  some time until Mami decides we should no longer have lunch there so alternate lunch arrangements are made .  i recall  of jokes told by Narayana Menon and they are still in my repertoire to this day .

 During the Bombay stay  we alos have a recording at the Doordarshan station in Worli . The Mridangam accompaniement was by Sivaraman . I remember him say ” paani lao ” ( bring water )  to an assistant ( for the mridangam rava ) During the Bombay stay I began learning bribes of Hindi .

 Trichur Narendran was with us sometimes . We were once invited to have buffet lunch at The Taj Mahal hotel by one ” Pfizer ” Neelakandan and another time we also were invited for lunch at Express towers . ( first memory  lijjat papads ) at  Tal mahal we saw Latha mageshkar in the Lobby , wearing a white sari.

 I do not remember it this was before of after the Bombay trip but 1n 1976 , KVN was awarded the Padma Sri Medal ( maybe before . like in April 76 .

So we travel to Delhi again .

To be continued 

14th March 2016

So if i remember well , before the Bombay trip we go to Delhi for the Padma Sri Awards ceremony.

Three invitations are received from the President of India , one in KVN’s name . one in Padma Mami’s name and one in my name .

KVN and Mami fly to Delhi while myself , Narendran and VV Ravi follow by train. We are put up some where maybe again in Karol Nagar , that is Narendran , Ravi and me . We are in a room with a musical ceiling fan that made a nice rythmic sound , to which i danced much to the amusement of Narendran and Ravi .

So on the day of the award we proceed to Rashrapati Bhavan , the presidents palace .

I am seated with the audience  , I recall seeing Amitabh Bachan , as in those days he was a friend of the Gandhi  ( Indira ) family . KVN was seated next to Parveen Sultana . I needed to use the rest room so i was escorted there by a 7 feet tall Sikh guard . the rest room was very nice and reminded me of a  famous Sardarji joke .

 During the reception after the  award ceremony i saw Indira Gandhi and the the president Fakhrudin Ali Ahmed . As i was very busy at the buffet i missed being in a photo with KVN , Mami and Indira Gandhi . Too bad it would have been a nice souvenir . One guy at the buffet scolded me for taking too many cookies .

After the Delhi trip we went to Bombay .

Some time in between we also had gone to Karaikudi and other places and that was during mango season .

We stayed in Bombay two months . During that time we attended one of TV Shankaranarayan’s c very first concerts , that took place at Anushakti Nagar . He must have been about 36 at that time .

After we returned to Madras  arrangements were made to hire a cook for Neela in Bombay . a young Brahmin chap , about 20 yrs old , was hired and I went to Madras Central to purchase his ticket for Bombay . The price was Rs 49

That was around end of june 76 

Next was a big family tragedy …

to be continued .

15th March 2016

A family tragedy …

We are about July 1976 , shortly after having returned from Bombay  , we get some horrific news from Bombay , Neela,  Padma Mámi’s elder sister has been murdered by the cook in her flat .It seems he attempted to rape her a she was coming out of the bathroom after having bathed .

Huge shock in the family . So KVN , Padma and Padma Mámi , brother Kannan fly to Bombay to deal with the situation  .

The guy was caught and ultimately executed . .

That event took a long time to heal and Mámi did not sing for a few months .

KVN however kept all of his concert engagements

Now one word about the relationship between KVN and Palghat Raghu .

They practically grew up together in Palghat and were childhood friends . Both were coached by Palghat Mani Iyer and were married on the same day to nieces of Paghat Mani Iyer , KVN to his first wife Annapurna , mother of Mukta , Lalitha , Vishwanathan ( Vicchu ) and Ramaa .  Annapurna succumbed to some disease when Ramaa was about 4 yrs old . Raghu was married to Swarnam .

 KVN and Raghu were very close friends as well  as  related by marriage . They played frequently together and also toured a lot together both in India and abroad . The had a two year stint at Wesleyan University as teaching faculty .

On concert days KVN and Raghu would set the Mridangam sruti over the telephone .

Due to some misunderstanding they had a fall out around 1989 or so .

Admin: I was on stage with KVN Máma when the incident that caused the estrangement took place, but, with deference to my guru and out of respect for the late Palghat Ragu I do not believe it would be proper for me to relay the incident that caused this sad end to an epic relationship both as musicians and as family. Really sad when you consider that KVN Máma used to sit on Palghat Mani Iyer’s lap whilst he was teaching Palghat Ragu.

 to be continued.

17th March 2016

So we are still in 1976

After the Bombay tragedy life goes on at Gurukkal colony . Mami is in mourning and does not practice . Otherwise a very carefree year fro me  .  As usual we travel here and there . I cannot exactly remember when  , but we went to Venkatagiri in Andhra Pradesh , we traveled by first class in the train with Umayalpuram Sivaraman and seven string violin  Sethuramaya . and good fun was had by Sivaraman teasing Sethuramaya and petting his stomach ( Nalla saptacha ? )

In Venkatagiri we stayed ( maybe ) in the former local Raja’s small palace and the concert was held there as well . That day I heard KVN hit high  “”Dha”in upper octave .

Another time we traveled to Nagapattinam with Narendran and V V Ravi .

We also traveled to many other places  all over south India . I remember one place in Karnataka called Arsikere where i had the very best ever Iddli/Dosa .

Now one word about KVN as a person . he was not childish but childlike  , he was also sometimes impatient and could not wait for you to do something so he would do it as he would be telling you to do it  . While traveling both domestically and he would wind meter upon meter of green plastic rope around the suitcases . he would also talk louder on long distance calls depending on how far was the other person on the  phone  . loudest to Delhi for example  ( HELLO DELHI ! )

He loved to ride bicycles . When traveling by auto or taxi invariable he and Mami would haggle with the driver .

Sometimes we would go to the movies ,  with the whole family .

We saw Maya bazar ( in Tamil ) at near by Kapali theatre and also we saw Nandanaar Charitram at Eros theater in Adyar .

Rukmini Ramani , Papanasam Sivam’s daughter was a frequent visitor at Gurukal colony .   Balasaraswati and her daughter Lakshmi used to visit also . They had a small black Fiat Padmini car .

Now one word about the Kanchi Shankaracharya experience …

to be continued .

18th March 2016

The trip to Kanchipuram

Possibly around early 1976 , we traveled by car to Kanchipuram  , the car was graciously made available to us by MS Subbulakshmi or maybe it was Spencers Venugolal’s car , a big Dodge or Plymouth from the 50’s .

Spencers Venugopal was the CEO of Spencer’s and a music lover and composer of his own right ( some years later he  sponsored my Sister resident visa)

So maybe probably his car and not MS even tho she had a similar car .

So in the car , KVN , Padma  mami , Spencer Venugopal and myself .

At that time the Shankara Mutt was  just very small and consisted of rudimentary constructions , huts etc .

We reached there  after dark so i could not have a clear view of the place . Of course the object of our visit was to meet the senior Kanchikamakoti Peetam Shankaracharya . who at that time could have been in his mid to late eighties . He was sitting inside a small hut and we spoke to him from the outside . KVN mentioned to him that i  was from Algeria and that i drank no milk and wore no leather etc . he asked KVN about my progress in music and KVN replied ” Meduva Varude ” ( coming slowly  ) , to which Acharya asked ” Pulayar Geetam choli kurtiya ? ” ( have you taught him the Pulayar geetam ? )

Now fast forward to about May  1987 .   I had traveled by myself on my Enfield Bullet bike to spend some vacation time in a Kalakshetra classmates grandparents village of Cheyyur and on the way I stopped in Kanchi to have darshan of Paramacharya . That time he was almost 100 yrs , very frail and staying in a palanquin . he asked about me to an assistant ” yaar vandirka ?  ( who has come ) and upon learning that was me he said  ” oh anda Algeria  payyen , KVN shishya , paal kudikimatan , thol wear pannamatan  ( that boy from Algeria , KVN’s shishya, who drinks no milk and wears no leather .

Now one word about The Kanchi Acharya

First of all i can say that in my whole life i have only seen one truly saintly person

He had no gimmicks to prove his spiritual powers but he gave small and discreet hints by demonstrating a phenomenal memory . He would know each and every details about his visitors and their family history and genealogy and native places etc .

Now back to Kanchi 1976 visit . At that time i had no idea about Hindu rituals or anything like that . After having spoken to us a little bit , he came out of the hut and began doing some rituals  that I watched without understanding . Could have been sandya vandanam

Another time there was function somewhere in Mandaveli and it was a flute concert of Prapancham Sitaram . The junior Acharya was present . i was immersed in deep thoughts. Later on after we came back home KVN told me the junior Acharya was watching me for  half an hour

 to be continued .

3 thoughts on “Toufiq Touzene aka Tulsiram”

  1. Wonderful diary. I was only 10+ in the years of Tulsi Ram’s gurukulavasam, and I happen to live just down the street from KVN’s house. I can recollect many of the landmarks he recounts in this diary. Such modest living for such a prolific vidhvan and his disciples.

    1. Dear Sridhar,

      My sincere apologies but this email got lost in modern tech!

      I will forward this email to Tulsi Ram for him to respond to you directly.

      If you have any interesting anecdotes that you would like to share please do so and I will have it published.

      I intend to spend a lot of time going forward so that the site gets off the ground properly.

      If you know of anyone who would like too share their stories with their gurus in times gone bye, please encourage them to do so.

      Kind regards,

      disciple of Shri KVN,


  2. Mr. Radhakrishnan:

    I only now saw your comments as I had forwarded this diary/blog to another Carnatic vidhvan. Re: personal anecdotes, two come to mind:
    (a) Tulsiram’s reference to violin vidhwan Kanyakumari brings back to my memory that she used to live in D block of Ayodhya flats. We lived in E block and had an uncle and aunt in A block whose ground floor balcony would face the vidhwan’s. She used to practice early in the morning – if only I had the ear for Carnatic then as I do now 🙂
    (b) He refers to Kanchi Balasaraswathi swamigal’s (chinna perriva) visit to Madras (its name then). I remember that vividly he set up camp somewhere on Greenways road (if I recall correctly) l, and one my mother’s cousins, who was the Tamil Nadu governor’s Personal Assistant (PA), arranged for us to visit the swamigal in person to seek his blessings. It was a big deal for my parents. They spoke about that for many years after.

    Having only gotten interested in Carnatic music in grad school (‘85-‘91, in my 20’s), I did not listen to vidhvan KV Narayanaswamy until mid ‘90’s (just turned 30). My uncle introduced my to KVN in the context of explaining how reverential the vidhwan was to his guru Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar’s own rendition of Vallabhaganaka Sita. Just a few months back I heard vidhwan Sanjay Subrahmanyan sing this in Pondicherry – filled my heart.

    What a beautiful art form, this Carnatic music!

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