This story of mine is a hodgepodge of anecdotes painting a tapestry of the many many beautiful things that have occurred in my life. Even the things that are not so beautiful and sometimes even life threatening have had a silver lining. So read on if you wish and I hope amongst all these ramblings, not necessarily in chronological order I might add, you may find some things that pique your interest or things you might be able to relate to.
As the early part of this story is about my music college days in Chennai ( then Madras ), I will change the font if I write about aspects of the music I studied, namely, Carnatic Music. I have done this so that if this is of particular interest to you or it’s an art form you as a westerner may wish to pursue, you may find some of my observations useful or of interest or relevant to you.
Many events and memories come to mind in a rush when I think of my life thus far. Many things are not so palatable , and perhaps the worst memory is the betrayal by someone I always considered near and dear to me who one day did not hesitate to threaten my life.
Not easy to digest , especially when its someone you have known since your late teens.
Even in my most magnanimous moments, I still have difficulty comprehending such reprehensible behaviour from someone I once trusted so implicitly.
Et tu Brutus!
Anyway more of this much much later!
There is nothing extraordinary about my life and yet many things are. It jjust depends on your perspective. At an esoteric and spiritual level I cannot begin to imagine my absolute good fortune and why I have been considered worthy.
If indeed I have decided to write about my life, it is most probably my innate desire to relive the past.
Maybe to rekindle cherished memories.
Maybe to place on record events and incidents that need to be placed on record.
I used the word amazing a few lines ago.
Someone is born in Africa in 1951. More precisely in Johannesburg South Africa and at the age of 25 jets off to India to study at the feet of two of the last century’s greatest Carnatic voclalists.
Padma Vibhushan Dr M Balamuralikrishna and Sangita Kalanidhi Sri K V Narayanaswamy.
I’d like to believe it is.
The odds of me having been chosen from some five billion souls worldwide and from amongst forty three million (1976) South Africans is not just amazing. Its Amazing Grace.
10 January 2016
Before I reminisce about my musical journey, I must firstly say that my sojourn to India was not to become a great musician but more to satisfy myself that I could actually do it. It was a challenge.
Does that mean I did not want to be good at it? Far from it. I wanted and needed to be the best I could be for myself. If that makes sense.
Most people learn an art form with the hope that they will become recognised not only for their achievements, but also for the public adoration they receive or maybe they have a strong competitive spirit and there can be tons of other reasons.
For me it was different. It certainly was not about being better than someone else, but it was very definitely about being the very best at what I was capable of.
Did I achieve that? Yes, I did.!
In many ways, I do believe that that I did succeed in achieving what I set out to do for myself. Along the way there have been those that have enjoyed my music. That has been an added bonus.
As a baby apparently I cried a lot and at the top of my lungs at that. When my mum out of concern called the family doctor, Dr Barris in this regard, he told her not to worry as I would end up with a strong pair of lungs!
So maybe that’s where my music really started! At two years old!
I used to sing as a child but my cousin, Gopal, son of my mother’s eldest sister, often told me that I was singing false as he put it. I now assume he meant off pitch. Needless to say this was a huge disincentive for me to sing. I was therefore very self conscious about singing and only sang when I was alone or in the bathroom!
Nonetheless, in my mother’s house I would sing at the top of my voice and I remember when I was in standard five, our class teacher, Mr Pather, planned on taking us all to Cape Town on a school excursion. My mom then told me that if I learnt a song in Tamil, I could go. At that time my musical life revolved around Cliff Richard, Simon and Garfunkel,Petula Clark and the many other amazing musicians of that generation.
Needless to say I’m put in a sterling effort and can sing that song to this very day.
Unfortunately the Cape Town trip never materialised because our teacher was unable to generate sufficient numbers of students to make the trip viable.
This I think was the very first time that music started taking hold of my psyche.
On the matter of false notes, I possibly have to thank my cousin for his criticisms, because, a lifetime later when I was at the Tamil Nadu government music College, Greenways Road, Adyar in Chennai, many was the time when my guru Shree K V Narayanaswamy would ask me to sing the mel shadjam or upper tonic note, in our music class because my fellow students were not getting it right. To me that was high praise indeed. My cousin’s criticism thought hurtful at the time left such an indelible impression on my young mind that I suppose I started to unconsciously learn to pitch my voice more accurately.
Some fifteen years later I was to learn to become even more aware of pitch and accuracy by the father of the now famous flautist S Shashank. Shashank spent many a patient hour when he was just eight years old showing me where I was going wrong. Not in the pitching of my voice, but the microtonal sounds I was not producing or not producing accurately enough to be considered really good. That level of guidance is priceless and cannot be bought. I am indebted to Shashank and his Dad in nos small measure. So, amazing grace indeed.
I remember one day getting early to my class. I took the tumboura and tuned it.
When my guru Shree K V Narayanaswamy, who at that time was not yet my guru, but our lecturer at the college, came into the class and picked up the tumboura to tune it.
He played the tumboura and did not tune the instrument.
He then asked in Tamil, “Who tuned this instrument?”
I replied that I had. Amazingly, he continued playing the instrument. I could not have got higher praise from anybody else. It simply meant that I have tuned the instrument very well indeed.
This follows from the fact that whenever he came to class, he would sometimes spend several minutes tuning the tamboura. He was extremely meticulous about the tuning of this instrument.
The same must also be said of my other lecturers Shree B Rajam Iyer under whom I took personalised tuition for approximately two years from 1977 to 1979.
Both of them are disciples of Shri Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar.
But I digress, so back to my story.
Although my dad played the violin for the Browns band in Doornfontein in downtown Johannesburg, in the 1940s, ours was not a musical family in the sense of the late Sonny Pillay of KZN ( Kwa Zulu Natal) for example. He’s was a family steeped in music.
My mum used to sing to us as children and to every child your mum’s voice is the best!
The songs she sang and her ‘thalo’ lullaby still ring in my ears at 60!
My brother Deva has a very refined ear for music and a deep appreciation of other fine arts, and certainly as we were growing up, he displayed all those qualities of someone with a refined sense of taste.
I, on the other hand, was into the Beatles, Cliff Richard, Elvis Presley and well, you know what I mean.
I remember in my teens telling my father’s brother whom everybody called Socky, a school teacher, who was eventually to become a highly respected and venerated school principal at Nirvana high school, that I liked classical music.
His interest was piqued and he asked me what items of music I was referring to. I mentioned one of Cliff Richard’s ballads. That sadly, was my idea of classical!
He kept very quiet and said nothing. Years later, I realised just what I dunce I’d been!
Around about that time, I think out of exasperation and dismay, my mother suggested that I learn to play a musical instrument.
I had joined a local band and brought their drum kit home.
To start with, I had a dreadful sense of rhythm and timing and so you can just imagine the cacophony that emanated from my bedroom!
My mother, bless her, tolerated that for possibly five minutes and then told me in no uncertain terms that I was certainly not going to learn to play the drums!
I then went to a lady called Madam Grace in Rainbow Valley, Lenasia, and learnt to play the piano taking lessons from her for about two years.
My Mum bought me a Carl Otto baby grand for R4800. It was my pride and joy. When I went to India in ‘76 she sold my paiano for R2500. When I came back to SA after my studies were completed, I discovered that my Mum had sold my piano. I was really upset. I went to the same store to price another one. They wanted R45000.
If I have one regret, it is that I stopped playing the piano.
At that time a person who had come down from Asherville in Durban to study at the teachers training College in Johannesburg, by the name of Francis Pithambaram also took lessons at Madam Grace.
We are friends to this day.
While all this was going on, my brother Deva, would play LPs of MS Subbulakshmi.
He and I had a running battle in that I wanted it off and he wanted it on.
The Suprabhatham went on incessantly.
One day he bought an LP of Dr M Balamuralikrishna.
When I listened to this music it was as if a light bulb had gone off in my head. I suppose a lot of people would have called it an Eureka moment.
I was like a dog with a bone that would not let go. This music teased me intellectually and I was challenged and I was determined to win.
At this time, in our circle of friends, was one Jeram Bhana, a very talented sculptor, sitar player, and flautist.
Jerry, as he was called, used to conduct music classes at Tolstoy farm just outside Lenasia. This is the same building that Mahatma Gandhi lived in when he was in South Africa.
The Gandhi Foundation tried to restore the building but it is now just a ruin or it was the last time I saw it having been vandalised.
My very first initiation into Indian classical music was under the guidance of Jeram Bhana at the age of 24 when I for the very very first time learnt a scale in Indian music in the raga Mayamalavagowla.
Up to that point the only musical scale I knew was the Western scale in C major which most children learnt at school. In truth, I did not even know that it was called the C major scale.
So it would be perfectly truthful of me to say that whilst I had an interest in music and could sing after a fashion, I knew very little if not next to nothing about music in the proper sense. Certainly it was only after I got India that some form of formal musical training began.
Jeram Bhana realised, that what I wanted to achieve, was outside of his ambit, as he had studied Hindustani music and not South Indian music or the Carnatic tradition. He then suggested to me that the best way forward was to go to India.
That then, was the seed planted which in a few short months delivered me to the shores of India.
The year I sat foot on Indian soil, my ancestral home, was 1976.
As an aside, my great grandparents on my mother’s side come from a village in South India called Thillaiyadi near Mayavaram. My grandfather on my father’s side I believe also came from Mayavaram.
I visited Thillaiyadi sometimes toward the end of the ‘90s or early 2000’s. It was a beautiful single street village at the time with lush green agricultural land as far as the eye could see. There was a temple at one end of the street as I remember although there may have been more temples and looking at Google maps recently, 2018, it seems there has been much development in the area.
It nonetheless would have been very a beautiful countryside during the time my great granny lived there. Follow the money as the saying goes is what she fortunately or unfortunately did, depending on your point of view, and shipped herself off to Mauritius in search of greener pastures. She was a fascinating lady and I will devote a few paragraphs to her later in this narrative.
To be continued.
22 January 2016
I MAKE PREPARATIONS.
Things moved very quickly from that point in 1975 and within a few short months many within the family got to know that I was going to India. My granny, on my mother’s side, was particularly happy to learn that I was going to India. In fact to say that she was happy is an understatement and it would be more accurate to say that she was over the moon and overjoyed.
At some point in 1975, that inspirational vocalist Pithukuli Murugadas visited South Africa and was a storming success. Through my uncle Ken Padiyatchi , an uncle of Dr Pungie Lingam, I was briefly introduced to the musician and his accompanists namely Vasudeva Rao a tabla player and Sikkil Vadivel a mrudangist.
Little did I know at the time that they would play no small part in my stay in India. But their involvement in my life was still many months away.
Initially I experienced a sense of great elation and I must admit that my heart certainly beat a bit faster when I just thought about what I was about to embark upon. Then the preparations began in earnest, getting a passport, making enquiries about inoculations and getting the necessary inoculations to travel to a country where yellow fever was a compulsory inoculation and of course it was necessary to have a typhoid injection, malaria tablets, and as I was told at the time when travelling to India, to take water purifying tablets amongst a zillion other things!
About eight weeks before I was to leave to India, the family gave me a really beautiful farewell party. My granny was there, many of my cousins and many many close family friends. I remember Ruth and Robert Hurwitz were there and Ruth gave me a really beautiful travel bag for my cosmetics. I still have it to this very day and it travels with me wherever I go.
There are without a doubt many people who gave me things to make my journey and my stay in India a comfortable one and one of the other items that I still have this very day and still use is a pair of Ray ban sunglasses that was given to me by my aunt Dolly!
When my uncle Ken Padiayatchi learnt that I was going to India, he invited me home to a really lovely supper prepared by his lovely wife Aunty Neela, and gave me a pair of excellent Uher microphones which I too have to this day!
I used those microphones to record my tutor Shri B Rajam Iyer live in concert, one of my early tutors Guruvayur Ponnamal who sang some songs for my brothers wedding and many many years later to record the child prodigy S Shahsank playing the flute accompanied by Trichur Narendran.
I always believe that when something is given with good intentions and in good faith it will always produce only positive results. The sunglasses the microphones and the travel bag must have been given to me with such love and affection that it has stayed with me for more than 45 years! and I still use those very same sunglasses here in the UK!
To be continued!
It has taken a long time for to get back to this story of mine.
My website was hosted by Hostmonster. For nine years.
Through their negligence and the incompetence of their support staff, my websites, seven in all, were destroyed. I got some of my money back but no compensation for what was their error.
I paid for a product called Backup Pro. Do you notice the word Pro? When I asked for my site to be restored they said that the backup software had not been working. It did not stop them from collecting money from me every month for some years for this Backup Pro. When I spoke to their supervisor or manager in support, he said that it was common for that software not to work.
When I said that I was really angry at their incompetence, he said that he would not be angry because he responded to such situations more rationally. How smooth. The sod.
At about the same time my Mac died on me and Apple went out of their way to get me up and going again. I found some of the files associated with my websites on the Hostmonster server but the above article was gone! I will never use Hostmonster again.
I searched all my hard drives but could not find a copy.
The thought of rewriting from scratch just turned off too many buttons in my head!
Low and behold while trawling through a very old drive that had no right to have a copy of this on it, it did!
So, the sun is shining. I am smiling and all is good again!
My story will rise once more!