Dr. K.S.Rajan — A cultural guidepost for CTU

I would like to share with the new generation of CTU volunteers and music lovers at large, that the sudden demise of Dr. K.S. Rajan is a great shock to my whole family personally and to many of us who have been greatly influenced by his guidance in holding on to the strong faith in our traditions, values and culture. His close friendship with Kalki Sadasivam and Bharata Ratna M.S. Subbulakshmi, or for that matter his inseparable friendship with our legendary violin maestro Padmabhooshan Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman, or for that matter Padmabhooshan Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna is well known to all of us. These great musicians were also great admirers of Dr. Rajan and Sakuntala Rajan for their deep rooted faith in our music culture and true hospitality. Each time the Rajans visited India, they made it a point to visit MS Ammal and Sadasivam and also visit Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman as close friends. Lalgudi preferred to stay with Rajans during his visits to Chicago area. 

It all started with the East West society of New York, trying to organize the tour of Lalgudi and Ramani with Ramnad Raghavan on a musical duet tour of USA. It was 1970-71 period and we had very few South Indians and fewer still, admirers of classical music. Rajan worked for IIT Research Institute in Chicago and he managed to get the auditorium of IIT for free, encouraging the few musically-minded Indian students to go to the administration and petition for cultural support via organizing concerts of great musicians. But for Dr. Rajan, it would be have been next to impossible to get such a fine and ideal hall for the attending youngsters and graduate students across Midwest. I directly contacted and encouraged music lovers from Madison, West Bend, and Oshkosh from the state of Wisconsin, music lovers from Purdue, Bloomington and Indianapolis from the state of Indiana, and lovers from Ann Arbor and Detroit from the state of Michigan (all graduate students or young faculty members) to come to Chicago to attend the concert — and also stay overnight with us and with Rajans for a private concert next day at Dr. Rajan’s house. It is a concert which I treasure and I was able to collect $185 in all from students and families. I asked Usha to stay home and not attend the concert but take care of young kids and make the lunch for all including the visiting legends. I do realize such dictates will be next to impossible these days with modern couples. I used to work in unison planning with Dr S.T. Rao and Dr K.S. Rajan in initiating a potential Tyagaraja Utsavam in the Midwest area. Rajan and Chakku (Mrs. Sakuntala Rajan) were ready to do anything to nurture our culture and traditions. Satkala Mandir was one of his initiations with Dr. Janakiraman.

In 1984, when M.S. Subbulakshmi visited USA, Dr. Rajan made special efforts to organize her concert in Chicago. Rajans were living in Elmhurst and he had to go to Elmhurst village office several times to get the Yorktown school hall facilities for the concert. He always dressed impeccably in full suit and his polished speaking impressed many local Americans. He was quite a winner of many federal grants for IIT Research Institute. Once he took me to a grant deliberation and defended me as a deep researcher in statistical applications and wanted to include me into his research project. Many of us used to admire his skills and we realized that we had to learn a lot from his multiple talents. Imagine getting permission from Mr Sadasivam to record MS’s Chicago concert. Even the most astute businessmen and record companies India were unable to negotiate easily with Sadasivam for recording rights. Dr Rajan had that charisma to win over the heart of Mr. Sadasivam.

At least two days in a week, my family and Rajans’ family would meet and have lunch or dinner in each other’s house.

In 1979, Dr. M. Balamurali Krishna was touring USA. In fact Chakku and Rajan hosted them and while Rajan preferred people from nearby towns to attend the single grand concert in Chicago, he did not like the idea of multiple programs for Dr Balamurali Krishna at all small towns. I had the opposite view and we had heated arguments with strong differences of opinion and some friction, for sure. Without Dr. Rajan’s knowledge, I had negotiated for concerts at Urbana University, music department and at Milwaukee music society through one Mr Narasinga Rao and with contacts through one Yedavalli Rao against the wish of Rajan. As one drawn into the melody-choked music of Dr. Balamurali Krishna from my Calcutta days, I felt like spending as much time as possible with this musical genius discussing creative aspects of music. I was craving to travel with this genius musician and wait like a chataka bird to hear many musical anecdotes about great musicians. He would talk about his close friendship with Pandit Bhimsen Joshi, his musical contributions to movies like “Hamsa Geethe”, his conflicts with many music sabhas in Chennai etc. openly and with no fear of any consequences. On the issue of concerts for Balamurali Krishna, Rajan preferred to keep them in one place with a big bang of one concert in Chicago. Local Telugu people were keen on inviting Balamurali Krishna to their houses. The musician was not keen on such visits and when I tried to talk to Rajan and when he said it is not possible, I mistook him as I thought that it was his own decision. For a while I was not talking to Rajan. When we started inviting great musicians for CTU, the problem of secrecy of the location of musicians became quite critical and I realized why Dr Rajan took such a firm stand.

The family of Rajan and Chakku especially was always ready to share lots of kitchen duties, transportation of people and cooperative cooking activities during the slowly emerging CTU. During 1969-71, we had to totally depend on Rajans for all car rides to various shops, malls, friends’ houses, for festival parties and so on.

Once his children were grown and married, he was slowing down in many musical activities but was more serious in the construction of a Hindu temple in greater Chicago area. Before HTGC came to existence, the local Hindu community was doing Pooja and many local Hindus took turns to act as priests for a Ganesha idol donated by Sivaya Subramanya Swamy of Hawaii and I came to know that Rajan was also recruited for this task.

Ever since we started the Annadhatas for CTU, he has been an ardent supporter of the scheme. The commitment continued till last year and we have lost one of our greatest elderly cultural guide post. Not just myself and Usha, but also my daughters Deepa, Tara and my son Manu will remember him and we pray for his soul to rest in peace at the feet of our Lord.

TES Raghavan


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