Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam fondly remembers with great respect the contributions of dedicated community volunteers.
Sri T.V. Ramachandran
The sudden demise of Sri T.V. Ramachandran is a sad news to Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam. From the very beginning, Ramachandran’s extended family has been one of the ardent supporters of the Utsavam. His family would happily commit to different voluntary services. In addition to hosting CTU Pancharatnam practice sessions, they were often willing to host visiting artists and the artists in turn have explicitly thanked us for choosing such a hospitable family as their host. A good concert performance is possible only when the artists are treated well by the host. Since artists travel from one city to another, they have serious problems in adjusting to different types of cooking. Often a good host who treats the artists as family members result in an excellent concert performance by the artists. When I went to console Mrs Seetha Ramachandran and her children, she said they will continue their support as that will be his wish. Often one realizes one’s contributions to the community only after one passes away.
Sakti Vadivel- an old friend and a true CTU volunteer
With saddened heart I write this to share the news: Dr. Sakti Vadivel is no more. Sakti was a person close to my heart and to my family, and one of the greatest volunteers for CTU during 1970-90.
Dr. Sakti Vadivel was a bachelor and a close friend of Dr. S. T. Rao. We used to meet him in Rao’s house. He was a frail, simple man, a radiologist by profession. There was nothing about his outward appearance for us to guess that he even got past high school. He would wash the kitchen utensils and will refuse to join us for lunch or dinner till the end and would happily eat the leftover, which embarrassed us no end. Even in our apartment days he would visit us with the Rao family, following them his own small car all alone, like an appendix. I remember his visits to our newly bought house here in Villa Park.
On the evening before the Utsavam, Sakti used to arrive rather late. The Raos, Swamys, West Bend Subramanyams and their kids would be asleep, cuddled in the living room. The Raos routinely brought home-made banana chips, Swamys brought home made Mysore Paks, Subramanyams brought geometrically perfect almond cakes or some snacks for next day’s Utsavam. We would be chatting about music and what not, with excitement. Vegetables to be cut and vessels to be washed would all be waiting for Sakti’s arrival. As soon as he came, he would carry all the items from the cars into the house. The he would be ready to wash all the big vessels needed to prepare the sambar, rasam and koottu for some 150 people attending the Utsavam next day.
Usha would freely assign multiple tasks for Sakti to do, which he greatly enjoyed. Cut the pumpkin for sambar, load the cars by 5:30 am with the lamps, pictures, portable TV and more. He used to take leave of absence during the Utsavam weekend, just to give a helping hand. In the early years CTU had to move from one school auditorium to another, and everything was uncertain till the last minute. Sakti’s endless chore was to clean up the messes our “music lovers” and their children created, also unendingly. One time, an attending “music lover” complained to Sakti that the hall was dirty, and he (Sakti) should do his job “properly”. Since Sakti was not Chicago based, he was not known to the locals, some of whom mistook him for hired help.
Once in the late seventies, I asked Sakti about his family. He hesitatingly mentioned that his father was Justice Palani Sami Kounder and his uncle, Justice Kailasam. They were truly distinguished persons – actually, household names in Tamil Nadu. When his parents visited the US, upon our request, Sakti dropped them off at our house for some four or five days.
With passing years, as the Utsavam found more and more volunteers, Sakti began losing interest in many things in the society, and in life in general. He chose to work part time, shuttling between USA and India. Despite our many requests his visits to the Utsavam or to our house became rare, though he sent in donations off and on.
Unannounced and unexpectedly, he would ring our bell and bring gifts for my children – almond cakes or baklava from a local shop. He would spend an hour or two with the children or start washing kitchen vessels. He would leave, saying he had to visit his classmate (Dr. Indraraj). We got used to this.
Sakti’s timely and voluntary loan support at a critical moment for me, reminds me of the Thirukkural couplet on friendship.
உடுக்கை இழந்தவன் கை போல ஆங்கே
இடுக்கண் களைவதாம் நட்பு
The hand leaps in a reflex, to catch the slipping robe,
To save one’s honor – that’s friendship.
A few years ago, Sakti was attacked by robbers in his parent’s house in India. I read about it in the Tamil news paper தினத்தந்தி (Dalily Thanthi) and rushed by train from Chennai to see him and his father – my first ever visit to Erode.
Two years ago he suddenly showed up at our home to stay overnight. Usha and I were overjoyed to see him. When people lose interest in life, either they become religious or get into temporary solutions. Unfortunately Sakti chose the second option. From what I gather from his folks, it appears that he was hospitalized for a brief period and passed away on Thursday November 19, 2015.
For all the service he has rendered to CTU, for all his personal help to my family at critical times, I can only mentally imagine for myself carrying his body on one side to the cremation ground.
Dr. S. N. Devanathan
On behalf of CTU we convey our heartfelt grievances to the family of Dr. S.N. Devanathan who passed away on saturday, February 8, 2014. Dr. Devanathan, besides supporting the Utsavam with generous contributions continuously, was deeply interested in hosting rehearsals for Pancharatnam with grand feast for the participants all specially prepared for the occasion . He also loved to host visiting artists of CTU cutting across castes and creeds and they have hosted many such CTU artists in the past, . He used to make special efforts to organize special programs for visiting CTU artists giving additional support, often a crucial element in CTU’s sucess.
From T.E.S. Raghavan:
Dr. S.T. Rao, the founding father and backbone behind the Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam passed away on 1 Feb, 2011 at 2:30am at Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Let us join together to share our grief and condolences with his family (Mrs Lalitha Rao, Venkatesh(son), Revathi (daughter-in-law), Asha (daughter), Hariprasad(son-in-law) and grand children.
I would like to share with you all some of my personal reminiscences and his key role in being very instrumental to steering CTU’s course of action virtually from 1977 till 1990.
My association with Dr. S.T. Rao dates back to 1969. It was a long trip from Cleveland to Chicago. In his car besides Tyagaraja Rao and Lalitha Rao, we were two (TES and Usha) and we also had, Swamy (Madison) & Venkatesh Athreya. The entire trip was spent listening to Madurai Somu’s full concert with Lalgudi in a cassette player blasting in full volume. He dropped us at our apartment in 5500 South Shore Drive, Flamingo. He was making a move from Case Western Reserve University to Madison, Wisconsin as a new faculty member in the dept of Biochemistry. All I knew in that 6 hour trip was that he is from Tanjavoor, his pet choice was the music of Mali, His classmate from school was flutist Ramani, he was a friend of my classmate T. Parthasarathy at Cleveland. In two weeks he visited us in Chicago to exchange musical interests. I had no musical possessions other than the 45 rpm records of Balamurali (Nagumomu, Devadideva, Neerajadala Lochani), , Ne Podagonte(MSG), Mokshamugalada (Lagudi), Yamihe (Natabhairavi), Hindola tillana ( Balamurali with Lagudi on violin-78 rpm), Salamad- Nazakat- Bhoop and Malkauns (33rpm), Pithukkuli ( Nadalola thimikita, 33rpm), Chittibabu (Kuil song + ??33rpm) , I never possessed any record player and I had just moved to USA from England with these records. I was too possessive to part with them and he said, we should visit him where he has a record player, and a tape recorder to play tapes etc. He was renting a 2 bedroom apartment .
Within two months my friend T. Parthasarathy with Ranjani visited us with his friends Nair, Radha Nair, Shankar, Santhanam and we all decided to visit S.T. Rao in Madison in Pacha’s car. Only Pacha and Nair knew any driving and we took 7 full hours to reach Madison. We made several iterations before we could get out of Chicago. Rao’s were waiting patiently for us to arrive and we had a feast, that I cannot forget in my life. Only men folks could go as there was no space in the car for all.
In 1971 he moved to Purdue University as part of a sabbatical deal and my visit to Rao’s apartment increased more, roughly once every three weeks. Panju, Vittal Rao, Kannan , Radhakrishnan (the person who knew MDR and who took me to MDR’s house ) were all ardent music fans and so many were part of our musical association. In 1971 Ramani, and Lalgudi were visiting USA on a concert tour for the first time and Dr K. S Rajan helped us to organize their program as part of IIT (Indian) cultural program. Ramani stayed with us in our apartment ( South Commons 2921) and needless to say the music related conversation lasted from 8pm till 4am and we were all itching to talk to the great musician and his normal life and Ramani being Rao’s schoolmate from Tiruvaroor school, we were simply excited to hear him play casually ragas like Chandrajyoti, Punnagavarali, and what not. Lalgudi’s Arabhi start in the private concert simply thrilled us and so was Ramani’s nagumomu and their Desh and so on.. Rao was keen on attending their concert in Ann Arbor and I was excited and with perhaps Panju we went to Ann Arbor, MI and stayed with CM Venkatachalam a close friend of Rao. I had heated arguments with Venkatachalam and Rao was trying to pacify both sides. For me Balamurali was the musical ultimate while Venkatachalam, formally musically trained and drawn to totally conservative music was all in all for Semmangudi. Having been exposed to Hindustani musicians and their music, I could not find any one closer to them in voice and emotions among Carnatic musicians other than Balamurali.
The period 1972-77 was full of social activities and we used to spend virtually every alternate week in Madison and they will visit us in Forest Park and Oak Park apartments invariably in the last week of each month. .
After I returned from my Sabbatical in 1976, Rao was very keen on initiating formal musical programs and he said why not we celebrate Tyagaraja Utsavam. While I loved concerts, I had very little exposure the notions of a kriti, sangati, and peculiarities of the ghamakas in our music. However from my school days I had exposure through listening to great musicians and doyens like Ariyakkudi ( at leat 5 concerts), GNB with Lagudi ( Parthasarathy temple, Triplicane Cultural academy etc 6 or 7 concerts for sure), Alathoor Bros ( 3 concerts), Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer ( 4 concerts) MLV ( two concerts), Vedaranyam Vedamurthy, Karukurichy and so on. I heard Chemmangudi (1964) for the first time in Calcutta, Somu in Calcutta (1963), Mali ( 4 concerts, one in GT Madras amman Kovil- Bommulu Iyer Street, Elephant gate) and a few more like Radha Jayalakshmi, Pappa, Chowdiah, and at least 10 concerts of Madurai Mani Iyer ( all Big street Pilliar Kovil or Kapali kovil concerts).
Rao called me one day in 1977, during close to bahula panchami time and said his house is there for me to plan and Lalitha is there to feed all guests for a lunch and dinner.
I decided to take his gesture and simply used the stencil pink copies to make 50 copies and mail it to music loving friends in Chicago area. People like SA Balakrishnan, Savitri Subramaniam, Usha Bala, Sharada Venkatraman, Dr Rangaraj (Sridevi), T Partahasarathy, my student Bapat, KS Rajans, Seshadris (Saroja), Krishnamachari, AVL , may be Dr Vidhyasagars and a few more I am unable to remember all went to Madison to be part of the first ever Utsavam. He played the pancharatna kritis on tape, and we all chimed the last phrase each time. No one knew fully even one pancharatnam and we had succulent lunch and dinner. There was one Narasinga Rao from Andhra who had a superb voice like Jesudoss and he was the ace performer for 20 minutes. I organized USK based on Balamurali’s AIR recording ( Ranjani, Kalyani, Saroja Seshadri, Usha) were the singers with me and Bapat gave Harmonium support. This was a surprise program . Rao was very very happy to have done this and we dissected every one’s performance and the next day we were leaving half heartedly to Chicago.
It was on his personal advice that I decided to move the Utsavam permanently to Chicago as the main audience was only from greater Chicago. But WestBend Subramaniam, Swamy, Sakti, Sridharan and students from Madison were all part of the Utsavam and from 1982 on and it settled to Memorial Day weekend with the name Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam.
While Hema Rajagopal with her very first set of 4 or 5 students organized Sadinchane in 1979 (CTU at Vivekananda Vedanta society basement), from 1982 dance became a major aspect of the Utsavam . Rao liked the idea of keeping dance and adding new themes each year.
The Friday night of the Utsavam weekend was the most exciting thing to all of us. His family will arrive by 8PM and so will Swamy, Neela, Sakti Prabha and Subramaniam. We really felt we were part of a big family. We were simply one family separated by a mere distance of 137 miles. Crossing 12/18 Madison and the Whitney way exit with its TV towers was virtually like heaven and it brought so much happiness to us and in particular to Deepa and Tara as kids going to Madison. People like BN Sridharan, Lakshmi Sridharan, Krishna Athreya and many other people from Milwaukee etc used to become part of CTU.
In 1984 it was Rao who decided to bring out CTU brochure and he managed to convince Dr BN Sridharan to print them as gratis by Sridharan of Xerox Corporation. Thanks to Rao’s great initiation, and thanks to BN Sridharan’s help we used to virtually continue this till 1996 or 1997. This meant we will visit Madison and even spend the night at Sridharan’s house or Swamy’s house or Rao’s house ( By we I mean: TES, with MG, or TES with Sadagopan or TES with MG and Sadagopan).
It was Rao who wanted us to formally register CTU as a not for profit organization and needless to say Lalitha, and Rao were the first two to sign. I was not ( and still I am not) a citizen, I could not sign the application and Chellam, SA Balakrishnan, KG, and Sharada Venkatraman were all part of those activities.
It was Rao who said we should encourage local teachers by elevating them as CTU teachers no matter what they teach and what their musical levels are . We should leave that judgment to parents who choose to seek them as teachers for their children’s musical training . This notion of CTU teachers picked up great momentum and we now see what it is. One of the ace singers in those days was Dr Vijaya Sastri, who stunned us by performing all the pancharatna kritis in 1978 ( West Bend, Wisconsin CTU) and over the years we realize how much it has grown .
The phone conversations about the Utsavam and organization, the fixing of menu for the year, the order in which music will go, how much to charge as donation, in all such things Rao played a major role and I simply respected his personal judgment We used to have long hours of discussions and phone conversations that are now crystallized to CTU meetings.
It was Rao who started the idea of serving Banana chips (nendrangai varuval) for the Utsavam. He will buy a carton of Nendrangais and spend two to 3 days with Laalitha Rao making them at home and let us sample right after their Friday arrival. It was Swamy who will make the tastiest Mysore Pak each year for the Utsavam. It was Sridharan who will get the brochure printed free of cost. It was Sakti who will cut the pumpkin (night 1am) for the Sambar or More kuzhambu to be made for all. Sakti and Valathoor shared the cleaning responsibilities at the hall and everywhere. CN Krishnaswamy, Chari with grad students from Wisconsin shared front desk collections. Prabha Subramaniam will make a new and surprise sweet each year. Male guests at my house went to KG s house if necessary for morning ablutions. For all practical purposes, Rao coordinated efforts from Wisconsin side. I tried to coordinate from Chicago side. For all practical purpose we could call it Chicago_Madison Tyagaraja Utsavam.
While his health deteriorated after moving to Columbus Ohio, even there he quickly initiated the so called Columbus, Music society and gave a real boost to run it efficiently by hosting all visiting musicians to pass through Columbus. Even with serious health conditions he made it a point to drive from Columbus to Chicago to attend CTU. Recently when his health further deteriorated, he moved to Chapel Hill, to spend his last days with his son Tesh, He had to make complex dialysis arrangements to spend a week with daughter Asha.
Recently when we went to Durham, I spent one whole day with Rao and Lalitha and Tesh and his usual sense of humor was quite fertile. We were talking about the bygone days.
I wanted some music of S. Kalyana Raman that Rajalakshmi Mami wanted and he made it a point to copy some concerts of him. He considered Kalyanaraman as a musician’s musician. In his worst health conditions he wanted to make sure my request is immediately attended.
Academically Rao was a brilliant student of the famous physicist Prof. G.N. Ramachandran, his BSC Hons (Physics) record in Madras University will speak for itself. Of course Prof. S. Chandrasekhar’s total score was just higher. Rao was admired as a brilliant crystallographer by many researchers all over the world and many people around the Physics community from GNR’s group will miss him.
CTU has lost its founding father.
I have lost a close friend, virtually a brother.
My children have lost a loving Rao uncle.
Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam mourns the loss of Mrs. Sakuntala Rajan (alias Chakku Rajan). She was seriously ill for months and she passed away in the afternoon on Wed, Feb 24, 2010.
Dr. K.S. Rajan and Mrs Sakuntala Rajan were one of the foremost members of the Indian community dedicated to the preservation of our traditions and values. They initiated several organizations and have several accomplishments to their credit in the field of Carnatic music — notably the following:
- The first ever to organize a Lalgudi-Ramani concert in Chicago in 1970
- They were instrumental to the formation of Satkala Mandir which continues to function with its main goals
- Chakku was an active participant in the list of volunteers to nurture Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam from the early days of its inception
- MS Subbulakshmi/ Sadasivam and all when they gave the first concert in Chicago, it was Chakku and Rajan who meticulously took care of all the concert arrangements and the artists
- When HTGC was a dream, this family would actively participate in the prayer meetings, and even do Poojas with temporary icons
- Chakku was one of the ardent supporters of the annadhata scheme of CTU for many years
- Being conservative and traditional, they brought their two daughters Malini and Neena in the most traditional fashion possible, and both are doing very well
- There were 6 or 7 families: Rajan Chakku, Savitri-Mani, TES-Usha , Chellam Balakrishnan, Lakshmi Natarajan, Usha-Bala, Rajani-Ranji who used to meet in each other’s house virtually every weekend. Later it extended to many others who came to Chicago around mid seventies. Every one moved around two pivotal families- Savitri-Mani and Rajan-Chakku.
- Chakku and Rajan made special efforts to organize concerts of Balamurali Krishna in late 70’s.
I am just recalling those times and events with fond memories as I ruminate over the days gone by. I am yet to find another person like Chakku for the incredible memory on the major as well as details of any social gatherings, experiences dates, visits, timing, dresses, colors and what not.
Needless to say we feel sad missing such a person.
Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam
Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam mourns the loss of Dr. Lalitha Ramamurthy who passed away at 1 am on Tuesday, January 06, 2009 at the Loyola Medical Center in Chicago.
Dear CTU core /supporters and ardent learners of the Bhagavad Gita and devotees of spiritual saints :
It is with great sadness that I would like to inform all of you that Mrs. Lalitha Ramamurthy, one of the ardent supporters and committed persons to CTU goals its values and aspirations has passed away this morning (1:00 AM) at the Loyola Medical Center. It was a tragic and unexpected death that Dr. Ramamurthy (our CTU’s front desk in charge) and his sons Santhosh and his wife, Lakshmy and the recently married second son Vasanth and his wife, Sowmya and more tragic still, Lalitha’s father (eighty plus) and Dr. Ramamurthy’s mother (in eighty plus) all have to swallow the shock of their lives.
Lailtha, herself a medical doctor was very devoted to Hindu scriptures, Sanskrit learning and teaching with proper pronunciation, and in the early stages she was active in CTU Sahasranamam group learning. As a FAMILY Ramamurthy’s have always committed to our traditions and values irrespective of who propagates those values. Many great Vedantic scholars and vedantic exponents like Uncle Mani, and Mr. Ganesan of Tiruvannamalai Ramanasram and so on visited Chinmaya Mission for a series of lectures and discourses, and for long stay this FAMILY took great care in terms of cooking and carrying lunch and dinner for them. For many years our CTU Mandapam was part of their Pooja room in their house.
Over the years Lalitha got greatly attached to Guru poojas, especially to Kanchi Paramacharyal. While doing the pooja in her family Pooja room with madisar and trying to light the kuthuvilakku with a candle apparently she got fire on her sari on the backside that she did not notice immediately and when she noticed it, it was too late with the complicated madisar of nine yards.
Whether it is CTU or the Temples or Chinmaya mission or Satsangs or Asrams there are only a small number of devout Hindus who as FAMILIES commit to our traditions and spiritual values and learning . Some years back the renowned Mathematician Prof. SRS Varadhan came to my house to collect donations for the Hindu Mission Hospital intiated by Kanchi Acharyals. Ramamurthy’s were one of the seven or eight families present for that occasion and they have never hesitated to donate the maximum for such occasions and for such causes.
As professional doctors, their commitment to our traditions is quite exceptional. I have rarely seen this level of commitment among such families. CTU’s main goal is not just to master or train our next generation into the music of Saint Tyagaraja but to inculcate in their minds also his deeper spiritual values. Many children have formally learnt the Bhagavad Geeta from Lalitha Ramamurthy.
While in CTU we strive to inculcate our traditions via the imparting of Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam, families like Ramamurthys and many organizations have been actively imparting the recitation of the Bhagavad Geetha.
Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam
Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam mourns the loss of Dr. N. Krishnamachari (alias Chari ) who passed away at 3am on Thursday, December 18, 2008 at the University of Illinois Hospital in Chicago.
I knew Krishnamachari from 1970. He had a Ph. D in Chemistry from Canada and moved to Chicago as a post doctoral researcher in Chemistry at the University of Chicago. His wife (just married) Kalyani got a job at the University Book stores. He realized that the scope was little for postdocs in Chemistry and decided to switch jobs. He took an M.B.A from the University of Chicago and had his first job with a company close to AT &T . Even though I knew him as an orthodox and tradition loving person, even though with my friend T.Parthasarathy and Ranjani we used to play cards and found him a brilliant person whatever he chose to do, I had the unique opportunity to see his emotional and human side. My mother passed away in India in 1979 and I was emotionally shattered . People had assembled in my Oak Park apartment to console me. I had a call from my uncle Pattu Mama in India who said that it is my duty as her only son to come to India, not alone but with my family to do the last rites for my mother. I wanted to have a glimpse of her but in orthodox families the body had to be cremated within hours. He said even if I show up after 5 days, it won’t matter. Tara was a month old baby and Deepa’s passport and Usha’s passports had expired. Tara had to get a passport. (Hema) Rajagopalan used his charge card to charge for the flight tickets for all of us and he arranged for that. I needed some one to take me around downtown to apply for passport, get that the same day, etc. Chari had just taken up his new job. I don’t know what arrangement he made at his new office. He took me in his car to various offices, will make rounds and wait at places to speed up the process and we came home in the evening. He was crying with me with emotion and was talking about his mother and her own struggles in her life and so on.
When CTU as an organization was initiated by Dr ST Rao of Madison, Wisconsin, the excitement of organizing the Utsavam kept several families as close kith and kin. He made his best attempts to train his children to learn music under Mrs Saroja Seshadri (for Bhooma) and Sri. Prasad Ramachandran (violin for Govindan). He was very particular that Sahasranamam chanting must be a serious and integral part of the Utsavam. People like C.N Krishnaswamy, MV Sunder, Chari, MG Srinivasan were all part and parcel of the organization and so were many core volunteers. Dr. KG Srinivasan, Dr. ST Rao, Dr. Venkatraman, Dr. BN Sridharan (Madison) were very instrumental to registering the organization. While Chari was taking care of all accounting and cash collection right at the hall, during Utsavam days I heard from his coworkers at the front desk (grad students from Wisconsin that no one could escape his eyes if they ever attempted any free ride. His meticulous accounting would need a separate chapter on its own.
He found Dr M.G Srinivasan as the right companion to his tasks at the front desk and as devout and religious persons they enjoyed each other’s company at the front desk. Though I knew MG Srinivasan from early seventies, his active involvement at the Utsavam started with group practice of Sahasranamam which was often headed by Chari. That is when we all realized our recitation limitations and slowly we felt that E.G. Nadhan is the best among us for running the Sahsranamam sessions. While some of us cared for pure recitation, Chari wanted people to know the meaning of all slokas and he did independently a lot of work in this direction and has summarized the commentaries of Adi Sankara and Parasara Bhattar and so on. Many hours he spent with MG Srinivasan in proof correcting CTU versions in Tamil, Devanagari, and Roman fonts. In proof correction he was a true master.
It was only with the meticulous listening and correction on the spot in our pronunciation that we could make a recording of Sahasranamam with repetition (Sandai-Nadhan–Geetha Sadagopan-TES).
He decided to devote his time fully to temple activities and Vaishnavism in the last few years and when I asked him as to who will shoulder this task besides Sampath Ayyangar and Alamelu, his clear choice was Venkatesh and he had a real affection for Venkatesh as one very religious and quite professional in the field of accounting. Sampath and virtually any one and every one said the same. He wanted me to quit CTU activities and devote my energy to temple related activities.
Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam
Dear friends and music lovers
I would like to share with you all about a real music lover, organizer, one of the early pillars for the growth of the Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam at every stage .
Coming from traditional Palakkad families, he was very successful as a Real Estate person in Coimbatore and could feel in his conversation his business acumen. There are millions like him and it has no value for me or for music at large. He used to visit his sister Chellam Balakrishnan more or less every year and in one of those years we accidentally got to know each other sharing some music of Lalgudi, Balamurali etc. and I never had any inkling he had real musical interest beyond tape collection. Being a Real Estate person, he was able to design a nice Music Sabha in Coimbatore for the Carnatic music community at large and started organizing a series of concerts- called ragha Sudha-Gokulashtami series and son. The hall was well equipped with excellent recording facilities for thoise days and the greatest of veteran and prodigy musicians like Chemmangudi, Lalgudi, MSG, Ramani, Nedunuri, DK Jayaraman, TV Sankaranarayanan , Seshagopalan , Mandolin Srinivas and many many others were very happy to perform in his sabha as a prestigious place to perform. One year as a family we stayed for 3 days with him listening to some concerts of Aruna Sairam (?, Geetha Raja) and son. Over the years he decided to transplant the same Sabha into madras area and nothing could be better than a sabha of size (150-200 at most) fully air conditioned and even more than anything in the heart of music place- Mylapore close to Sastri Hall. There are many many sabhas in Madras organizing our music and in what se nse he was special.
He started believing in two things: 1. There should be no compromise on the traditional conservative music. 2. Ragas like Todi, Bhairavi, Atana, Kambhodhi must be part of any concert for the musicians to be considered worthy. 2. Once established musicians tend to demand more and he never liked the idea of compromising with quality concerts at nominal cost kind. This lead him to make a major policy change in his sabha concerts: Encourage young and upcoming musicians who won’t compromise their traditional music for box office. Thus many veteran musicians who are not in the box office market, but highly scholarly tend to perform in his sabha.
I used to spend 3 to 4 hours in his house talking to him about music and publications etc. He virtually treated his house as a godown for many music books that cannot be easily stored and I remember seeing the magnum opus book of TK Govinda Rao on Carnatic music book of 600 or 800 pages stored in his house. Any time a musician was coming to Chicago, I will call him and talk to him direct about: What do you think of so and so? He was very blunt and he was also enthusiastic about several musicians and wanted me to arrange their programs in Chicago as superb upcoming musicians.
One day, he wanted me to come to his house in Bhimasena Gardens and have dinner with him. The two girls Ranjani and Gayatri came in Pavadai Melakku with Mr Balasubramaniam (their father). SVK said, the highest of music you should get from these two girls. They played duet violin very beautifully, but having heard people like Lalgudi, MSG and so on, it did not leave the impression I should have had-for lack of understanding of the pracheena ragas.
When we now listen to Ranjani/Gayatri now we know where they stand and what people like him have done for them to blossom. One year I was struggling to find a suitable main musician for Utsavam. I had to entirely depend on Shashank’s father for help. All I had wa s a CD called Rasanubhavam by Sanjay Subramaniam. Shashank’s father suggested Sanjay and I was handling all these deals from Germany while on a research assignment. SVK said emphatically that “Raghavan- Sanjay and TM Krishna are two names that will be like solid rock in Carnatic music. Believe me. While I missed the concert, I felt happy for the very successful program. Same applies to Mysore Nagaraj/Manjunath concert. We buy many products based on LOGO. I could go by the words of SV Krishnan.
We were trying to make the silver Jubilee a grand festival. It had two aspects: Arranging concerts. bringing out a special brochure. I have never ever talked to
Chemmangudi or DKP or KVN . I wanted these veteran musicians blessing for our CTU. In fact I was very keen on blessings from MS, TN Krishnan, Lalgudi, Nedunuri and many more. In fact SVK promised to contact each of these musicians and get for CTU their blessing letters. Dr KS Rajan was willing to approach MS and Lalg udi. I was making phone calls after phone calls and when I received the first letter from Chemmangudi I was in tears. CTU has done nothing to many of them. It is documented in the silver jubilee volume where we have blessings from: Cehmmangudi, DK Pattammal, KV Narayanaswamy, Lalgudi, TK Govinda Rao. Time was running out. Otherwise SVK would have worked wonders on many more. When our CTU books were produced, SVK said, that your book will have no value without the stamp of a professional musician.
As you all know we give some token gift to core volunteers in the form of some Tanjore paintings. SVK will spend the money and buy them and pack them ready for some one to pick up. He was willing to mail them too. He would openly tell to audience in his Sabha at the end of some concerts that I attended- “Friends- Professor Raghavan and his core volunteers celebrate Tyagaraja Utsavam in Chicago and they do what I am doing here Raga Sudha.”
CTU has lost a permanen t and crucial musical contact once and for all. I have lost one of my best friends. Madras music community has lost one of the best organizers with clear musical vision. Chellam Balakrishna has lost her dear and loving brother. I tried to Mrs Krishnan in India. They are all busy with organizing the last rights .
CTU owes Indu Mami — as we affectionately refer to Indu Krishnamurthy — a debt of gratitude for her enormous efforts in organizing Chicago Tyagaraja Utsavam’s Western Orchestra program for a large number of students. Without Indu-Mami there would have been no Western Orchestra program.
I have known for decades that Revati and Natesan have been very supportive and successful in encouraging CTU children – especially young girls – for Sahasranama learning and musical chanting. However, only in the mid 90’s for the first time I learned from Tyagaraja Rao, that Indu Mami had organized a Western Orchestra playing Tyagaraja Kritis with Indian and American students in the Houston and Dallas area. I was immediately keen on bringing that group to perform at our Utsavam. Though Indu mami had been attending our Utsavam from the early eighties, she was more a part of the audience than taking an active part in CTU. I could say the same about MG Srinivasan or Ramaswamy or Sunder or any of our core volunteers. I contacted Indu Mami (about the Western Orchestra) and to my surprise she said she could train our kids, just as well (as the Houston kids), for such a performance. My calculations were only on the expenses and transportation costs and suddenly I realized that she could simply tap the western instrumental training of Indian kids for a grand performance at a minimal cost. I jumped at the idea. I did not realize what a tremendous potential she had, till I saw her in action.
The rehearsals had to be scheduled only after each student getting at least three private lesson from her. She was very quick in correcting the students’ errors on bowing, tuning and aberrations of musical notes. Her ability to spot and correct the errors then and there was phenomenal. Her quick distribution of written music in western notation for several Kritis, her scheduling of 30 to 40 children for rehearsals and doing them successfully- these were remarkable feats by any standard. Finally, on the big day, I could not believe my ears when my son Manu played Vatapi (Hamsadhwani) on the violin, though he had zero formal training or understanding of what a raga meant.
I knew from the late 70’s that Indu Mami was cinema actor Ranjan’s sister and that she was my father’s student. Brinda and Indu as they were affectionately called by my father (the sisters) were taught Sanskrit at their tender age of 8 or 9, that too around 5am everyday! That was in Triplicane, Madras. My father was all praise for their sharpness and discipline. I vaguely remember visiting a spectacular Navaratri Golu in their house.
Indu Mami was also an outstanding professional artistic painter. When I came to know that, my immediate interest was in getting a genuine painting for the cover of the CTU Brochure Tyagaraja Vijayam. From then on, she would happily send me the originals which I continued to request for many, many years. The serene illustration of Vishnu on the cover of the CTU’s Vishnu Sahasranama Stotram booklet is her gift to CTU. While people were bringing bazaar calendars to copy for the cover picture, Indu Mami gifted the best for the Utsavam.
This year (2006) in February when I spoke about CTU in Madras television and Jaya TV, one of the basic queries was how we should inspire Western trained students to play our music. I made it a point to specifically mention Mami’s immortal contribution to CTU, her musical gifts, and her unique books on Carnatic music in Western notation.
When I came back from India in March 2006, I had a sudden call from Mami. She apparently came to know that I had specifically talked in Madras Television about her contributions to CTU. She said she had tears in her eyes when she heard about my talk. And she said, though due to old age she could not continue to train kids for the orchestra, she would somehow organize the Western Orchestra once again, for the next year (2007). Unfortunately this will not be. Our young and enthusiastic children who are good in Western music have been denied a superb teacher, as Indu Mami is no more around to inspire them into Carnatic music.
Indu Mami is a teacher, a scholar and a devout lover of music, painting, and the arts, Sanskrit and the classics. Needless to say, such persons are rare and we were fortunate to have known and been associated with such a volunteer for CTU.