Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Voleti Venkateswarlu – a remembrance

I never knew who Narendra Menon is till recently. Now, I know even his father Sri Haridas Menon and we are close friends. The father and son duo are music mad people. Narendran arranged a remembrance day for Voleti on the 85th birth anniversary of the genius. Interestingly this took place at Chennai. Naren came there from Mumbai, his father from Palghat. I joined them from Hyderabad, Narayanan from Calicut, Latha from Pune, someone else from Bangalore! And of course there were enough serious music enthusiasts of Chennai in the hall much before the appointed time. Vidwan Sri P S Narayana Swamy graced the occasion, not exactly on invitation! How graceful of him to sit through the concert till the end! Most of the audience remained glued to their seats till the end. That is Chennai! Hats off to its music culture!!

No big banners, no publicity, just an insertion in the local engagements column of a daily did the entire trick.

No big speeches either. I think I was the only big mouth contained in time by intelligent management.

I was stunned to find the kind of adulation that is there for Voleti around. I remember only ridicule from people whenever he is mentioned around where I lived and worked! I am of course thrilled by his music and musical presentations. I am stunned by one or two of those light songs he sang. I was digitizing the cassettes containing recordings of a radio play and a feature on Meera just before leaving for Chennai. The Hindustani tunes he set for the songs in them are still ringing in my ears! Did he learn Hindustani? Let us not go into all that now!

What does one do to remember a genius like Voleti Venkateswarlu Garu? Listen to some good music, of course. We did just that on that appointed day! There was Sri Mavelikkara Subramanyam from Kerala to sing. He was assisted on the violin by Sri S Varadarajan and on the Mridangam by Trichur Narendran. Our Vaikkom was there on Ghatam. I met the main artist just that morning. He is a real humble man of whom I never heard. I know his disciple Jaychandran. I keep surprising such people with their details even in the first encounter. Like music, I also collect the details of artists connected to music. But, I swear, I never knew who this singer was!

Good for me! I deserve some shocks too! He started the concert with a Varnam and a Ganesha stuti as usual. When he picked up Pantuvarali for the sub-main I was wondering what he would sing! Shock for me, and it was Ennaganu Ramabhajana of Ramadasu. With the right diction all through! When he picked up Bahudari of course I wanted and there was Brova Bharama. Shock for me, him singing the song including the word Gopikalakai with the correct lengths and intonations of syllables. Even seasoned singers draw a long kaa making it gopikaalakai making it sound odd. The sound of ‘ra’ is a big problem with friends from Kerala! You can tell their place of origin when they utter that sound for even the first time. There would be a tilt in that sound invariably! Where is it? Did I listen correctly that this Mr. Subranayam is from Mavelikkara and not Manuguru! Whatever song he picked up, he did a decent job1 why is he so very unknown among even keen followers of music, I started thinking. He started a Bhairavi alapanam. I went into my hobby of tracing the hints of a particular song that is going on in the artist’s mind! I was seeing more than half a dozen songs. Ruling out all of them, I arrived at a zero! Shock for me, he picks up “Ika nannu brovakunna” which I never heard in a concert in the recent years. Varadarajan excelled in his version of the ragam! Radio concert like short tani was really mathematical. A small Ashtapadi and then Mangalam.

It may, perhaps, not have been a superlative concert by the standards that some people have set for themselves. It was pleasing and did not lack anything, in fact it was rich in tonal quality, his rhythm sense was impeccable, and syncing with the accompanists was at its expected best. What else do you look for in a concert apart from making you sit enjoying it! Sukham am I right!

When the artists came down from the stage I made it a point to tell Sri Subramanyam that I would have thought he is from Andhra, if the name was not announced! Not a trace of the effect of mother tongue when uttering Telugu words. And, it was a Telugu concert! I told him, “Voleti must be blessing you from above!”

Voleti was known as a serious man. He rarely laughed, I am told. He did not do that when I saw him too.

But, I felt the small picture that was kept on the stage developed a little smile by the end of the tribute! Voleti was sure happy with whatever happened there that day! Almost everyone was happy too!

There were so many personal friends like Vallabhan, TVG Sir, Vijayakumar, Sridharan, Jayapraksh and many more who met me personally there. Though I knew her for long, it was the first time I saw Ms Sandhya face to face! It was indeed a happy day for me too!

(Thanks to the web source for Voleti's picture)


balayogi said...

nostalgic a great singer. I have a sabha in chennai Tapas Academy you try to attend our dec concerts

sairamakoti said...

Dear Gopalamgaru, I am very much happy to see your write up.
My father, who is no more, was a great rasika of voletigaru. He introduced me to voleti in 1969, by purchasing the EP record of him containing NAMORALAKIMPAVE-in Devagandhari and I instantly became his rasika. Thank you for bringing me the nostalgic moments of yester years.