Reminiscences of another time…..My Love Affair with Carnatic Music starts here!
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 .
KVN’s Last visit to the USA
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 Bob Brown and the Centre for World Music
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 More about the Centre for World Music
A little flash back to Centre for World 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 .
T. 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
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 Iran
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 from Pakistan into 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 Madras! now Chennai
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 M S Subbulakshmi
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. Navaratri in Trivandrum
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 I rent in R K Mutt Rd Mandevalli
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 Gurukulavasam
……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 my Territory!
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 Neela gets married
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 Mahararai of Travancore
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 Padma Sri Awards ceremony
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
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 life goes on……
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 Shankaracharya
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 .
20th March 2016 KVN goes to Europe
So a lot happened in 76 and my chronology is not always accurate . Sometime in early 76 , we were to travel to Hyderabad but I got a fever and I could not go so was left alone at home. KVN and Mámi gave me some medicine and talked me into having Horlicks .
Also at some point of time we went to some concert in a distant suburb of madras , could have been Chrompet or Tambaram , anyway the taxi ride there was very long and that was in a general southern direction so it must have been in one of those places or even further south . Plaghat Mani Iyer was there to felicitate the musicians at the end of the concerts and I was also garlanded by him , I remember he said ” come on ” as he garlanded me . He must have admired my sruthi box playing prowess .
So let us fast forward to the end of 76 and enter 1977 .
Shastri Hall Mylapore before Berlin trip
At the very beginning of 77 news was received of being invited to Europe for an Indian music festival in Berlin . All arrangement were made during February . The South Indian group consisted
of KVN , Padma Mami , Palghat Raghu , N Ramani , Mrs Kamakshi Ramani and Tiruparkadal Veeraghavan and myself of course .
Berlin India Festival
Pictures were taken in a studio for the poster and brochures in Berlin . One of the organizers on the Berlin side was Hassan Habib Touma . He called Veraraghavan ” Mr Veera ”
Travel arrangements were made with KR Rajagopal of Air France from the Air France office at Mount road Spencers .
So on march 1 st 77 we fly from Madras on Indian Airlines Caravelle plane ( the one that had the gate at the tail )
At Bombay Santa Cruz we run into a small customs problem because of a small cassette recorder that was entered in my passport and left behind in Madras . That is somehow solved and we fly to Paris on Air France . During the flight Veraraghavan could not hold his food down . I was seated next to him or near by I do not remember .
At Paris Airport I separate from the group and go to my parents house . After a few days and with some financial help ( 2000 Francs ) from my mother hidden savings I take the train from Paris to Berlin to rejoin the rest of the group .
That was before Germany’s reunification so the train goes thru East germany before Reaching the Berlin enclave ..
to be continued
21st March 2016 Berlin Music Festival
The Berlin Indian music festival and Europe tour .
So i arrive in Berlin , I make my way to the office of the festival organizers , it is some kind of Ethnomusical Society / world music soceity cannot remember the exact name . One guy there is Jochen Wenzel . He directs me to a hotel where some North India Musicians are staying . I take a room there and hang out with them . The next day i rejoin KVN and the South Indian party and camp in a room with Palghat Raghu and Veeraraghavan . Food was a problem and a lot of plain rice with yogurt and emergency Uruga ( pickles ) was consumed .
We stayed in Berlin a few days . On one of the days I was made to play tambura for Hariprasad Chaurasia’s concert , it was a north Indian tambura with 5 strings .
After a few days in Berlin we traveled by train to Francfort and stayed in the flat of a south indian rasika whose name I forgot . Also a house concert was arranged there . Also went to Heidelberg University for concert as well .
From there we went to Geneva . In Geneva we were hosted by one KNS Sharma in his spacious flat . KNS Sharma was a senior United Nations official at the Geneva United Nations . His wife was Kannama Sharma , a good veena player . She was away in New York or India at that time . We met here later in Madras . .
We were very well taken care of in Geneva . Also i got to visit the Geneva motor show . Next was Paris . So we traveled to Paris by train . I had planned and promised to host the whole group at my family home near Paris , but something beyond my control happened and only KVN and Padma mami stayed at my family’s place . Emergency arrangements were made for Raghu and Veeraraghavan in my sisters small apartment in Paris . N Ramani and Mrs Ramani stayed with some other people in Paris and also gave a concert there . KVN did not sing in Paris .
KVN and Mami spent a few days with my family and during these days we did some sight seeing . Eifel Tower etc .. . During the stay at my family home Mámi made her own cracked wheat uppuma and did not partake any of my mom’s cooking .
After Paris the group flew to London . Seeing my limited finances Raghu offered to help with my travel expenses to London , but I somehow managed .
So I traveled to London by train and ferry . KNV and his London hosts where there to receive me at the train station . We stayed in a suburb called Northholt in the home of Srilankan Tamil family . The lady of the house had been a classmate of Padma mámi in Adyar Music college .
Our stay in London was very comfortable . I got avocados from a local grocery store , just had to ask for ” butter fruit “
A concert was given at the Bharatiya vidya Bhavan . I remember one of the attendees was a local called Meyyappan , maybe a member of the famous Chettiar aristocracy .
I returned to Paris afterwards . I met up with the group on their stop over from London at the airport and attended to KVN and Mamis needs and whims during the overnight hotel stay near the airport .
The next day I saw everybody off at their return flight back to India and i bade KVN farewell with a shashtanga namaskaram .
to be continued .
27th March 2016 Cairo
After the Carnatic music party left back to India at the end of march ’77 I is stayed on at my parents place in a Paris suburb for a couple of months till June . During that time i visited my elder brother and his family at their place near the Swiss border .
Come June 77 it is time to return to India .
I book a one way ticket to Bombay via Cairo on Egypt Air,
In the plane I befriend Mustapha Lamali , an Algerian customs officer on vacation . At Cairo instead of switching planes to take the Bombay flight , I come out of the airport and spend three days sightseeing in and around Cairo , Cairo was hot and humid , because of the Nile and it very much reminded me of Bombay . Very crowded , if it was not for the way people dressed it could very well have been India . We visited the Cairo museum and saw the Mummies , with their gold slippers and thousand year old raisins .
The museum was practically empty of visitors and we were practically way out numbered by the museum staff. It had a very strange eery feeling .
After this three day dose of Egyptian culture i went to the Egypt Air office to get my ticket updated and off I was to Bombay .
Upon reaching Bombay I made my way to the home of PN Kutty , a relative of Narendan and our occasional host in Bombay . KVN was there on business related to Neela’s unfortunate murder.
We returned to Madras together by train.
Around August ’77 due to some issue I temporarily moved out of KVN’s house . I took a room at the Theosophical society and later took a flat in Gandhi nagar . B Saroja Devi , a movie star of the sixties , was the owner of the house and we got to become friends , with her and her husband Mr Sriharsha , an engineer ,( I later used to regularly visit their home in Bangalore ).
to be continued
14th April 2016 Padma MAmi…..KVN’s wife
Before we continue with the thread of this narrative, let us take a small aside regarding the history of the relationship between KVN Máma and Padma Mámi .
Padma Mámi and her family are Tamil Iyengars settled in Hyderabad , Mámi’s Father , Narasimhachari worked for the Nizam railways . He had two daughters from his first marriage .
From a second marriage he had Padma Mámi and her other 10 or so siblings .
They eventually moved to Triplicane in Chennai .
Mami came to Madras to learn music and became KVN máma’s student and had also joined the Tamil Nadu Music college where she learned under Musiri Subramania Iyer .
Mani Krishnaswamy was one of her classmates .
At that time KVN was married to Annapurna , a niece of Palghat Mani Iyer and the mother of his first four children Mukta , Lalitha , Vishwanathan ( Vicchu ) and Ramaa .
When Ramaa was about four years old KVN máma’s first wife passed away .
KVN had been an admirer of mahatma Gandhi . Once during his gurukulavasam days with Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar he had a personal crisis and ran away to Mahatma Gandhi’d ashram in Gujarat .
Is seems Mahatma Gandhi told him ” go back to your Guru “.
After the demise of his first wife ( around 1964 ) KVN decided to keep a brahmachari status and remain celibate .
In those day KVN was very close to his nephew Radhakrishnan , who used to accompany him on the tambura in all concerts .
Fearing for the strength of his vow of celibacy , KVN asked Radhakrishnan to safeguard him from temptations . Around the same time Padma Mami was his student and a romantic relationship was on the verge of begining . Faithful to his requested duty as KVN’s moral guard Radhakrishan did his very best as requested to prevent that relationship from happening . What happened happened and KVN Máma ended up marrying Padma Mámi and that caused KVN Mama and Radhakrishnan to become estranged for many years
KVN máma and Padma Mámi were married on 20 May 1965 in the same temple that witnessed the wedding of Sadasivan and MS Sbbulakshmi . A temple known for intercaste weddings
I think Bob Brown attended that wedding .
Many years later KVN’s daughter Ramaa married Padma Mámi’s younger brother Raghu . it was a love marriage . I forgot the name of the temple , it is on a hill near Madras . I may remember later.
That was an Iyer – Iyengar mariage . I believe that was in 86 . We will go back to that particular episode when we catch up with 1986 on the time line .
to be cont…
15.4.2016 Invite to Weslyn University
I now recall ( with wife’s help ) the name of the temple where KVN Máma and Padma Mámi got married , it is the Tiruneermalai temple . It is a Vishnu temple near Chennai . It is famous for inter caste Hindu marriages .
About the same time KVN Máma got married in 1965 , he and Palghat Raghu were invited by Bob Brown to teach at Wesleyan University for a two year stint . Padma mámi wanted to go along but that could not be arranged and that caused some small crisis at home .
At some point during the Wesleyan stint KVN Mama suffered a heart attack .
Now back to our time line in 1977 .
A mentioned before around August 77 i moved out of KVN ‘s house and shared a place n Gandhi Nagar with some American friend . Our house owner was B Saroja Devi , a movie star of the sixties . The address was No 26 second main street , Gandhi Nagar .
Later on I moved back at KVN’s for some time till the beginning of 1978 .
to be continued .
22.4.2016 I get another scholarship and a house in Kottivakkam
So here we are at the beginning of 1978 , around Feb or March i move out of KVN’s house .Our German Friend Angelika Burde ( later Mrs Anjali Sriram ) has a small house in Kottivakkam and i stay there for some time . I will pass over some personal happenings and forward to July 78 when i leave India for France . In September i make a two month trip to Algeria . It is a discovery of Berber roots in the Mountains of Kabily and i am very well received there by close family members that i had never met. Back in France around Nov a friend tells me that there is such a thing as a an Indo – French cultural exchange program than that i should apply for a scholarship .
with the kind help of many friends back in India ( including Michael Nixon ) i gather many letters and certificates and complete the application paper work . Luckily i get the scholarship so my return to India the following year is assured . In the Mean time i spend time at my parents place . I get a small job for one month and in march 79 i make a trip back to USA , for the first time since leaving in 75 . After a four month stay in San Francisco i am back in France and ready to return to India as a scholar of the Indian Government …
To be cont…….
So here we are at the end of summer 1979 , i am back from San Francisco and getting ready to return to India . The Paris Indian embassy issues me a student visa , i get a free one way ticket to Bombay from the Air India agency near the Paris opera and by in October i fly to Bombay .
I arrive at Bombay fully laden with much luggage and musical instrument , Tanbura , sruthi box ad a violin requested by KVN for Ramaa , bought in Paris . ( shortly afterwards KVN gifted me an India made violin , that i used for my second subject at Music College )
At Bombay the ICCR ( Indian Council for Cultural Relations) people receive me and give me a first class train ticket to Madras and one month scholarship advance of Rs 600 .
Upon reaching Madras i am received by the local ICCR team and i make my way home to KVN’ s house . So i am back with the family for a few weeks while looking for a place to rent .
After a few days bicycle exploration in and aroun Kottivakam i find a house . The owner is judge , from Tirunelveli , One Dakshinamurthy , it is newly built house , the family stays in a flat in Besant Nagar . All guarantees and recommendations are given by KVN and the rental is approved . The rent is a somewhat high Rs 800 , more than my Rs 600 scholarship . Fortunately Justin McCarthy ,a friend from San Franscisco shows up and we share the rent . Shortly thereafter Herbert Lang joins us , ad later we added a couple nore people tp the household , my friend Vishwa , Navtej Singh , a Kalaskeshtra dance student and a couple of months later my younger sister Rendja .
to be continued .
17.5.2016 Tamilnadu Govt Music College
So here we are at the end of 1079
I have returned to Madras and set up a house in Kottivakkam . Also I have joined the three year Sangeetha Vidwan diploma course at the Tamil Nadu Carnatic Music College under the auspices of the Indo French cultural exchange program . The monthly scholarship stipend is Rs 600 .
It is irregularly paid by the section officer , as if it were his own grandfathers money .
Before we go on a few words about the music college .
At that time TN Krishnan is the principal , he would subsequently recommend me for sholarship extension every year .
In first year my classmates are K Sashi Kumar , Murali who sings light music , Ravi from Raichur and a few others . Also upper classes ,Babu Parameshwaran , who had aleady compleretd the Vocal course and was now enraoled in the volin ine , also in vioin Job Kuruvilla , Ravi Prasad from Kerala in Vocal ( he is now in France ) and many other .
On the teaching staff , KVN mama , B Rajam Iyer , , B Krishnamurthy ( his brother ) , and others .
The theory classes are coed and i remember one of the girls calling me ” Traffic “
among our girl classmates I remember one H Jayashri and one Mahalakshmi .
So we are in a house in Kottivakkam , the occupants are Herbert lang and JustinMcCarthy , later on we are joined by my sister Rendaj , my friend Viswa and later by Navtej Singh , a student of Kalakshetra .
I buy a green Suvega moped .and we often ride three on it
At the very beginning of Jan 1980 i go to Bombay to meet my sister who arrived from Paris . at that time I come down with serious symptoms of Typhoid/malaria ( I had had some jackfruit from an open street cast in Mylapore and may be I had caught some bug ).At Bombay we are hosted by PN Kutty and family . as I am too ill with fever instead of taking the train back to madras we fly . In the plane I mistake the cockpit door for the restroom door and upon seeing the red and green cockpit light I faint . Some one nearby said ” the guy sitting near the Mongolian girl fainted . He was referring to my sister , Some Berber north African tribes have for some mysterious reasons asian features , and that mostly among the womenfolks . a good case for anthropological studies .
Upon reachin Madras I am admitted in lady Wilmington nursing home in Nungambakkam .
There KVN Mama and Padma mami attend to my every needs and visit me every day , bringing fruits , tangerine juice and coconut water .
After a month I am shifted to St Isabel hospital in Mylapore .
There I am very well treated by Dr N Rajagopal a brillant Pondicherry Jipmer trained physician .
We subsequently become very good family friends up to this day .
After I recovered , instead of payment , Dr Rajagopal asked if my Guru KVN mama would give a concert in his house . KVN mama agreed and he sang as a payment for my medical expenses.
to be continued.
20.5.2016 about Angelika Burde
Little flashback to end 79 beginning 80 , at the Kottivakkam house , Hebert lang joins us . he had met Angelika Burde in Germany and somehow he connects with me .
One word about Angelika .
She is a friend from San Francisco . She comes to India to study Bharatha Natyam
Later on she meets One V . Sriram .and they eventually marry. i am a witness to their romance.
they are now living in Germany , Sriram had become a well known yoga teacher there . Angelika is now known as Anjali Sriram . she teaches Bhratanatyam they have a son , Ilango who is now in his thirties.
At mid Jan we travel to Tiruvayaru for the annual Thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations . KVN mama sings there accompanied by Trichur Narendran and Kovai Balu . i am as usual on the tambura.
Now back to about May 1989 .
I trade the green Suvega moped for a black Royal Enfield Bullet , The motorcycle costd new 11 thousand Rs . We get it financed thru a guy called Ashok Mehta
I am now cured from the typhoid / malaria. We enroll my sister in Kalasketra , she has a good voice and makes nice progress .
Spencers Venugopal sponsors her resident visa .
Time passes, around July 1980 with KVN mamas help with connections in high places we get a phone connection, the number is 413425 .
Across the street our neighbour is Dr Reddy . His son Dhuva has a bullet .My sister calls him ” drapeau “
Around Oct 1980 we travel to Hyderabad . KVN sings at Ravindra Bharathi auditorium .
Narendran and i have a small conversation oustide after the concert with Sudha Raghunathan , she is about 20 yrs old then.
With Narendran we also go and visit Neyatinkara Vasudevan who lived there at that time .
I also visit the Safdar Jang museum
To be continued
5th June 2016 Adi Shankarcharya ‘s birthplace
some date typo corrections : please read 1979 instead of 1079 and 1980 instead of 1989 above .
So we are in mid 1980 .
We are at the Kottivakkam house , No 1 Karpagambal Nagar .
Things are routine , I attend classes at the Music college .
The family back home in France is slowly recovering from my brothers demise . We keep in touch by mail . The parents also send us money orders once in a while .
Sometime during mid 1980 we travel to Kaladi in Kerala and visit and stay at Adi Shankarcharya ‘s birthplace and temple . There are guest quarters there . I lose one of my contact lenses in the bathing room . Some concerts are given there by KVN and Alathur Srinivasa Iyer . Palghat Mani Iyer might also have been there but I am not sure .
There is a river also there and we also bathe in it . Beautiful idyllic Kerala .
At the end of July , exactly July 29 1980 we get the phone connection .
Now KVN Màma calls me all the time . We also get to call France collect .
So we slowly inch toward the end of 1980 , Now i have the black Royal Enfield Bullet and I finally master the art of kick starting . I drive KVN mama on multiple errands on it . He often hums while ridding .
Toward August my friend Vishwa moves out . He worked at an advertising agency and used to hand over his full monthly salary .
In November we all attend Padma mami’s younger brother Kannan’s wedding .
A playful fellow , more about him later , specially in 1987 .
More personal stuff happened after October 1980 but i shall pass pass on it .
And … we move on to 1981 . around may that year , may 3 rd to be precise , we move from No 1 Karpagambal Nagar to No 14 Karpagambal Nagar . It is the cutes little house .
A small house with a big back yard . The rent is only Rs 400 a month . The owners are P Narayana Kutty and her husband Gopala Menon . They are from Kerala and like all Keralites they have green thumbs .
The house is surrounded by all kinds of trees and vegetation , Coconut trees mango tree , Sita pazham ( custard apple ) chikko / sapota ( wood apple ) etc . At the front door there is a tulsi plant and also a singapore cherry tree .
We lived in that house 7 years until the owners ritired there . They lived in Besant Nagar .
That small two bedroom house was situated in the front of the lot and a big space was left empty in the back in provision of building another small house for some cousins .
Later on I had a lush green lawn put in . by Chitambaram the gardener recommended my our good friend late ” Babu ” Padmanabha Rau . a lawyer
it cost me Rs 900 .
to be cont…
10th June 2016 I leave for France
So we are in about may 1981 , we have just moved into the cutest little house at 14 Karpagambal Nagar , Kottivakkam . On may 3 , a week end , KVN and Family come and spend a couple of days . He records for me a bunch of songs , a cappella on his fancy Sony cassette recorder bought in San Francisco some years before .
Shortly after that my sister and I leave for vacation in France , Leaving Herbert in charge of the house.
I return by the end of June , after a short stop over in Bombay . I always used to arrive and leave India via Bombay and take the Dadar Expres train to Chennai from there . . Going thru the western Ghats after Poona on the Bombay bound journeys was quite a spectacular scenic beauty as well as and impressive work of railway engineering ..
Now a word about my friend “Babu ” Padmanabha Rau . He lives in a cute house somewhere near Kalakshetra colony , He is a constitutional lawyer and helped draw the constitution of Malaysia .. His wife Kshama is the daughter of the famous Kannada playwright and author Sivram Karanth , the reviver of Yakshagana , a traditional Karnataka classicall drama dance form similar to the Kerala Kathakali . Babu enjoys a good joke and we we are good friends . He had a lawn put in front of his house and he reccomended Chidambaram the gardener to me .
I recently connected with Kshama Rau on Facebook and she told me Babu had passed away a couple of years ago . Kshama now lives in Bangalore and runs an Odissi dance school .
In their home a had met the famous playback singer Srinivas .
I had originally met babu and family thru Ludwig Pesch .
More about Ludwig later .
to be continued ..
10th July 2016 Ludwig Pesch
Before we go on a small word about Ludwig Pesch
I ran into Ludwig at bank of America on mount road one day in 1977
we got to talk and i suggested that he should join kalakshetra .
He did just that and learnt flute under H Ramachandra Shastri .
He was instrumental in the creation of the Sampradaya institute along with Michael Nixon of South Africa , as well as the building of the mini theater ” Chitrarangam on the exposition grounds . He is very capable Ethno-musicologist ans well as a decent Carnatic music flute player .He has written a few books on Carnatic music theory
He is now based in Amsterdam.
Michael Nixon hailed from South Africa . He was able travel to and live in India on account of also having an Irish passport . In the days of apartheid white South Africans were not allowed to come to India , unlike South Africans of Indian origin .
now back to our time line
We are about june/july 1982 . We begin taking classes at the Madras University music Dept .. One of our classmates was Kulabhusini Kalyanaraman but she quite shortly afterwards .( She introduced me to her husband at a wedding )
at the same time i manage to join TM Thyagarajan advanced class at Music academy , I am the only boy there among 12 or so ladies .When it was time to sing kalpana swaras he wold just pass me by .
TMT is a very fine teacher and and accepts me in the class .
so i juggle my tie between the Music academy classes and the Madras University .
Of course . i am very often at KVN mama’s house and keeping up with my service to him as a now detached family member .
Here is an anecdote , not sure when that was exactly . We went to TMT house to offer condolences to him about his mothers’s passing . as we were leaving KVN told me : Do not say Poitu Varen ” We went home an took bath together ” to remove the Titte ” as purification after having visited a home were a death had taken place .
to be continued .
15 Aug 2016
Back to our timeline …
It is about July1981
back from my yearly vacation in France . My sister Rendja stayed back , my mother did not send her back to India .
We are now at 14 Karpagambal nagar , Kottivakkam . Classes go on at the Music college and simultaneously at TMT’s
class at the Music academy . i move around town on the black Royal Enfield Bullet , since i am at music academy around lunch time
i often stop over at nearby woodlands for lunch . i regularly visit KVN’s home and continue my service to him as usual .
Around August or so my friend Vishwa shows up with a Swiss girl . they had been traveling in NorthIindia .
eohe give me a small picture of Puri Jagannath . i got to be more familiar with Lord Puri Jagannath some years later thru interaction with hare Krishna devotees . Efforts are under way to get him to Europe . We travel to Bombay to hepl him with visa formalities ect .
he finally leaves for Europe and stays in Switzerland for some time and later at my parents place in France .
he later married a french girl of Persian origin and got French citizenship while i Bombay a good time was had by all .
Back in Chennai after the Bombay trip life goes on . around december Our family friends , Vishwwas parents, from Bombay come and stay a few days at my home
we do sight seeing and attend concerts .
At the beginning of January 1982 i am invited to their native village deep south a place called Kalidai Kurichi near Tirunelveli . There flows the Tamraparaniriver and i take a dip in it with the
family young cousins . My day on Dan 3 finds me there a i am offered a shirt piece by my hosts cousin cum brother i law , one Shankaran . My family friend also is Shankaran .
Among Tirunelveli Iyers the names Shankaran and Vishwanathan are recycled from father to son ad infinitum During the stay down south my family friend V .Shankaran takes me on a tour and we visit Kanya kumari , the Idylic Papanasam falls , that seem to come straight out of jungle book movie , and other places and temples of interest in deep South India .
Trip to Poona is also taken . i meet the Shankaran family again there and we are hosted by relatives there . We visit the Agha Khan palace where Mahatma Gandhi was held and see the Gandhi museum there
Aroud Feb 82 i must leave for San Francisco to attend to some personal business . the round trip Madras San Francisco via bombay and paris on air France costs me Rs 13 000
i get the ticket from KR Rajagopal at Air France agency in the old Spencers building . One month in San Francsico and i i back madras bound Via Los Angeles wehre i spend one day at a friends house from germany Sybil Fritz , who had been my house guest a Madras back in Jan 1980. I walk around Manhattan Beach and by some knick Knacks at the pier as gifts from friends back in India .
During the Paris stop over i attend Vishwas wedding ceremony and hang out with his brother Kannan and wife Chandra who had come from Rotterdam whre they lived at that time . . They had visited our Paris home the previous year and i had also visited them in Rotterdam .
Around april 82 i leave paris and my father comes downstairs to bid me good bye . That was the last time i saw him alive . he sucombed to lung cancer the following year in February .
That was 17 Feb 1983 .
To be continued .
19 Aug 2016 Kannan gets married and I fail Sangeeta Vidwan Course!
Before we go on a small flashback to Nov 80 .On Nov 1st the marriage of Kannan , Padma mami younger brother toke place . A very playful fellow . we will come back to him later in the time line .
So here we are around April 82 . back in Madras from San Francisco .. It is school summer vacation in India . I have just completed my third and final year at the Music College and the final Sangeetha Vidwan Exam is around the corner . That takes place probably in May .
My examiners are B Rajam Iyer and CS Krishna Iyer . I sing Todi as a main piece . Later on Rajam Iyer told KVN he had no idea what raga i was singing . Needless to say i did not pas that exam that year . After having finished the course at Music college what to do next comes up . I join TMT class at music academy where i am the only boy among 12 ladies .
Around that time i call upon Dr Sita who is then the head of the Music Dept at Madras University .
I explain to her that we are a bunch of boys that have just finished the Sangeetha Vidwan course
and that we wish to begin a BA course in music . That course was available for girls at Queen Mary’s college but that no such course was available for boys .
She suggested that i should go and meet with the vice chancellor . I did just that . I took an appointment wand went o see him . I explained t him the same issue i had raise with Dr Sita .
Lo and behold , a couple of weeks later a notice came out in the Hindu paper that Madras Univerity was opening for the first time in its history and undergraduate course in Music .
Needles to say i and few other rushed to join it . There was a total of two batches and the course was discontinued after the second batch was done .
in the first batch , besides myself and my Music college class mate K Shashi Kumar , the fooowing joined , Sumathi Chandrashekhar , who now teaches in Doha , Usha , Balraj Balasubramanam
who is now on the faculty at Wesleyan college , and Pushpavanam Kuppuswamy who made very good as a popular Tamil folk music artiste .
The following year among other there was Muralikrishnan and Herbert Lang .
that summer of 82 also saw the marriage of KVN daughter Ramaa with Padm Mami other younger brother Raghu . more about this later .
To be continued .
28 Aug 2016 KVN’s duaghter gets married
A side note :: KVN mama’s father , Vishwanathan , was widowed and remarried , at the young age of 68 he had a daughter , Kalyani . After his father’s passing KVN had little contact with his step mother , whom he called ” Chitti ” ( chinna ma / small mother ) , he however would send her every month a money order for Rs 50 . I would go to the Raja Annamalai Puram post office and get the money order and send it to her in Coimbatore . Kalyani was KVN’s much younger half sister and called him “Anna ” ( elder brother ) she was later married to nice guy called Ramji .
Now back to early June 82 and Ramaa and Raghu’s marriage .
Raghu as well as the other members of Padma mami’s family were very frequent visitors at the Gurukkal colony home . Raghu spent more time there and often helped Ramaa with her school homework .
A romantic relation developed and after initial issues , their marriage was organized . The wedding took place at Tiruneermalai temple , the choice place for inter brahmin/inter caste mariages
a good time was had by all and i played with all the young grand children of KVN .I remember a conversation with Nadaswaram Sivalingam , he told me ” Toufiq , ni nareya practice pannanum (Toufiq , you must practice a lot )
Before the wedding KVN asked me ” Raghu kku enna tara porai ” ( what gift will you give Raghu ? ) . So i got him a gold ring for Rs 1000 from Vummidi Bangaru Chetty
jewelry store in Parrys corner . That was the family’s usual jewelry store . A few years later at my own wedding all i got from Raghu was an affectionate tap on the shoulder 🙂
the reception was held on 26 June 82 at Kanchi hotel . I witnessed the haggling between KVN/mami and the hotel owner to get the lowest rate possible .
As a rule i got along well with all the members of Mami’s family . Her father would always greet me with “what about bananas ? ” , on account of my constant supplying and distributing of bananas to the household .I would some times even take him to the movies . After retiring from the Nizam Railways in Hyderabad he got a job at Khivraj Motors in Madras .
Also KVN mama bore the cost of Padma Mami’s younger siblings college education . Raghu later got a job at State Bank of Mysore ( he went to college in Bangalore )
Padma’s younger sister Sashi married one Lakhman Rao , a Kannada Madhwa , her other sister Revati married a nice guy called Vasu , The youngest sibling , Raju ( Rajagopal ) marrried Jayanti . their son Ashwath Narayan is now breaking in the Chennai music scene .
to be continued .
7.9.2016 I travel to France………..for my Dad’s funeral
So here we are still about mid 82 the second half of the year passes with usual occupations .We arrive to 1983 .
In January our Madras University Music BA class takes a field trip to Tiruvayaru for the thyagaraja Aradhana celebrations and fun times and good cheer are had by all beginning of February i get some distressing news from France . My father is diagnosed with lung cancer . During a ckeck up an orange size tumor in found in his lung . He was a lifelong smoker , the brand of cigarettes he smokes were ” Gauloises ” filterless cigarettes .
So i make emergency arrangements to travel to France . Not having much funds , i ” Borrow ” an Air France one way ticket to Paris from KR Rajagopal of Air France agency at Mount Road Spencer .I paid him back when he came to Paris some months later . i met him in his hotel and handed him 4000 Francs cash .
the eve of my departure KVN sang at Musuc Academy , if i remember well that was Thursday 16 February . Than Night i got a phone call from my parents downstairs neighbor Mlle Paviot that my father had not survived the surgery .
When i arrived in Paris my brother in Law Alain Touzeau was waiting for me at the airport and took me home to Pontoise , the Paris suburb where my parents lived .
e later went to the mortuary to view my soulless father’s empty body shell .
The burial took place on Wednesday 23 February .
I had to spent the better part of 1983 with my mother to help with many pension formalities
. for a few months as my fathers retirement pension had stopped we survived on baked potatoes .
After all the pension issues were finally sorted out i made my way back to India in October .
My nephew Eric came with me and spent a few weeks in Chennai .
He took some nice photos of Kottivakkam and surrounding areas .
to be continued …
22.9.2016 a year with my Mum
So we are about the end of 1983 . Having spent the major part of the year at my mothers place a following my fathers passing , i am back in Chennai and resuming the usual activities . During my absence Herbert kept the house going .
Cant remember nothing of note so we fast forward to the beginning of 1984 .
Early that year i must make another trip to San Francisco for to take care of some personal stuff .
As usual i take the train to Bombay and fly from there to Europe . Of course i stop over for a few days at my mother’s place . At that time my younger sister gets engaged to a guy from Pakistan , so i get to interact with him and his other Pakistani friend . He gives me an audio cassette of Nusrat Fateh Ali and i discover his Qawwali music fro the first . time .
Then on to San Francisco for about a month . I return to Madras Via Paris around April and i am pleasantly surprised to see KVN mama and family receive me at Madras airport . They had requesteted some Ambassador car owning rasika to drive them to the Airport and to drop me back home in Kottivakkam .
Come the month of May and i sat again for the Sangeetha Vidwan Course Exam . THis second time around i somehow manged to pass it . My examiners were Vairamangalam Lakshminarayana and maybe VR or RV Krishnan . As a main piece i sang a song in Karahara Priya Maal Maruganei Nineidu manamei ,along with ragam talam pallavi .
Later that year around July i traveled again to France to attend my sisters marriage that took place in august . A we had now a Pakistani Punjabi son in law we were introduced to the thick and earthy Punjabi chappatis .
I returned after that to Madras .
to be continued .
29.9.2016 I pass Sangeeta Vidwan Course….finally
So here we are about mid 84 . having at last succeeded in passing the final Sangeetha Vdhwan course exam . i travel to Paris to attend my younger sisters marriage . The groom is a Punjabi Pakistani .That takes place in August . In September i am back home in Chennai and back at the usual occupations , driving KVN mama across town and running errands for the family and various other activities .
Around that time KVN mama gets invited to San Diego State University as a Fulbright professor and leaves for the us for a one year stint . The whole thing is arranged by Bob Brown , who at that time had been appointed as head of the music dept . So KVN mama M Padma Mami and Anuradha leave for San Diego .
Time passes and now we are at the beginning of 1985 .
At that time i need to travel again to the US for personal business . So in Jan 85 i take off for San Francisico , via Paris as usual.
After some short weeks in Paris i reach San Francisco . I spend a few days there and then on to San Diego .
At San Diego Bob Brown receives me at the airport and soon after that he takes me to KVN.s apartment on Winona avenue off El Cajo Blvd .
Back with the family . So i am now back with the family . the Winona Avenue place a is a two bedroom apartement . KVN was able to negociate with the land lord and bring the rent down from $ 700 to $ 500
Initially Trichur Narendran and his new bride Jyothi stayed with KVN and family in the flat but by the time i got ther they had moved to their own separate place on Alta dena Street , a one bedroom apt .
During the San Diego stay we got to meet and interact with the local South Indian music lover community both in San Diego and Los Angeles . beside taking classes at SDSU
mama took private classes so the Winona Ave flat was very busy with visits and music classes . It was at the time that we first met 16 year Srivatsan . He soon began to accompany KVN
mama in weekly house concerts both in and around San Diego and Los Angeles .
During that time we also made the acquaintance of Prof lance Nelson and also of Riazaldi Siagian , an MA student from Indonesia who took classes from KVN as part of his masters in Ethno-musicology . He picked up very well and sang a mini Carnatic Music concert as part of his final exams .
now one small anecdote : by 1985 i had already been learning from KVN for about 11 years , since 1974 . There was a Thyagaraja Aradhana Function somewhere i Los Angeles and i sang there .
When we got back home to San Diego , KVN mama told me ( referring to my singing ) ” I am happy ” .
KVN and family stayed in San Diego till about June 85 the returned to India at the end of the one year Fulbright Professorship stint .
before we continue let me me mention another family tragedy .
One day at the Winona apartment some puja was going on an the fire alarm went off due to smoke from the incense . Right then and there we get a frantic phone from madras .
Lakshman Rao , KVN brother in law and husband of Padma mami’s younger sister Sashi , had just succumbed to a brain hemorrhage stoke .
Anyway after they left i stayed on in San Diego for another month or so and then i left for San Francisco .
to be continued
5th Nov 2016 a bit about KVN and Winona Ave
Before we move on the time line , let us return for a moment to the home life at KVN’s apartment on Winona Avenue in San Diego .
During the San Diego stay , the home had a constant and regular stream of visitors from the southern California South Indian music lovers . Some availed of the presence of KVN to,learn a couple of songs from him , that too mostly ladies (see note below), among them I recall Shubha Narayan and Radhika Ramani . Ramani was an old acquaintance of KVN and we had known him since the Berkeley days . He had brought his slim brand new bride Radhika to the Berkeley college ave flat back in 74.. He often came down from LA to vist is in San Diego and also had taken some video footage of the Winona Flat residents .
Fast forward 10 years and the Ramani family lives ( in 85 ) in Fullerton , they have two kids . We also visit them once in a while and stay over night when in LA .
They had a swimming pool and i remember KVN washing his dhoti dhobi style on the edge of the swimming pool .
The other frequent visitors were religion Prof Lance Nelson and his mother , who was a British war bride.
She drove a stick shift small Honda and complained a bout it not being automatic . She got along well with Padma mami and helped her dye her hair once , actually that was the same day that we had gotten the tragic news about Lakshman Rao . ( cerebral haemorrhage )
The local south Indian rasikas had lent household articles to furnish the apartement and all of these were returned to their respective families in June 85 when KVN keft back to India .
Another incident that happened the was that Anuradha , who was 16 yrs at that time had injured herself by hitting the sharp corner of a table and that had injured her abdominal area and other internal organs . Medical attention was sought . She is now about 48 yrs ( as of 2016 ) and doing quite well in the the field of Tamil TV serials . More on Anu later .
I cannot remember all the South Indians who came to the Winona Ave apartment . All were well to do professionals and we visited all their home now and then One of them was a scientist at tthe Scripps Institute in La Jolla and he took us to visit his laboratory I cannot remember his name but Padma mami had a nick name for him , Namely ” La Jolla lobi ” ( cheap ). A his home he played for us an LP of Madurai mani Iyer and KVN remarked about the swara singing ” idu ellam sarva laghu ” ( this is all sarva laghu ) We also interacted with other non south Indian desis who where involved with the center for world music , Among them Purna Patnaik and one Trikanad who hosted KVN concert in his home , Kashmiri politician and Sanskrit scholar Karan Singh was present at that event , which was a Sai Baba Thusrday meeting . The percussion accompaniment was provided by a Tabla player . . Among the south Indian San Diego locals there were the Ranji Rao family . who were Thanjavur Marathis and the Raji Anantha family , who has a son named Akhilan., a high school senior at that time . His mom Raji drove a spacious station wagon Peugeot 504. They were pukka Tamilians . I recall how she spoke about Akhilan going to the high school,prom and all that he needed for that .
We also interacted with some Srilankan Tamils , one boy called Dayalan and also Raja Mahendra who helped Narendran and Jyothi during medical emergencies . There was also an event in support of the Srilankan Tamil community and we had attended that . Raja Mahendra lives now in LA . We keep in touch and visit is large home in Eagle Rock area of LA once in a while .
At that time Jyothi Narendran was pregnant with her first child and she almost had a near miscarriage and had to be hospitalized . Because of that emergency Narendan was unable to accompany KVN at a concert at UC Irvine and Frank Bennett , Geeta Bennet’s husband played instead and indeed did an impressive job . That was around may 85 .
Jyothi recovered and gave birth safely in India a couple of months later .
The kid Vishnu is now married and a parent also 🙂
Also Jeff London a student from 74 in Berkeley has come down from the Bay Area to spend some days with us . I remember he spray painted blue a metal Box containing some household items that were to be shipped by sea back to Chennai . He had come India with his bicycle ( in the plane )
More about the San Diego scene later
NOTE: Music is an intrinsic part of South Indian family life especially with the ladies and when a famous musician is in town they will use whatever excuse they can find to try and get some guidance or free lessons!
Many male Carnatic musicians had huge female followings and both G N Balasubramaniam and Dr M Balamurali Krishna come to mind. The ladies just never left them alone from what I’ve been told and of what I observed in my ten year stay in Chennai with my music teachers. (Admin)
11.12.2016 More about San Diego
Before we go on a little bit more about the San Diego days .
As i mentioned earlier KVN ‘s flat on Winona Ave had many visitors both from the San Diego and Los Angeles areas . some were new acquaintances while others had know the family for some time .
All household items had been graciously lent by the local rasikas and each and every item was returned to the respective families when the teaching stint at SDSU ended around June 85 .
A special mention to Ramani and his wife Radhika , whom we had known as a newly married couple in Berkeley back in 74 . By 1985 they had two children , Siddharth and Sangeetha , and lived in the Fullerton area of Los Angeles .
Ramani frequently came to to San Diego to visit . He had a big brown full size American car and would take us to the supermarket to get KVN’s favorite ginger ale and Martinellis sparkling apple juice .
Other visitors were Narayan and his wife Shubha Narayan , also from the Los Angeles area . One song KVN taught the ladies was “Gurulekha etuvanti dhuniki “
While in San Diego also i took up a small job in downtown San Diego so i had some pocket money to buy sesame halva and dates from a nearly middle easter store .
At home ready made Mexican wheat tortillas were consumed instead of chappaties to go along with Mami’s cooking . I provided fruit and avocadoes .
At the end of 85 the family vacated the apartment and returned to India , i saw the off at the airport .
So i stayed back in San Diego . Bob brown was leaving town to India and other places for a couple of years on a Fulbright program so i house sat his home in La Mesa for a couple of months .By that time i had bought
a 1968 Plymouth Valiant fro Rizaldi Siagian who had also completed his Masters degree and was returning to Indonesia with his family .
Before leaving Bod brown had also made some arrangements to lease his house from July onward to a lady from the University , whose name i cannot recall , i think she was the lady friend of Kurt Bouterse , one of the staff at the music dept faculty .
So at the end of July i left San diego to go to san Francisco .
in the next episode : Adventure and mishap on freeway 101 North …
To be continued .
22.12.2016 I buy an Oldsmobile
After the family left San Diego by June 85 i stayed on for a couple of months , house sitting Bob Brown’s home on Shade street in La Mesa . I had the house to myself till the end of July when Bob Brown who had left town on an extended Fulbright
grant to conduct research in India , had rented the house to some lady who worked at SDSU .
By the end of July i left San Diego en route to San Francisco .
So i loaded my small personal belongings in the 1968 Plymouth Valiant i had bought from Rizaldi and took freeway 101 North .
About 100 miles or so before San Francisco, my car broke down , melted pistons ( forgot to check the oil levels ) . I was near an off ramp , As i push the car up the ramp it somehow escaped me and ends up in the ditch .
I manage to bet a tow truck from someplace nearby and i get towed to a garage . The car is beyond repair . The Mechanics had a car for sale laying around and after two or three hours delaing with the situation i end up byuing
that car , a big Oldsmobile . So i arrive in SF around 11 pm instead of the planned 6 pm.
There i am welcomed by my old friend Mark Middlebrook and i stay in his house for a couple of weeks , on the good old couch that i knew so well from previous stays at his place on Albion Street .
At that point of time i had a one year return ticket to Europe so i could stay in SF for a few more months .
Another old friend gives me a job and i stay in SF till the end of November , house hoping from one friend’s house to the other .
My Flight back to Europe has a stop over in Minneapolis ( British Caledonian Airlines ) .
As i wanted to visit an old family friend in Wisconsin , upon reaching Minneapolis i take the train to Milwaukee . My friend picks me up at the train station and off we go to their large family home
by a lake in the country side . Of course it is winter and there are 3 feet of snow outside , The lake is frozen and people drive on it .
After spending Thanksgiving there i take the train back to Minneapolis and from there the plane to Brussels .
To be continued ..
29.12.2016 I perform in Paris for my Scholarship
So here i am waiting at the Minneapolis airport . It is long wait as my train from Milwaukee arrived way before my scheduled departure for Brussels . I while away the time reading a big book ( the strand )
Upon reaching Brussels i take the train to Paris . It is about the last 10 days of Dec 85 .
At Paris i quickly go thru the formalities of re – applying for the Indo French Cultural exchange scholarship . Somehow or the other i mange to get all the paperwork done .
Unlike the first time back in 79 , when paper work and various certificates and recommendations were enough to get the scholarship this time all the applicants have to actually present a performance in their chosen field .
So at the beginning of January 86 i have to give a small concert in front of a panel of local French and Indian experts of Indian music . This took place at th e : Centre Mandapa ” a small venue in Paris that held regular music and dance performances by both visiting and local Indian artistes .
Of course i have no other accompaniement than my faithful old sruthi box that was gifted to me by KVN upon reaching Madras back in Oct 75 . (i still have it )
So as i am singing ( no mike ) i see a few heads bobbing in the audience .
The following morning i get a phone call from Malavika , She informs me that the panel has unanimously selected me . Good news , so my return to India is assured in a few months .
At that time also Bob Brown was more or less stuck in Pris while awaiting his visa for India , The problem being that he was going to take some kind ox Xray equipment so that caused some type of red tape delay with the indian government .
So we used to meet often in Paris . He stayed at a hotel near Place de Clichy . We also visited Nageshwara Rao and had some Miso soup at his place .
A few days after the scholarship interview a gentleman called Steve Leclerc , who had been sitting at the panel , called me to get some singing classes. he was a sitar player . So i used to go to his place and give him basic singing lessons for some time .
I had a few months to spend in Paris before returning to India , so i gave a couple of concerts in paris . The first one was of course at Centre mamdapa and that was on 15 March 86 . I had somehow managed to find a Mridangam player , a chap from Pondicherry called Nadin Dhanaraj . His day job was museum guardian . . No violin .
Then august came along . The Indian Embassy issued me new student visa and gave me a one way plane ticket to Bombay on Air India .
to be continued .
16.1.2017 More about Kotivakkam and my friends
So we are in August 86 . Time to return to India on the second Indo French Cultural Exchange program . The paris Indian Embassy issues me a fresh student visa and a one way ticket to Bombay on Air India . Upon reaching Bombay i am met by the local ICCR people . They take me to their office and give me a first class train to Madras and also if i remember well a one month scholarship stipend advance of Rs 700 . Rs 100 more than the previous scholarship rate . As i have a few hours befor entraining to Madras i make a quick vist to some family friends in Chembur , a Bombay suburb mostly populated by South Indians .
Upon Reaching Madras i am met by the local ICCR people and they drop me at my home in Kottivakkam . There i find that our house has an added floor built during my time away from India .. The house owner agree to rent it to us as well and the rent is now up from Rs 400 to RS 1000 . During my time away Herbert kept the house going . Regarding the upstairs addition , our house owners had left a large space in the back empty in order to eventually build another small house for close relatives . In that space i had avery nice green lawn put . I somehow convinced them to built a second floor on the existing house instead and the garden was left untouched . Very nice house owners .
So i am back home in good old kottivakkam . My faithful Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle is there waiting for me . Herbert was using it in the mean time
A i have to be in some institution for the scholarship i am directed to the Kalakshetra foundation . There Sri Rajaram the principal interviews me and admits me in the third year singing class of Vairamangalam Lakshminarayana .
Sometimes i attend Chellam Iyengar’s class . After one year or so Rajaram asks me to teach some classes for beginners , as part of my training . We also sometimes attend d Pasupatti’s class. He was a volubile talkers and the major part of the class time was taken by him talking about various subjects not always related to music 🙂
During that time of course i became friends with both students and teaching and non teaching staff . Pakkala Ramdas on the violin and TR Sundaresan on the Mridangam often accompanied me during small concerts here and there , and Anil Kimar too sometimes as well as Srinivasan on the mridangam and violin .
The Rs 700 hundred monthly stipend was regularly paid by the office unlike the previous time at music college where i would get it irregularly .
Seing the modest financial plight of the French scholars due to the low amount of the Indian monthly stipend , the French Embassy in New Delhi would once in a while surprise us with us with additional amounts of several thousand Rupees .
Of course during all that time i am a regular visitor at KVN ‘s home as a detached family member and doing with him here and there both within Madras and South India on concert tours .
At Kalakshtera the principal Rajaram would often entrust me with guiding foreign visitors thru the campus . 1986 was the year of India in France and the French Embassador and his wife came and i gave them the campus tour . We offered the fresh coconut water .
Rajaram’s name original name was Raja Rao . He was the grandson of Mysore Vasudevachar . he also took singing classes once in a while .
During that time i also became good friends with V Ramnarayan who is now the Sruti Magazine editor , and his wife Gauri Ramnarayan . We were neighbors in the Tiruvanmiyur/ Kottivakkam ” Bermuda Triangle ” and i would often at their place for dinner .
Ramnarayan and i enjoyed sharing jokes . ( i remember most of them ) . I also visited Gauri’s mother Anandi Ramachandran’s home and interacted with all their other family members .
among many other friends i used to also often meet with late Hamsadwani Ramachandran whom i already knew since the days he lived on Mandavelli street and worked at the Hindu newspaper .Fast forward a few years tin the mid nineties he was kind enough to arrange my concert at Hamsadwani Sabha .
At the Kottivakkam house during that time my house mates were Herbart Land , Young Doddagadahalli Balakrishnan from Mysore , leter joined by Krihnan Nair from Durban South Africa . He later also brought inViji Balkrishnan and Lavina Govender also from Durban .
. Also Krishna Devanadan from Kalakshetra , who occupied the upstairs portion , that was previously also sometimes occupied by my friend Priscilla Wong from Berkeley .
My good friend Radhakrishanan Pillay from Johannesburg South Africa used to also visit with his wife Usha and their son Niranjan .
more on that period in the next episode ,,,,,
27.1.2017 About Kalakshetra
So we are around august 86 I am back in India . I attend daily classes at Kalakshetra . Vairamangalam Laskminaryana classes are very interersting , we are a small group in this class , he is a very sincere and humble person . He choses nice songs in interesting ragas and the class atmosphere is relaxed yet productive .
Now one word about the Kalakshetra Foundation.
Kalakshetra ( place / abode of arts) is basically and offshoot of the theosophical society . it is the brain child of Rukmini Devi Arundale and her huband Dr George Arundale . The initial campus was on the grounds of the Theosophical Society in Adyar . A large plot of land was later purchased by the seaside in Tiruvanmiyur . It is the present location of the campus .
I had met Rukmini Devi a few years before actually coming to Kalakshetra as a scholar , thru KVN , and i already knew some of the teachers and others there .My younger sister Rendja had attended singing classes there in the early. eighties during her stay in India.
Now one small anecdote . During my in house Gurukulam days at KVN’s home . in had acted upon a pending desire to learn Kathakali . So , let us say around 1977 , i used to sneak out of KVN’s home in the hot early afternoons and make my way by bicycle all the way from Mandavelli to Tiruvanmiyur to take Kathakali classes . My teachers were both Raman Kutty and Janardhanan. This went on for maybe a couple of months after which i stopped going due to scheduling issues .KVN never found out about this .
Anyway the rest of the 1986 year went on smoothly .
more later .
18.02.2017 I meet French Prime Minister and Sivaji Ganesan
We are still in the later part of 1986 . At the Kottivakkam house ( 14 Karpagambal Nagar ) all is well . going to Kalakshetra regularly . The year goes by and we land in 1987
As usual almost every Sunday i host large lunch party , lots of good fun is had and the whole group often ends up at the nearby beach afterwards. At that time we had a large group of friends from different countries and we would all gather at my place on Sundays . There were the Palestinian students , who were able to come study in India with Jordanian passports , a bunch of Sudanese , Nigerian , Persian ect . On the European side , the french scholarship holders, , most of them Bharata Natyam students . and others from different countries .
We used to be good friends with the German consul , whose house was nearby and who would invite us to diplomatic parties in % star hotels . Once the former French prime minister Raymond Barre came to Chennai and a gathering was held at the Adyar boat house club . I went along with my friend the German consul and i met Mr barre as well as Sivaji Ganesan and his son Prabhu . both were quite short . I spoke to Sivaji in tamil and his reaction was not so good ( no respect for Tamil).
Later on a couple of years later friendship with the French consul paid off when i had to get a visa for my new bride.
more later …
26 Feb 2017 ……….a small flashback
before we go on , a small flashback to 1985 ,
After completing the SanDiego teaching stint in June , KVN and family went back to India.
I house sat Bob Browns house for a couple of months and by the end of July i left for sanFrancisco . the car mishaps on the way have already been described earlier .
Dring the 6 month stay in the San Francisco Bay area , i paid a visit to Srivatsan’s parents home in San Jose . Later in August my very first convert in the US was arranged at a community plave in Berkeley called Ohana , Srivatsan accompanied me on the violin and Doug Vurek on the mridangam.
Srivatsan had just completed high School and has just joined UCB ( University of California Berkeley ) as a freshman , so he lived in Berkeley . Now one word about Doug Vurek . Doug had spent a few years in India during the late sixties , in order to avoid the Vietnam military draft . Dyring that time he became a student of Palghat Mani Iyer and stayed with him in Kerala . He then spent a few years in Paris till the late seventies . I had first met him in Paris in 78 at sitar hose concert held at Malavikas place . The musician was a Nepali guy called Narendra Bhataju .
After the draft amnesty was pronounced he finally returned to the US in 79 .and worked as a clerck at San Francisco city hall . We has reconnected in SF during my previous stay there in 79 .
Srivatsan’s parents attended the concert and presented me with a bouquet .
Now back to early 1987 . Well settled back in Madras and attending classes at Kalakshetra besides my usual detached family member activities at KVN’s place . Arounf may i had a Motorcycle accident while returning at night from Pondicherry . That caused a fractured elbow . the surgery was done by DR Srivivasan in Mandavelli . i has to spend a few days at the clinic . The cost of the surgery was borne by KVN . I reimbursed him later . I had a metal pin put in my elbow . that was removed a fre years later in Paris .
late that year I san at Ludwigs rooftop place in Tiruvanmiyur and also a couple of times at the Chitrarangam that was built on the exposition grounds .
more later …
19 March 2017 ………..Georges Lindenmeyer
Before we go on a few words about now departed French friend and musician Georges Lindenmeyer .Georges was an independently wealthy person , we had first met at the beginning of 1980 thru our American friend Emily Mayne ( more about her later ) . Georges had come to Madras with his wifw Margareth and their son Xuan , who was about 5 years old at that time. They had rented a very spacious ground floor portion of avery large home in Gandhi Nagar , Adyar . Georges was just starting to learn the violin under V.Lashminarayana , father of the famous brothers L .Shankar and L.Subramaniam . he also owned a very cute home , a separate house right in the middle of Paris .
There while in Paris he often hosted visiting Indian musicians , both from north and south .
His wife Margareth was half Vietnamese and was a former French movie actress . She had a son , Balthazar from a first mariage with famous French actor late Pierre Clementi . She also began taking Carnatic singing music classes , and Xuan also began violin classes. Georges had a special violin made for him that had sympathetic strings . After a few years in Madras , in the mid eighties he moved to Calcutta to learn Hindustani Violin under VG Jog . We used to meet in Madras as well as in Paris . After some years he and Margareth separated and some years later he married a Bengali Lady called Kabita . He interacted with many north indian musicians . We got to meet and attend concerts of the Pakistani fater and son duo Salamat Ali Shafakath Ali Khan . Salamat used to sing earlier with his brother Nazakath Ali Khan. The two had taken the Indian music scene by storm in the late sixties , early seventies . Amazing singers .
some years later after my marriage Georges visited our home near Paris , along with pandit VG Jog and young tabla player Shubhen Chatterjee . I believed we all had french semolina uppuma.
Shubhen Chatterjee is now a senior tabla player on the international scene , we meet in LaA about every two years and i get to interact with some senior Hindustani musicians .
Georges passed away a few years ago at around 70 years . His son Xuan is about 42 now . he lives in the cute family home in Paris , he has a couple of kids and still plays music.
14 April 2017 ……..I sell my Enfield Bullet
Here we go again . So the timeline finds us in 1987 . After the motorcycle accident that happened in may , and the surgery performed by DR Srinivasan in his Mandavelli clinic , i spend time recovering at home in my little cute home . Besides the broken elbow , some lingering muscle pain takes time to go away . it is a time of usual social life with many friends visiting.
Now a word about KVN’s brother on law Kannan .
Kannan is Padma mami’s brother . He had gotten married to a girl called Radha back in Nov 1980.
He worked for TVS for some time before working for his brother in law Lashsman Rao who has started his own company after having worked for Dunlop.
Laksman Rao was the husband of Padma mai younger sister Sashi .
After Lakshman Rao’s tragic demise in 1985 , Kannan found himself unemployed and unable to support his wife and two small daughters .she has to temporarely return to her parents home and supported herself by working as a school teacher .
So in the mean time Kannan was sometimes staying at KVN’s place and helpling with various errands . He ended up coming to stay with me and was present in my home during 1987 .
He had a good sense of humor and a good singing voice . He like singing bollywood songs and had a fair grasp of Carnatic singing as well .
He was also mischievious and had dropped out of secondary school when younger. So he was staying with me .
At that time Our friend Priscilla Wong from San Francisco/Berkeley was occupying the upper portion of our house . and we ofter shared vegetarian noodles . One time ihad gooen from her a 10 dollar bill in anticipation of a need for emergency pocket money in Europe . Tha Bill i had kept in the drawer of my desk .It had vanished from there shortly thereafter and i came to know somewho tht the culprit was Kannan . When i told this to KVN his comment was ” aada paavi ” !
Anyway to make a long story short , Thru the help of some influential people known to KVN , Kannan was eventually sent to work in Oman and was able to later one bring his family there and renew with some level of relatively dignified prosperity. he lived there many years and then returned to India , with his family .
Anyway , so after the accident i decided to sell the Enfield Bullet motorcycle . , that i had nicknamed Paysa nashini on account of the high maintenance expenses it occurred .The other nickname was ” Petrol mardini ” on account of high fuel consumption . That was sold for about Rs 11k . There afyer i only got around by public transport .
After i recovered i made a trip ro France around august that year .
more later …
19 April 2017…………………..Krishnan Nair
So here we are about mid 1987, I am at home recovering from the motorcycle accident.
Around August that year i make trip to france . That was possible thanks to the scholarship supplement ( about Rs 8000 ) sent
by the Embassy in New Delhi . Stopping for a few days In Bombay , i attend the marriage of a family friends daughter .
This time i stay with my good friend Balamani who has a place in Matunga . Balamani is a good friend from Bombay . He works fro Unicef and i get to visit his office in the Churchgate area .
His daughters are Gayatri and Ranjani , who are now doing well on the Carnatic Music scene . At that time the girls were
i primary school and around 10 or so years old . I attended their concert in LA many years later . They remembered me very well and thru them i was able to get back in touch with their father , whom i later met again in Chennai during my last visit there in january 2010 .
So i fly to france from Bombay on Iberia airlines . There is a one day stop over in Madrid with a free hotel night , so i get
walk around Madrid for one day and also attend a Flamenco performance in a restaurant , that was part of the ticket deal .
So i arrive in France bringing with me tambura made from scratch for me by talented wood worked and instrument makes Mukul Mishra
. Very fine workmanship . More about Mukul later.
Mukul is avery goof friend and he enjoys a good joke. I met him during my last visit to Chennai in 2010 .
I stay in France for about one month or so then back to madras via Madrid .
Upon retuning to Madras i find that Krishna Nair has added two people to the household during my absence , Viji Balarishnan and Lavina Govinder , both from Durban South Africa .
More later .
23 April 2017…………..French Embassy
Around September 1987 , back from Annual visite to France thanks to the extra scholarship money sent by the French Embassy .
Resuming activities at Kalakshetra . Besides regular classes i am also entrusted by the principal to teach some beginners .
Before the trip to france around April that year Ludwig Pesch had me give a concert in his rooftop place in Tiruvanmiyur , My friends
Pakkala Ramdas on the Violin and Sundareshan on the mridangam were kind enough to accompany me .
I also latter that year had Ludwig Give a flute concert on the lawn of our house and a good time was had by all .
So we move on the the following year , more of the same is going on , and as usual going to KVN’s place now and then .
The Sunday lunch get togethers are going on every week , lots of friends attend , all students from many countries , Palestine , Somalia , Ethiopia
Yemen , France , Germany ect
more later .
1 May 2017…………….Colombo
So we are at the beginning of 1988 . Our very kind Keralite house owners Narayani Kutty and Goplala Menon are about to retire and they wish to move to the house in Kottivakkam . I had been their happy tenent for seven years . So we have to move . We find a nice place in nearby Srinivasapuram . It does have a backyard garden and sea view from the terrace , it is not as cute as the previous house but not too bad either .
So for the next couple of years 9 Srinvasapuram is my home . The same house mates are transported to the new house as well . The owner i a an Iyengar guy , he agrees to rent me the place after careful enquiry and warm recommendation from Sadakath Bhai of MM stores 🙂
The rent is Rs 1500 .
one word about MM stores . It is our provision store , i have an account there and i pay every month . all purchases are entered in a small notebook . It is situated on the main road , now known as ECR ( East Coast Road ) and of course walking distance from the house .
During 1998 more of the same routine , Attending Kalakshera and Visiting KVN’s home . That summer i amake another trip to France , thanks again to Scholarship boosting funds from the French Embassy . This time i travel with Air Lanka > at Colombo Airport there is a small sanaffu and i cannot get on the Paris flight . I end up taking the Frankfurt flight and then traveling from there to Paris by train .
Another month or so in Paris and it is back to Madras . On the return journey we arrive at Colombo in the erly morning , the flight to MMadras is not till the evening so i get a chance to leave the airport and do some sight seeing . i make my way to nearby Negombo beach in the morning and the afternoon is spent waking around downtown Colombo . I notice the topography is very much similar to Kerala , red eaet and plenty of coconut rees .
The local Muslins are tamil speaking . I buy avocadoes ( butter fruit ) . in the evening i get back to Madras .
Next episode : my marriage .
to be continued …
9 May 2017……………….another flashback!
Before we tag along in the time line , a little flash back to 1977 . That year we had traveled to Calcutta , my first ald so far last visit to that city so far . We strayed at the home of one Vembu Iyer . They had a large double flat that was put together by joining two flats .
Of course i walked around Calcutta a little bit . I rememeber the Howrah bridge ect .
One of the young family members there , by the name of Kasinathan mentioned that some other relatives were at that time working in my birth hometown in Algeria .I got their address and ended up visiting them the next year during my visit there . They had a large villa in the Sidi Mabrouk neighborhood . All we engineers and maybe a couple of families were staying there . It was Deepavali time and they has lights all over the place . I had my sruti box with me and some music was made. They knew my aunts husband , who was a nurse and they called him Dracula on account of him having taken their blood samples during general health check ups .
I later met the same people again in Chennai a few years forward .
Now back to 1988 This year finds us in our new residence at No 9 Srinivasapuram . An eventful year marked by various personal events that belong to a different chapter on this present life journey .
As mentioned earlier a trip to France was taken flying Air Lanka .
Towards the end of that year thru some common acquaintances i met the person who was to become my life partner .
To be continued .
10 May 2017 …………..the late 70s
Before we tag along further in the timeline , let us go back a few years to the late seventies . As i menioned earlier , After KVN mama married Padma mami , he somewhat became estranged with his side of the family . He however remained close to his cousin Ranganathan . Ranganathan was at that time living in Jamshedpur , Bihar and working at the Tatanagar steelworks . In spite of being and Iyer , he liked to weat a Krishna tilak on his forehead. So maybe towards the end or sometime in 1976 , we traveled to jamshedpur for some concert and stayed with Ranganathan and his family in their jamshedpur home . Now i recall it must have been probably towards the end of the year as the weather in North India gets a little bit cold during the winter . I got to have a glimpse of domestic North Indian family life by visiting the family neighbors
amthe way the lady of the house pronounced the word ” theek ” ( good ) with a good emphasis on the H . we also had a sample of the neighbors cooking .
Another memory is the trip to Calcutta , i an mot sure if that was at the same time or if that had taken place later in the next year . I do remember that the train went thru Orissa and that masala dosa was available on board in the restaurant wagon .
In Calcutta we stayed in the home of one Vembu Iyer . That home consisted of two flats put together so it was quite spacious . One of the younger relatives there who was about my age , called Kasinathan mentioned that some uncle of his was presently posted in my home town in Algeria . I got their address . I Visited them there the following year during my 1978 trip to Algeria .
Of Calcutta i remember walking around and buying some small yellow bananas . Kasinathan saw us off at the Howrah train station .
Now one word about the Uncle working in Algeria .
many Indian doctors and engineers had gone there at the behest of the Algerian government to help out with technical expertise in various fields that particular relative was an engineer and was helping the setting up and running of a machine tool factory in my birth hometown Constantine .
So during my visit there in the fall of 1978 i visited them . The had rented a large villa in the Sidi Mabrouk neighborhood and if i recall well a couple of families were sharing the villa . They knew my maternal aunt husband and had nicknamed him Dracula on account of he being a nurse and having taken their blood samples during health check ups
It was Deepavali time and they had small lights on as per Hindu custom . My faithful sriti box was with me and some sining was done .
I met them again in Chennai some years . later.
Now back to the later parts of 1988 .
as mentioned earlier a trip to France was taken and aournd september or October i was back in Chennai , via Colombo with Air Lanka.
Around November of that year , and thru some common acquaintances , i met the person who was soon to become my legally wedded spouse .
More about that in the next episode ! 🙂
21 May 2017……………..Nandini
Here we come to the beginning of another life adventure chapter , as mentioned above , thru a succession of circumstances , in the final days of 1988, i met my soon to be spouse . After consultation with family elders and getting green light from varied aligned planets , on Friday 10 February 1989 , at the Muraga shrine of Kapalishwar temple in Mylapore , the Hindu part of the wedding process was done . A civil court marriage formality was also done a few days later at the Saidapet court . Our witnesses were my family friends S Raman and Minaskshi mami and our other friend Jean Paul Moreau , a teacher at Alliance Francaise .
Thus married life began at our No 9 Srnivasapuram house . None of the house mates bothered with gifts , except for Amar Singh who was visiting from Pondichery . Amar Singh from Durban South Africa was at that time studying medicine at Jipmer , Pondichery and was frequent visitor on account of his dating our house mate Lavina at that time . he is now a doctor in Durban and we are still in touch . He visited us here in Los Angeles with his wife and son a few years ago .
A few days later on a following sunday e reception was given in the garden of our Srinivasapuram house and a great many of my friends and family members from KVN side as well as in laws from wife side attended . KVN came with Trichur Narendran , riding on his motorcycle . Padma mami had a headache and did not come . The cooking was one by my mother in law and sister in law Sathya . A good time was had by all and musical contributions were done by a few friends and guests .
Among the friends who attended the reception let me mention my good friend Radhakrisnan from Johanesburg , and family , Ramnarayan and Gauri Ramnarayan , Babu Parameshwaran , Krishan Nair’s parents and Viji Balaskrishan ‘s parents who were visiting from South Africa , Balu from Madras University , Raghu , Ramaa and Anuradha from KVN side , and many dear others .
So i was now a married man , much to the affectionate amusement of Rajaram the Kalakshetra Principal .
to be continued
6 June 2017………………Final Year
So we are now around feb 1989 and i a now a married man . Life at the Srinivaspuram house continues . I cycle to Kalakshetra every morning , S Rajaram the principal has entrusted me with handling some junior singing classes and i learn more as i attempt to impart some musical knowledge to others . The boys in the class are rowdy in an affectionate way and give me playful hard time . Social life continues at home and many guests are entertained and a a general fun time is had by all .
After three or so months , the school year comes to a close , and so is my final third year of scholarship . So plans must be made to leave india fro some time . The Srinivasapuram house has to be closed . My new bride and i move to the house of our friend jean Paul Moreau in Kilpauk . He is leaving for a two month vacation in France as we get to stay at his house during his absence . It is nice Bungalow with all modern amenities and we have a comfortable stay there while making arrangements to travel to France .
Come July we bid a fond and emotional farewell to madras and leave for France , flying out of Bombay that we had reached by train . .
to be continued .
12 June 2017…………back to France
So after reaching Bombay by train we make our way to the Sahar airport The date was 1 july 1989 .. After some delay due due to excess luggage ( I had practically packed almost part of my home furniture ! ) , we finally board the Air India Flight to Paris . Our seat co passenger was one Mr Chacko , A Keralite christian and a senior executive of Bombay telephones , off to a conference in france . Much to his surprise we invited him to hour family home in the Paris suburbs and subsequently took him around sight seeing in Paris . We visited his home in Bombay about four years later upon our first return to India , with our two toddlers Sabri and Yogananda .
At the time of our move to France , better half Nandinee was a few months pregnant with our first child Sabri . At the time of
this writing he is 27 years old . We stayed at my mothers flat for a couple of months then moved to my sister’s flat , that was vacant , a few floors below in the same apartment building . Better wife got prenatal medical care thanks to the generous French health system . One fine day in August better half underwent a scan and my younger sister announced to me over the phone ” you are going to have a boy ! “
On the night of Tuesday 21 November better half water broke and in the early am hours we took a taxi ( my car was out of order due to melted pistons ) all the way from our suburban home to the Tenon Hospital in Paris . Sabri was born at 8:15 am on Wednesday 22 November 98 . I was present during the delivery .
Thus began the years of parenthood .
More later …
21 June 2017…………….Parenthood
So we are now at the end of November 89 . On Wednesday 22 November at 8:15 am , better half Nandinee delivers a healthy baby boy . Sabri makes his entry into our world . Better half spends a couple of days in the maternity and after that we take a taxi back home .
My car with melted pistons lays in coma in the garage , pending funds for repair . After many repair attempts , i end up getting an other engine from a scrap yard and it is mounted by a West African acquaintance , with much improvisation and ingenuity .
Now we have a baby , he is mostly breast fed , with occasional baby formula in the bottle . . Needless to say we are delighted and he becomes the main focus of our lives .
In the mean time , having recently come from many years living in India , i seek employment here and there by trying to market my musical art , with limited success . it is now winter in France .
We get to sometimes meet our French friends that we knew in india and generally stay in the Indian culture bubble .
In the suburb where we lived , there was an Indian grocery store ran by a gentlemen from Karaikkal , his mame was Mougamadou Sultane ( Tamil spelling for Mohamed Sultan ) . He was married to Vietnamese lady .
During colonial times , many Pondicherry indians settled in French Indochina and intermarried with Vietnamese women . . So besides indian groceries , he also carried tofu , soy sauce and other Chinese / Vietnamese groceries.
He had a few grown up sons working with in in the store and they all spoke Vietnamese and funny sounding Vietnamese accented Tamil .
So time passed and now we are in early 1990 .
To be continued .
28 June 2017…………….Parenthood cont….and V G Jog etc
So we are now in the first half of 1990 , we are now proud parents a baby boy . Better half takes hundreds of photographs of the baby .
As mentioned we are staying in my younger sister’s flat on the third floor , my bother is on the sixth floor and comes down often .
Our basic Indian grocery shopping is at the small store run by a Karaikkal muslim named Mougamadou Soultane ( Tamil speling for Mohamed Sultan ) he is married to a Vietnamese lady and has two or three sons helping in the store . They speak Vietnamese accented Tamil.
From there besides indian spices we also buy soy sauce and tofu . During the colonial days Both Pondicherry and Vietnam were French colonies .Many Pondichery Indians Settjed in Vietnam and married local ladies.
My friend Bruno Pellerin, a french fashion photographer , visits us on easter , bringing chocolates . I had met Bruno a few years back when he had visited Kalakshetra . He now ( as of 2017 ) lives in Brazil , since 5 or 6 years or more , having relocated there from Paris .
During the first month of our having moved to the USA in 1997 , he came to visit us in Los Angeles , with Magali, his girlfriend at that time .
That was in August 1997 .
During this same first half of 1990 , we also had the visit of our friend Georges Lindenmeyer , along with late Hindustani Violinist V G Jog and young tabla player Subhen Chatterjee .
More about Georges and Subhen later .
Another friend who visited us was Luc . Luc was from Belgium , we had known each other back in the early seventies in San Francisco . I found him while watching a TV program featuring a well known French singer called Maxime Leforestier . Maxime Leforestier had authore a song called ‘ La maison Bleue ” ( the Blue house ) that song was about a house in san Francisco . It was a huge hit in France . That TV program was about the French singer and he had invited all his old friend . So Luc was a common friend and that was how i was able to reconnect with him . ( i called the TV station and they gave me his number )
More later ..
Sri Lankan Tamils
Onwards on the time line . We are in about mid 1990 . Still settling in France , with a new baby in tow . The year goes by , we interact with various people , including some Sri Lankan Tamils .I am invited to present a couple of Carnatic Songs at one of their cultural events . i only have the faithful old sruthi box for accompaniment .
One word about the Sri Lankan Tamil community : In the late 70’s and early 80’s a steady flow of refugees / displaced persons of Sri lankan tamil origin began to arrive in many western European countries , including France . There was ( and still is ) a high level of solidarity among them and they soon got well organized and etablished various businesses and cultural associations and eventually Hindu temples as well .
We became friends with many Sri Lankan Tamil families and also helped them with various formalities and issues with the French administration . We also connected with some members of the Pondicherry Tamil community .
There was on family , called Lebonheur , who organized a weekly Sunday Hindu ceremony at some rented venue in Paris. One Iyer gentlemen who was posted at Paris Unesco used to officiate as the priest .
So moving right along 1990 . around September of that year , thru a friend we connected with a Pondicherry Tamil family and we moved from my sister’s flat to the ground floor portion of their house in a paris suburb called Longjumeau . We paid a very reasonable rent amount ( at that time 500 Francs ) in return for keeping an eye on the elderly Divien couple .
All their children were well educated and settled .
The Divien family were catholics and settled in France for many years .
We lived there for about one year till July 1991 .
During our residence there our second son Yogananda was born in February 1991 .
more about that later ..
Now we are in 1991 , we are living at Longjumeau , a suburb in the south of paris . Be are renting the ground floor of the Divien Family house . Yogananda is a few months old . Our green 1973 Mercedes 220 is fixed so we have wheels to go around . During that time used to give singing lessons to a teenager called Nicole Pereira. her mother was an acquaintance of Kalakshetra Anil Kumar ,and a Sri Lankan Tamil . The father was Singhalese and he worked for the Petrosian caviar company in Paris . I had met that family the previous year when Anil and sai Shankar ( of Kalkshetra ) has come to paris to accompany the Dance recital of Valli Subbaiah , a former Kalakshtra Bharata Nathyam alumni of Kalakshetra . The musician were hosted my Nicole’s mother and that is how we got to know that family .
Around July that year ( 1991 ) we moved out of the Divien family home .
The year 1991 went by , and we decided to go to America. So on 13 December we flew to Tower air to New York . In new York we were gracefully received at JFK airport by Latha and Micheal Fontana . we stayed at their Brooklyn home for a few days before leaving for Wisconsin by train .
More later .
to the USA!
At the end of 1991 , we take break from France and travel to the US .I have not been there since 1985 and this time i am with wife and children . We spend about three days in New York , at the home of Lathe and Michael Fontana . Latha ia relative of KVN . She is the sister in law of KVN’s eldest daughter Muktha . We know each other many years . The have a small home in Brooklyn and graciously host us . It is December and of course very cold . We do some sight seeing and visit the Empire State Building . We then leave by train en route to Wisconsin. A couple of days later we are met at the MIlwaukee train station by Mary Hayssen , a very old friend from the San Francisco days . Mary and her brother were adopted as toddlers by a childless millionaire . Mary inherited after her father’s passing and is very wealthy . She has moved back from California to take over the family dairy farm.
They had a very big house by a lake and we stayed there as their guests for about one month till the end of January 1992. The lake was frozen solid and people drove on it . We spent Christmas and New year with them .
USA…one year on..
One year in the USA
So we are at the beginning of 1992 . After spending Christmas and new year in the good company of my old friend Mary Hayssen ‘s large home by the lake , we leave Wisconsin en route to Southern California .
We buy and old style large American Oldsmobile and by the end of January we are on the road . After a three day interesting road trip we reach San Diego . We had taken the straight southern route from Chicago and
upon reaching the southern part of the country around Texas we head straight west towards sunny California . So we had left snowy Wisconsin for the warmer southern climate .
In San Diego we are welcomed by our old friend Dr Bob Brown in his nice home located in the La Mesa neighborhood of San Diego . I already knew the place well as i has stayed there for a few weeks back in 1985 .
There in San Diego we also reconnect with my old friend N.Muralikrishnan , from Madras University and his wife Rose . AT that time he was completing his masters in Ethnomusicology . Rose hs recently joined him with their
daughter Varshini who was about two years old at that time . They now live in Riverside near Los Angeles . We met them again in 1997 when we moved to California from Chennai .
more later .
Early life with KVN
We shall skip for now some events in the personal time line and revisit the days of my past life with KVN.
KVN mama , as he was affectionately called by disciples and others , was a simple man with exceptional talent .
As a young man he has undergone many struggles during his gurukula days under Aryakudi Ramanuja Iyengar . He used to recall these
days sometimes , but more often these memories were shared by other on his behalf for he was a very modest person .
As i mentioned earlier , he once had become discouraged and ran away from his Guru’s place the the ashram of Mahatma Gandhi in Gujarat .
Mahatma Gandhi told him ” go back to your guru ” and the rest is history .
Back in my very first days with him in Berkeley , in the fall of 1974 , one year before i had finally made my way to India , i used to more often than not stay
overnight in his flat on College avenue , a few block down the street from the Center for World Music building .
Mami used to often recall how one day i was giving KVN a massage and continued with the massage long after he has already fallen asleep .
I remember carrying whole boxes of oranges al the way from San Francisco , traveling in the newly opened BART metro ( Bay Area Rapid Transit )
.Sometimes i would carry the boxes on my head. We would then make fresh orange juice.
On incident i remember in this regard, i had just squeezed a glass of orange juice and before handing it to KVN , Mami or Anuradha , i had taken a sip .
Mami saw me and asked me never to do that again , and she then proceeded to explain to me about the concept of ” echal ” ( saliva ).
so one should not share saliva with others . Down the years later on in Madras Mami educated me on many aspects of both Music and hindu Customs .
At the times of Berkeley days , Anuradha was about 5 years old . She briefly attended school , possibly first grade and her teacher was called Mra Ong or Wong .
Anuradha called me uncle and would say ” uncle can you buy me a 5 Star ” ( i later found out that 5 Star was a common made in India Caddburry chocolate bar )
At that time Mami had never given a concert in India , but she did have some female students at Berkeley . One of them was called Roe Holbrook ( Roe ‘ fater was a famous actor )
Before the family left for India i think she bought Mami’s tambura . Another student of Mami was called Joan Lagi . She drove a pick up truck . She later made her way to Madras around 1979/1980 .
more later …
Jibbas and Veshtis!
Let us for a moment dwell again on memories of KVN .
More than a student teacher relationship , mine was more that of a fully integrated family member , and to this day i consider
KVN’s children as siblings and the larger family circle as my own . My late mother used to tease me by saying ” KVN your father “‘
KVN was a busy and popular musician and had regular concert schedules both with Madras and in the South Indian states and to a smaller
extant North India .
We very frequently traveled by overnight train to various destinations all over South India , and besides Tamil Nadu often to Kerala.
As i said KVN was often busy with many personal and professional activities and could spare little time to actually sit down and teach me .
When he would i was not always able to properly grasp as my voice and my mind where not as ready as they should have been.
KVN had a working but sometimes limited fluency in English . Fortunately i quickly caught up with sufficient Tamil so verbal communication was not a problem. My constant errand missions helped in getting a gradually working knowledge of the language .
When Bob Brown offered a teaching position at Wesleyan University to KVN back in 1965 , KNV said to him ” i do not know English very well “
to which Bob Brown replied ” you are not coming to speak , you are coming to sing “.
One time KVN was attempting to explain to me about sruthi alignment , he just drew a straight line with his finger on the door frame .
I understood that explanation many years later .
The very first song that he taught me and others a Berkeley was Mayatita Swarupini in Mayamalavagaula ( long word ! ) and the second one Sugunamule in Chakravakam ( also at Berkeley ) .
After i reached Madras we got on with some basic varnams and geetams whenever time and circumstances permitted .
Since my wardrobe of traditional clothes was limited at first , he gave me lots of his veshtis ( dhotis ) and Jubbas ( kurtas ) to wear .
I soon became a professional veshti wearer .
The overnight train journey were a full equipment production , with bed rolls and food containers . I did a lot of the carrying of course .
There was invariable haggling with the porters too 🙂
We would more often than not be met at the stations in the morning by local organizers and we would almost always stay at the family homes during our sojourn at the various towns , and treated to Tamil Iyer hospitality and assorted eatables and bakshanams . On occasion we would stay in hotels but most of the time at the homes of either relatives , rasikas or organizers .
KVN ( and Mami ) would never fail to mention my odd dietary habits to our hosts , with some degree of pride , a i was at that time super strict vegetarian . ( now too 🙂 )
more later .
We shall now briefly return to the 1976 stay in Bombay . We has taken temporary shelter in the flat of Mami’s elder sister Neela , for the duration of the recording project at NCPA ( National Center for performing Arts ) .
At that time Neela had recently been finally married just a few month back to one Chakravarti . He tolerated minimally tolerated my presence in the flat and arrangements were made for me to stay in a close by building , in the flat of another
scientist called Sathya Joshi . He was from Karnataka and also single so the had a spare room for me . The name of his building was ” Kapilavastu ” . Neela’s building was called ” Kamath “.There ( at Sathya Joshi’s place ) KVN would walk over daily to teach me . At that time i had embarked once more on a raw foods diet.
I would go to the nearby Chembur market and buy cabbage , sprouted chick and other peas ect . There as i was waking by i finally found out the real Indian name of a Bollywood movie that had been a huge success
in North Africa and other parts of the world during the mid fifties . The French name of the movie was ” Mangala , fille des Indes ” ( Mangala daughter of the Indies ) but people simply called the movie “Mangala “
So some one was playing that Movie’s music on a cassette recorder on a side walk by the Chembur station railway bridge . I of course recognized the music and asked what was the name of that movie . So i learned that it was called ” Aan “.
During my childhood the songs of that movie were immensely popular and the locals made up their own lyrics in the local language on the music of the songs . Many years later a family friend gifted me a an audio cassette of that movie and i used to play it in my car .
Now let us make a small time travel jump to 1993 . having returned to India after 4 year gap , we took up the upper portion of a home in Raja Garden , a closed compound belonging the the extended Nadar family , and of course , where else , in good old Kottivakkam .
Now back in India we pay frequent visits to KVN’s home . At the end of 1993 Anuradha got married . MS Subbulaskshmi sang at the wedding and Anuradha even got to join her on the stage for a couple of songs . The bride groom , Suresh Krishnamurthy . was an advocate
and a few years older than the normal average than her .
Let us for a brief moment take a small time travel jump back to 1971 . That was of course way before de beginning of my association with KVN .
At that time i was a recently arrived San Francisco resident . The one of the room mates at the place where i was staying was Lenny Goldstein
he worked as a taxi driver for Yellow Cab . He had an LP record player in his room and one of the records he owned was the LP of M S Subbulakshmi
concert at the United Nations. That was the very first time ever i had heard Carnatic Music . Little did i know that some years later i would go to her house .
Now back to our time line . At the end of 1993 Anuradha got married . As a kid she was very playful and mischievious . i used to take her to school and carry
her piggy back .
More later .
Badri turns One
Now we have entered 1994 . Better half is in the family way with our third child . On 13 April 1994 we take advantage of our one year return tickets to Paris on Syrian Air and leave for France .
One month later on 28 May 1994 we welcome our Third boy Badrinath AKA Badri Narayana . Unlike his two elder siblings who were born in the same Tenon hospital , Badri comes in to the
outside world at the Bichat hospital ( in Paris ) .
We shall quickly skip over the rest of that year as it has little to do with the main subject of this story .
Beginning of 1995 finds us back in Madras . We had closed down the place at 5 Raja Garden in Kottivakkam and returned to Chennai after an eight month gap .
So back in Chennai . The usual activities are resumed and we regularly visit KVN’s house . On 28 May we travel to Tirupati to celebrate Badri’s one year old birthday .
His head is shaven and his ears pierced as per , local tradition .
in India….Aishwarya Rai
We shall take a quick overview of the mid nineties , where the family is in Chennai . On a couple of occasions i am given the opportunity to give a couple of concerts ,
one of them organized by my old friend Ramachandran of Hamsadwani Sabha . My old friend Pakkala Ramdas kindly agrees to accompany me on the violin , both Anil Kumar
and TR Sundaresan also are kind enough to accompany me on the Mridangam on a couple of occasions.
After having returned from France in Feb 95 , she switch residence from 5 raja Garden to a separate house in near by Venhateshwara Nagar . There we have the whole house
to ourselves . The owner is one Subramaniam . After the move i upgrade the family transportation from bicycle to a car . From a dealer we find a 1965 Morris Oxford . It is black and later on i have it repainted
cream white . One year later we exchange it for an American 1955 Dodge Kingsway . That car gets us involved with movie director Mani Ratnam as he was also trying to buy it
to use as an important prop for a movie he was shooting .
We end up renting the car to them for Rs 3000 per day and after a couple of weeks of shooting the car had paid for itself. That experience gave us a close up glance
of the Tamil movie world and we go to socialize with actors Mohan Lal , Delhi Ganesh , Prakash Raj who was at that time a new comer , and Aishwarya Rai whose very first movie it was,
Little did we imagine then that we would be later working in the Hollywood movie industry .
in the year 1996 we arranged the marriage of Nandinee’s younger sister Shanti to Sundaragopal , a French Hare Krishna devotee . They now have two children and
share their time between France and Mayapur West Bengal where they own a flat .
Come 1997 we decide to move back to America and wind up all of our India operations .
We leave Chennai by train en route New Dehli on 20 April 1997 . In New Delhi we spend one week at the home of My brother in law , who at that tome wa sin the Indian army and was posted in
new Delhi .
During that week we do some sight seeing . on 27 April we fly out of Delhi en route to Paris via Moscow on Aeroflot .
In Moscow we are put up overnight in a hotel and look at Russia from the window only , not having visas .
to be continued .