Monday, September 09, 2013

An Incurable Romantic - Lakshmi Devnath

As an avid listener of Carnatic classical music, one can not but admire the virtuosity and the talent of some of the doyens of the last generation of musicians. The post independent India and the next 50 years thence, can be considered the golden era of Carnatic music. The art form saw unprecedented growth and popularity on one side, and a consolidation and structural optimisation on the other side, which later formed as the basis for the new generation of artists to expand. Numerous stalwarts, who made a mark in the art form enthralled the audience with their music and intellect both in vocal and instruments in this era. The later generations continue the tradition to lift the music to greater heights, giving the credit to the yesteryear musicians for paving the way. Though, vocal concert  dominate the musical field, and violin being the integral part of the vocal concert providing much needed support, be it in aligning the notes, or by filling up the silences or lifting the overall experience of the concert with apt interludes and meticulous following of the main artist. However, under the vocal concert arena, it always been a supporting instrument, and the violinist were accompanying artist limiting their ability to the main artist of the evening. It remain largely so, even in these times. There are, however, many violin concerts, giving the instrument an independent identity, in recent times, thanks to some of the hard work and "demand" put in by the earlier vidwans, especially Lalgudi, MSG andTNK , the three names that stood out from the rest in the fields. Having listened to numerous recordings of their accompanying the yesteryear stalwart, one always remained in awe of their virtuosity and their dedication. However, I always had a bias towards the accompaniment of Sri Lalgudi Jayaraman. It is this admiration of the artist, that prompted me to buy the book on the life and music of Lalgudi Jayaraman. Having read through the book, the respect has not diminished a bit, but have only increased. I haven't had the luck of listening to him accompanying any vocalist, and had only a couple of instance of listening to his violin concert live. But Lalgudi, always remain high in my musical listening experience.

Laksmi Devnath's book, does justice to the man in discussion. Written on the suggestion and request by the family members of the musician, she seems to have done adequate research on her 'subject' and the awe and admiration which one carry while talking about someone of his stature, is evident in the book. As in a typical biographical book, it starts with his forefathers and the lineage both musical ( from Thyagaraja ) and parental.  From Lalgudi Rama Iyer, great grandfather and a direct disciple of Thyagaraja to Valadi Radhakrishna Iyer ( one of the first in the field of Violin accompaniment in Carnatic Music ) to his father Lalgudi Gopala Iyer the direct connection to the trinity of Carnatic music is established. Lakshmi Devnath spends enough pages on these individuals and on the musical lineage who directly and indirectly shaped the musician in order to set the base to person and musician in Lalgudi jayaraman. Under the strict ( as one expect in the old Gurukula style of teaching) guidance and tutelage of his father and guru Pallavi Gopala Iyer, Jayaraman's learning was fast and meticulous. There was no place for silly games or other entertainment in the pursuit of perfection. Gopala Iyer continue to "fine tune" the music of his son, even after he has made a name for himself as one of the bright future in the carnatic music field.

Jayaraman, now started knowing under the prefix Lalgudi, had his god fatherly support from the Superstar of Carnatic Music, non other than GNB. GNB was partly responsible for his growth into a complete musician at a very young age. He had the privilege of accompanying most of the leading singers of the era, only to receive supporting gesture as well as the admiration of the public. A new star in the arena of carnatic music is arrived.  Lakshmi Devnath, spends a lot of time on specific incidents and anecdotes to support her findings before she moved on to the personal side of the musician. His wedding, the relation between the father and son ( Gopala Iyer continue to be the guiding force in his life) and his relations with his siblings ( as a guru as well as the musical pair on stage) were discussed in detail.

As one expect in any biography, it did touch upon the many controversies around Lalgudi. The famous "Sangitha Kalanidhi" episode, the somewhat strained relationship with Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer, the tussle with the music critic Subbudu various allegation about him overshadowing the main vocalist ( in his quest to perfection) , many many so called misunderstanding among musicians, the cold relation with Music Academy were discussed in detail, mostly in line with what is already known to the music world. Interestingly, there was no official version from Lalgudi in any of these topics.

While the book does a great job of consolidating and documenting what is already available, in did not in real terms give any larger perspective of  the musician. However, the study of his compositions, his various works as music director and composer for dace drama and musicals, the compositions specially tuned and written on the request by dancers are the exception. This to me is the meaty part of the book and that made my day. The writing in general was aimed at a music lover and those familiar with Carnatic music. There is abundant use of Tamil words , which often distract the smooth flow of the reading. Being a non-Tamilian, the early chapters were very annoying at times.  She does provide the meaning of these terms both musical and Tamil in the annexure, but at many places, these Tamil words did have proper substitutes.

Biographies are very tricky genre of writing. Its like peeping into someone else life, the private personality of a public figure. It is expected to give a new insight to the person, thus enhancing your own perspective of the world. In most of the cases, one see the writer is overpowered by the persona, intimidated by the charisma of the' subject', the voice and words gets carried away under this influence, hampering the objective approach to the life of the person. This book too suffer from the same. Patrick French's biography of V S Naipaul, was an exception.

Very well presented book, help you to reiterate your admiration of one of the most versatile artist,composer, guru and performer of Carnatic Music. The added bonus was the CD of his select recordings.
An Incurable romantic - The Musical Journey of Lalgudi Jayaraman ( 2013 )

Lakshmi Devnath

Harper Collins

435 Pages
Indian Express , Lalgudi Official Page

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