This morning I had a recording at the AIR Chennai studios and as I walked in I was reminded of my very first stint there. It was 1984 and I had been selected to sing for 10 minutes at the Ilayabharatham (Youth programme really) on Madras 'B' station. I had received the contract and had signed and returned it after reading through all the four pages of some of the most incomprehensible legalese that a 16 year old could be exposed to. About a week before the programme I got a call from a guy called V Sethupathy, who said he was playing the mrudangam for me and wanted to have a rehearsal. He also told me that we could have it in his house and that his father would be there. I had no idea who his father was and why he should be there when we practiced, but I just decided to go ahead. I took my cycle and went to his house on South Mada St in Mylapore. His father was sitting there below a photograph of a Nadaswara vidwan. I still had no idea who he was or who the nadaswara vidwan was. I did not even think it necessary to enquire and find out. I was just too involved in myself you see! Anyway the rehearsal went well. After we finished his father actually sang the pallavi of the song that I was singing and told me to give a pause for him to play an aruthi before taking up the anupallavi. His mouth had betel stains and he was wearing a white half khadi shirt and also sang, so I assumed that he must have been a musician.
The programme was a Live one and was scheduled at 7.40 AM and so I was there at the studios promptly at 7.00 o clock all excited. The only such previous experience as exciting as this was the morning of the first sub junior cricket match that I played for St Bede's against PSBB at the RKM ground! The entry was empty and I walked in to the lobby. There was a guy standing there, who asked me to fill up some particulars in a register and made me sit down.After about 10 minutes I got jittery and went up to him again to ask if some one was coming. He just motioned me away with a wave and I was back where I started on a chair in the lounge. At about 7.25 the mrudangist arrived and filled his name etc and sat down next to me. It was also his first programme and we hardly spoke to each other. At 7.30 another gentleman came in and motioned to both of us to follow him into the studio. We entered the studio and sat down. The AC was on full blst and the place was freezing. There was no Tambura artiste and I had brought along my sruti box. No electronic ones then and it was the old fashioned 'petti'. It was almost 7.35 and we were going on air in 5 minutes. I thought that there must be no violin for this because it was a youth programme. Just then the studio door opened and a disheveled old lady came walking in quietly with a violin box. It was Dwaram Mangathayaru. The clock was ticking and at 7.40 I looked up to see a red light flashing and an announcer just beginning to announce the programme details. As he was finishing up Dwaram madam quietly took out her violin. As I started Gajavadana in Sriranjani, she was just tuning her instrument softly and by the time the anupallavi started she had joined in enthusiastically!
After the program finished we walked to the duty room to collect our cheques and left, but not before being asked for 25 paise for a revenue stamp. I had no idea that this was required and I had no money on me. So I had to borrow from the mrudangist and that was that. After a couple of weeks I was at a concert and I saw this father of my mrudangist sitting and singing with another person. It was a concert of Tiruvarur Sethuraman and Kuzhikkarai Viswalingam and the man who's house I had been to was Viswalingam. The nadaswara vidwan's photo now made sense to me because it was that of Kuzhikkarai Pichayappa!