Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Vakkeel Venu

Vakkeel Venu was a very good friend of my grand uncle, the younger brother of my earlier mentioned grandfather Tyagu. This grand uncle Tambirajan, was very closely associated with musicians like PSN, Flute Ramani and Vellore Ramabhadran. In fact it was he who, first made me sing a wedding concert with Tirupparkadal Veeraraghavan and TK Moorthy some 20 years back. Tambiraju mama's house always had a number of people trotting in an out and many of them were very musically inclined. One such person was Vakkeel Venu as he was called. Venu mama was an advocate and a keen music enthusiast who could sing very well. He was a huge fan of Ramnad Krishnan as well as TMT besides GNB etc etc. He was a regular at the academy lobby especially during the morning sessions and it was quite common to see him and a few others hold fort on the previous evening's concert. I would always linger in the periphery and listen in on all the dope.

Once I was in Tambiraju mama's house watching a cricket match (we never had television in our house for a long time) and Venu mama just walked in. He asked me "What song are you learning now?" I said "Maa ramanan" in Hindolam. He asked me next "Ah good. Have you heard TMT sing this?" I said no but the முந்திரிகொட்டை (eager beaver) that I was, I immediately said I have heard of a GNB recording. He just brushed it aside and gave me a stellar demonstration of how TMT had sung it. It was terrific and his voice intonation also sounded exactly like TMT. Many years later I got a recording of TMT singing that same song and realised what he had meant then.

Another day he walked in and asked me if I heard the Mali radio program that morning. I said no and he immediately sang a few choice phrases of Pantuvarali (or the original Ramakriya as some should call but do not do so) and said that was what made Mali such a genius. He once said about a renowned Justice of the High court who was also a much sought after 'chief guest' in music functions, "I don't know which is worse his knowledge of English or his knowledge of Law!"

Once there was a detailed discussion about Ramnad Krishnan and how he was one of the most underrated musicians of his time. Venu mama insisted that Ramnad Krishnan suffered from a weak voice that was unsuited for concert performance especially in the times when people still considered volume an essential ingredient for a good voice. If one's voice was softer (பூஞ்சை) then they were asked to take up an instrument. This was why Krishnan was never too popular with the masses, though he was musicians' musician. I was sitting next to Venu mama when Ramnad Krishnan's portrait was unveiled at the Music Academy for their 'Hall of fame' and TMT gave a stirring and emotional speech. As we came out, Venu mama proceeded to sing a delectable Sahana in true Ramnad style and said "you should listen to his rendition of Shri kalamambikayam!"

Once I was at home practicing when Venu mama dropped in. I was singing the Todi kriti "Nee dayaravale" and he just sat and heard it. Then he said that the alst time he heard anyone sing the sing was GNB many years back and immediately sang a brilliant GNB sangati in the charanam line. He then asked me to sing Kambhoji ragam. As I began in the style of my then favorite Alathur Subbayyar, he just stopped me and said "Chi Chi! Don't sing like this!" when I protested saying this is how Subbayyar sang, he just brushed it aside saying "Subbayyar can sing what he wants. You sing normally." He then launched into a terrific Kambhoji alapana and I understood what he meant. But then even today when I dig out some of those Subbayyar phrases in a concert I remember Venu mama!