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I was learning Carnatic music while studying in the IX Standard at the Kalyanasundaram Hr. Sec. School in Tanjavur. One day when I went to visit my friend Giri, I heard melodious music which went straight to my heart. The voice had a magnetic quality and it lingered even after I returned home. The next day Giris mother played the music again for me it was Muthuswami Dikshitars Nandagopala in Yamunakalyani sung by Maharajapuram Santhanam. From that moment he became my idol.
My father had this habit of presenting gifts to me and my sisters for securing high marks in the school exams. While my sisters liked ornaments, I opted for cassettes of Maharajapuram Santhanam and was thrilled to receive AVMs new release. Playing his music countless times, I started collecting more and more of his recordings and became addicted to his masterly renditions. In school I sang his songs at every opportunity and won many prizes. By this time I was determined to become his disciple. My father M. Radhakrishnan, an ardent rasika of Carnatic music, told me it was a Utopian dream to want to learn from such a famous personality. However, he made it a point to take me to Santhanam Sirs concerts in Chennai and Tiruvaiyaru. He introduced me and conveyed my desire to the maestro. Meanwhile, in 1986, I was offered a seat in the Namakkal Veterinary College, but I pestered my influential uncle M. Chidambaram to get me a seat in Chennai at the Madras Veterinary College, which he did. I shifted base to Chennai from Tanjavur, and stayed in a relatives house.
Soon after coming to Chennai, my father escorted me to Santhanam
Sirs house on Sivagnanam Road, T. Nagar. As Sir was to sing at Krishna Gana Sabha that evening and was resting his voice, I had to return home with his blessings. We tried to fix more appointments, but in vain. My father lost hope and returned to Tanjavur. Then on a Sunday I barged into the house of Santhanam Sir and found him in the hall with friends and family members. He recognised me and asked me to sing. I sang Narayana ninna followed by Upacharamulanu in Bhairavi songs I had learnt from his cassettes. After listening to me
he offered to teach me and asked me to go back the next day. I could not believe my ears! I felt I was on top of the world.
The next day I went to Sirs house with fruits and tamboolam for my first class. He taught me the Ata tala varnam Vanajakshi in Kalyani and asked me to attend daily classes. As the days passed I could see he was happy with my progress, but he had the knack of always pushing my target a little beyond my reach. On some days he asked me to stay in his house. Within a month I realised that his home was filled with music his sons and daughter would be singing upstairs and my guru on the ground floor. I watched and tried to imbibe as much as I could apart from what I learnt in class. It was almost like a gurukulam for six years. He was a strict teacher and kept me on my toes. While teaching a composition he explained its meaning, and provided insights into its context and musical nuances. He advised me to listen to the music of great vidwans, and attend lecdems. He felt that in order to do justice to the manodharma aspects of a raga, a musician must know at least ten kritis in it to understand its
After sometime he chose me to provide him vocal support. I was thrilled though apprehensive. On 9th August 1987, at Sri Krishna Gana Sabha, I ascended the concert platform as his vocal accompanist. He tested me on the stage by allowing me to sing some of the difficult sangatis in songs like Dayavillaya dayalo in Kharaharapriya and Ninnanodi in Todi. It was a milestone in my life not only was I learning from
Maharajapuram Santhanam Dr. R. Ganesh
Ganesh with his guru
55 l SRUTI September 2013
him, but was sitting behind him and singing with him.
Soon I had the good fortune of singing with him on many prestigious platforms like the Music Academy, Narada Gana Sabha, Krishna Gana Sabha, and Tamil Isai Sangam in Chennai, as well as in famous venues outside Tamil Nadu like the Bangalore Gayana Samaja, the Siri Fort Auditorium in Delhi, and the Shanmukhananda Sabha in Mumbai. Often he would teach me a song in the morning where we were staying, and I would be put to test on stage the same evening. With the grace of God and my gurus blessings I succeeded.
I was the track singer for many of his albums like HMVs Govinda Ninna Namave Chanda, AVMs Saravana Bhava, Dasara Padagalu, and Bhajans of Swami Dayananda.
Santhanam Sir and his wife were very affectionate. He was particular that I should have my meals with him, and made sure that I ate well. He used to regularly write to me whenever he went abroad. Though not too fond of shopping he procured a wrist watch for me from Dubai. It is still my prized possession. He also made me his track singer for many of his albums. Besides, he also encouraged me to edit his audio works, and prepare the layout for inlay cards. One day around 9 pm he handed over a rough sketch for eight new songs and directed me to sing them at 8 am on the following day at the AVM Studios to the orchestration of vidwan L. Krishnan. The recording ended at 10 pm and the last song was an instant hit it was Bho Sambho!
In March 1992 when I completed my Veterinary Medicine course and secured registration from the council that entitled me to prefix Dr. to my name, he was overwhelmed with joy. I was immediately invited to join service but Sir wanted me to take up music full-time. It was at his request
that S. Viswanathan of Enfield India absorbed me in his new company with the freedom to sing in concerts on duty, with a handsome pay package.
When HMV decided to launch an album of tillanas of vidwan Lalgudi G. Jayaraman with orchestration by the versatile M.S. Viswanathan, Santhanam Sir asked me to learn the tillanas and sing the track in the recording. After the recording, he remarked I am proud of you a compliment I cherish to this day. It was later recorded in my gurus voice. I completed the editing and Santhanam Sir fixed a date for its release 24th June 1992. This recording, a coming together of two maestros one singing the compositions of the other is yet to see the light of day. It would be a fitting tribute to both.
On the night of 22 June, Ramu (Sirs cousin), young disciple Baby Akila and I left Chennai for Kumbakonam where Santhanam Sir had already arrived from Coimbatore with Mami. He had a concert on 23 June at 4.30 pm at Swami Dayananda Matriculation School, Manjakkudy, with Nagai Muralidharan and Trichy Harikumar as accompanists. My father too had come from Tanjavur to listen to the concert where I was providing vocal support. While proceeding to the stage, Sir asked me out of the blue: Ganesa! Why dont you start
presenting solo performances? I was dumbfounded and did not know how to react. He probably had a plan and during the concert he insisted that I should render the Meera bhajan Main to savariya as a solo that was how my arangetram came to pass!
After the concert we went to the Uppiliappan temple. We were too many to fit into one car, but in a rare gesture he made me sit on his lap, and it was the greatest moment of my life. After calling on Dayananda Saraswati Swami we proceeded to Hotel Rayas from where all of us were to leave by car the next morning. At 10 pm while I was massaging his legs, he suddenly told me that I should not accompany them in the car next morning but board the bus for Chennai that night. Taken aback I asked him if I had done something wrong. He quelled my fears and insisted that I leave immediately by bus. Did he have a premonition? As I was about to take my leave of him, he asked me to prostrate before him and blessed me. I left the hotel and reached Chennai by bus at 6 am the next day, but by then the colossus my guru had been snatched away by fate at Kooteripattu. The car they were travelling in had met with a tragic road accident.
If I am somebody today in the field of music, it is because of my guru. He was in fact more than a guru to me. He was a mother, father, guru and God all in one. During the time I lived in his house I learnt not only to sing, but the art of teaching, conversing, handling public relations, and philanthropy for he had all these qualities. He was a great human being. The years I spent with him were a golden period in my life. True to his name, Santhanam Sir was a maharaja of music with a huge fan following, and none can ever take his place.
(The author is a musician, nama sankeertanam artist and veterinary doctor)