Lessons to remember

Print edition : August 14, 2009

VIJAY SIVA, a disciple of D.K. Pattammal.-V. GANESAN

CARNATIC vocalist Vijay Siva, a disciple of D.K. Jayaraman and D.K. Pattammal, a torch-bearer of the Damal tradition and one who has vocally accompanied both his gurus on the stage, talks about his lessons with the grand old lady:

I began my regular sessions with D.K. Pattammal from 1991 and learnt whatever she remembered. Sometimes I learnt the songs of her repertoire from other sources and sang them before her. Then she corrected, recalled nuances and added forgotten phrases.

Sometimes she forgot the audio version of the sangati, but could show its topography in swirling gestures. Id try to reproduce the visual graph until she beamed, Thats it! Age did not make her any less stringent. She never let go until you got it right. After that thorough, patient drilling there was no room for doubt or rechecking.

The guru did not let sentiment sway her ideas of what was right. When I requested permission to bring my wife Syamala to class she refused, saying, Syamala is always welcome here as a member of our family. But I dont want you or me to be inhibited by the presence of an onlooker. Knowledge transfer is not a sport. It has to be free, transparent, unobstructed.

What amazed me was to see her evolving as a musician even at that age. She continued to edit, correct, polish and prune her pathantara. No change was effected without acute analysis. It was wonderful to observe her responsive delight in the music, the language, and the inner content of whatever she sang.

As teachers, Jayaraman and Pattammal were completely different. DKJ gauged the individuals capacity and devised the least strenuous method to push the stuff in. DKP plodded through the old meticulous way. Sometimes she would say, Learn this from Jayaraman, hes a better teacher. Characteristically, she told Jayaraman to divide a prize of Rs.1,000 for the best concert in a youth festival, as Rs.100 among 10 singers!

Once she gave me a difficult task. My search for a Tamil song welcoming the New Year proved abortive. My grandmother saw me distraught and suggested that I take a look at some verses she had written. I was so desperate that I showed them to DKP without disclosing the source. I didnt know what to do when she nodded and began to set grandmas song to impeccable Dhanyasi as if it was a Dikshitar kriti! Finally, I had to tell her the truth. DKP smiled and said, Go and sing this to your grandmother. Tell her its good! I still sing that song, you know.

(As told to Gowri Ramnarayan)
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