My child hood revolved in admiration of a man “Tanjavoor” Vishwanathan Iyer. He was much respected in his village, a staunch shivaite and a percussionist par excellence.
His typical day started at 5 am in the morning with a cup of steaming hot filter coffee, which was followed by a walk through the village to the banks of the Cauvery River. There, he would walk down the steps singing a very familiar raga. Once in the water, he would immerse himself 3 times chanting “ Gange che yamune chiva.Godhavari Saraswathi.Narmadhe Sindhu kaveri. Jalesmin Sannidhim Kuru” for each time he immersed himself. This routine was followed by him doing his “sandhya vandhanam”. We watched the sun rise as he recited “Adhitya Hridayam” the sacred chants on the Sun god. It felt as if without his wishes the Sun would never rise.
When he returned home, he would find at least 20 people waiting in a dignified silence and bowed heads. They would touch his feet and seek his blessings after which it the sound of music would start reverberating in our house. 20 Mridangam (a percussion instrument) would play raga after raga in unison, with him being in the helm of things, correcting when there is a missed beat. His weekends were the times I got to listen some of the most melodious music. He had sold out performances in temples and Shabas. This was my child hood memories of the place – full of music.
During my engineering holidays, I returned back only to find the sound of music replaced by wheezing sound of an old man and the sound from his walking cane. With all the old favors disregarded, there he was all but lost and forgotten. Most his hair had fallen and he looked frail and weak. But lost not were his skills and the respect he commanded. The Shabas that once sought him out did not care any longer. Time had taken its toll, people were no longer interested in a man who stood by principles and lead a life devoted to music – they preferred the quicker sounding beats of the film music and quick raps.
During the month of December, in our village there were classical performances. Though the audiences were dwindling, the tradition was still carried on. On the last day of the fest, a popular vidwan (scholar) usually gave a performance. This year a Vidwan from the Madras was supposed to give the concluding performance. The day dawned, and the news reached the village that the car in which the Vidwan was traveling had met with an accident and that he would not be able to make it by time to reach the fest. The organizers panicked. They had a sold out crowd, but no performer. Somu the President of the Organizing committee had an idea, “Why not put the local talent to do some performance for an hour?” asked he. So, they went in search of young performers. All of them were reluctant to do a show in such a short notice. The organizers went into deliberations again as to what to do, when an old hand in the committee spoke. “There is a very old person in our village, who in his heydays used to be the crowd puller. Now he lays lost and forgotten. Why don’t we call him and ask him to perform?” Many people in the committee did not like that idea as bringing in an old timer was against “norm”. But due to lack of time and their inability to find a replacement, every one agreed with hesitation.
Dusk dawned, the sold out crowd was there. An old man with his Mridangam arrived in a bullock cart to the venue. He went to the back stage that was once his second home, drank a glass of ginger coffee which was part of his routine before the show. The organizer went up on stage explaining the change of performer. Angry murmurs in the crowd started voicing. Slowly the curtains went up to reveal an old man with his Mridangam. The murmurs increased, and a beautiful sound emancipated from the speakers, slowly the tempo was rising. Couple of minutes went by and only the talks of the Mridangam with the maestro’s fingers were heard. What was supposed to be a short one hour program went late into the night ending with a thunderous applause which was started by a single hand, into a standing ovation.
Twenty years later I return to the same house, to find my grandfather’s portrait hanging in the wall. People still talked about that performance of his which enthralled many. In the stillness of the dawn, I can still hear the rhythm even in silence.
Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons dead or alive is purely coincidental . It is just a short story!