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Waiting for the violin virtuoso

Author’s note: Here goes my encounter with the kin of the violin artiste Lalgudi G Jayaraman. I’d like to call it the story that failed to make it to the media.
Take a bow: Violinist Lalgudi G Jayaraman
Last Monday, as I received a call from a colleague, informing me about the demise of Lalgudi G Jayaraman, and therefore, asking me to swing into action in preparing his obit article for the newspaper I work for, I realised how narrowly I had missed out on meeting him. It was as if the plot of R K Narayan’s Waiting for the Mahatma – where a love-struck couple brave it all to meet Gandhi, prior to his assassination – with a twist was being played out on me.

But first, a flashback…

The ace violinist M S Gopalakrishnan had passed away sometime in January this year. One among the ‘trinity’ of the Carnatic violinists – Lalgudi Jayaraman and T N Krishnan being the other two – I decided to talk to the other two for a compelling news article. I decided to call Lalgudi Jayaraman first for his reaction – a task that I confronted with a good deal of trepidation, and not without ample reason.

To the uninitiated, Lalgudi Jayaraman is considered foremost among the ace violinists of Indian music. He was the genius behind the Lalgudi Bani, a unique style of violin playing. Among those with whom the veteran violinist interacted with include the master conductor Zubin Mehta and Ustad Vilayat Khan.

Artistes, in general, can play hard to get by, more so if the task in question is getting a soundbyte. The onerousness of the task, as a thumb rule, is:
  • Directly proportional to their reputation (no explanations needed) 
  •  Doubly proportional to their preferences for media houses; certain publications may have an unfair advantage over others in gaining easy access to them, but that’s part-and-parcel in the life of a reporter
So, I wasn’t too surprised when I contacted the artiste on his landline, I was greeted by a woman. A personal assistant, perhaps, I thought, when she introduced herself as Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi – his daughter and an eminent violinist herself. All of a sudden I realised that I was stammering, searching for words; not knowing how to introduce myself, when after a brief impasse, I blurted out the reason for my call (“I need to talk to Lalgudi Jayaraman… no, I seek his reaction to the untimely demise of violin artiste M S Gopalakrishnan… ooops, I’m a reporter from…”)

I thought she stifled her laughter when I received a pellucid reply: “My father has been in a state of shock. MSG Sir was like his elder brother, and with his passing we feel that we have lost one of our family members,” or so she said, if my memory serves me right.

I noted down every single word, studiously, my mind looking for avenues to expand the quote into something much more dramatic. She went on to confide: “My father is unable to talk as he is ill; kindly bear with me,” before asking that the illness not be mentioned. So bowled over was I at the instant response that, looking back, I think I would have done anything, then, had she asked me to.

Suddenly the conversation seemed forced; why not, it had reached an abrupt, but logical, end. In order to smoothen the process, I said, “Please tell your father that I am a big fan of his music. His albums ‘The Dance of Sound’ and his jugalbandi with the sarod maestro Amjad Ali Khan are compositions that I’d rate as enchanting. I wish him a speedy recovery.”

She thanked, the phone receiver clicked at the other end.

My news article had received its finishing touches.

Fast-forward a little more, this time when playback singer Bombay Jayasree had won an Oscar nomination for her song Kanne Kanmaniye, in the movie Life of Pi. Talking to Lalgudi Jayaraman seemed the logical to do again; after all, she was his most famous disciple. I was prepared for a lengthier conversation (and an in-depth news article too!) when Vijayalakshmi answered the call again. A whiff of thrill went in me the moment she said she recognised me. (After all, it isn’t too often that the kin of an internationally renowned musician recognises you by your name.) “My father has been in a merry mood ever since he heard of the news. He has been very pleased at his student getting global acclaim.” She spoke on how her father used to find time to teach her during his visits to Mumbai before the singer moved to Chennai.

This time, she added that her father was suffering from a heart ailment, for which he was hospitalised and would be discharged in a day or two. Again she managed to extract the non-disclosure agreement (damn damn damn); in reply, I added that I would want to interview him along with his children post recuperation.  She laughed and heartily agreed.

Needless to say I was jubilant. Hell, why not? My ‘achievement’ in the musical domain could be likened to the cricketing fan’s equivalent at having conversed with M S Dhoni or the loquacious being handed a crash course on extempore by Markadeya Katju.

Once again, my article was bolstered, much like aviation spirit being fed into a run-down 1976 model Fiat.

The next morning I was in for a pleasant surprise. An SMS from the budding violinist read: “Ever since a relative read out the news article to him while in hospital my father’s happiness knows no bounds. He expresses his utmost gratitude to you.”  The appreciation came like a gale of fresh air, cooled by a chain of air-conditioners; it was as if I’d made a split-second transition from Aminjikarai in Chennai to Anchorage, Alaska.

The right time for a lengthy conversation and press the demand for an ‘exclusive’ interview, I could hear myself telling. I called her up and reiterated my demand, which she promised to fulfill; my heart skipped a beat as I high-fived myself.

The phone call informing me about the violin great’s demise, therefore, reminded me that it was a classic case of being yet so near, but yet so far.

In journalistic parlance, I had lost a credible ‘source’, someone whom I could turn to for an opinion on any issue. However, it was the loss of a good human – whose kin radiated warmth even to the unknown – that rankled from within. Her phone was switched off that mournful day. I had to go ahead without her ‘quote’.

Neither his loss nor the still-born interview could ever be compensated.

Perhaps a marathon listening session of his compositions should do the trick.

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