Saturday, October 10, 2015

Remembering N Ramani, the Flutist

Vidwan N Ramani, the great flutist of our times, passed away yesterday.

I heard of him for the first time when I came across that delightful 33 1/3 rpm record which was called V Trio. It featured Lalgudi, Ramani and Venkataraman on the Violin, VENu and VeeNa. I am not sure V Trio was coined by the record label or someone else did. This album was parallel to the "Call of the Valley" LP featuring Chaurasia, Shivakumar Sharma and Brajbhushan Khabra - Flute, Santoor and Hawaiian Guitar respectively.

Since hearing of the LP, I have attended many concerts of Ramani over the years and enjoyed them immensely. However, one particular concert remains fresh in my mind albeit for a non-musical reason. But, it says a lot about Ramani the artist and the man.

It was sometime in the seventies. Ramani's concert was in full flow during the Ramanavami concerts at Mysore's unique venue - normally referred to as Bidaram Krishnappanavara Rama Mandira or just Bidaram. Its official name however, is Ayyanar College of Music. Everyone was engrossed in the music  when suddenly there was commotion on the stage. Ramani stood up and shook his dhoti vigorously and the Mridanga and other artists also jumped up in great confusion and concern. What had happened was that a gecko had fallen from the roof. Ramani had got rid of it somehow. No one really knew where it had disappeared.

There was confusion only for a few seconds. Next thing I knew, Ramani had sat down and was getting ready to continue. The accompanying artists were still standing up and joking about the incident and taking their time. Ramani glared at the Mridanga artist and, as if desperately, waved his palm commanding him and other accompanists to sit down and continue. Before they realised what was happening, Ramani started off seemingly where he had left off. The accompanists had to sit down hurriedly and pick their instruments up and join in.

If you had arrived at the concert 30 seconds after the gecko had fallen, you could not have known that there was an interruption, confusion and commotion only a few seconds before. This was much appreciated by the elderly connoisseurs of music who always sat right in front of the dais at Bidaram. I was immensely impressed by his attitude of great respect for the occasion and the audience. There is a term for this in Kannada, and perhaps in many other Indian languages. It is Sabha Maryaade. Ramani exemplified that.

Another aspect of this excellent artist was narrated to me by my Guru, Vidwan V. Desikachar. (He was the brother of the great Veene Maestro, Vidwan V Doreswamy Iyengar. Though he was a flutist by profession, his initial training in music was on the Veene. He played it elegantly. He taught both Veene and Flute though he never gave concerts. I too learned the Veene from him) My respect for him is such that I find it hard to mention him by name. It almost sounds disrespectful to do so. So, you may please imagine my hands joined in a Namaskara when I mention the name or performing the north Indian equivalent of touching ones ear as a mark of respect. Now, I paraphrase what he said, in first person. Alas, I can't convey the childlike honesty and wonder his eyes and body language conveyed while he narrated this incident to me.

"Though I had learned the flute to the best of my abilities I was not satisfied with my music. I had reconciled myself to the idea that this was all I could achieve. This is because I could not play long passages in one breath and convert my musical ideas into passages. I thought that I was not blessed with the lungs of a flutist.

Once I attended Ramani's concert and I was fascinated. He played with such ease. He played long passages in one breath. I also noticed that he was using a larger flute than I did then and the pitch was lower. After the concert, I met Ramani and asked him about his flute.

He was very forthcoming. He showed me his flute and explained that it was indeed larger and of a lower pitch. He explained that with such a flute, you did not have to blow hard, you could conserve your breath, and play longer passages.

In those days, we did not get such flutes in Bangalore and Mysore. Ramani is such a great man that he actually brought me a few on his next visit to Bangalore. I can't thank him enough. Now I could play with much greater ease and could execute my ideas with greater ease."

I am sure this incident says a lot about the two people. My Gurugalu was one of the finest people I have had the good fortune of knowing. I am sure his whole-hearted praise speaks volumes about Ramani.

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