Sunday, October 21, 2007

Guru Dakshina

The sound still echoes in my ears. Tha … Dhi … Dhom … Nam ….. Rao sir repeated the first lessons in Mridangam to his dazed six year old disciple. It was Vijaydashami (1984) … an auspicious occasion, which in South India is considered suitable for Vidyarambham or initiation into any new realm, especially into fine arts. My parents had spotted in me an aptitude for percussion instruments and decided to initiate me to the rhythms of Mridangam. Sri Nandikeswar Rao - or Rao sir as we used to call him – my mother’s colleague in the Fine Arts Department of a PSU, was to be my Guru. In accordance with the established norms of traditional propriety I offered him the Guru-dakshina and touched his feet to seek blessings ( a gesture which means to say -"I am willing to accept your tutelage in all humility and am ready to imbibe all that you have to teach, in the way you wish it to be imparted" - not that I understood any bit of that back then).


Rao sir was a strict disciplinarian during our regular sessions, mostly held in the living room of our quarters, with the furniture temporarily rearranged to make space, just enough for a rug to seat us. I would sit on it intently listening to the chollu (verbal codes for beats) emanating from his mouth and then would strive to reproduce it on the instrument. He would stop me the moment I went off-beat or he felt that the tone of a beat is not as it was supposed to be. I would then continue playing that bit for as long as my fingers hurt bad enough for my inflated ego to allow tears to appear. His face would soften up instantly.... but he recovered quickly, made a stern face and told me "go, wash your face ... and come back quick".

We slowly graduated from the basic lessons to more complicated rhythmic combinations. After the classes he would patiently note down the days lessons meticulously in a note-book so that I could practice in my own time ( which rarely hapenned). The frequency of the sessions increased as we approached a music competition or a concert at the local temple and decreased during my school examinations. He occassionaly used to take me to his guru Nandu Master (a near centenarian who had a saintly demeanour and a graceful smile that could inject humility into any haughty head) to obtain his approval of my progress. I can distinctly remember the gleam of satisfaction on his face when I qualified for a national scholarship in the discipline of classical percussion instruments. Every year on Vijaydashami day my father would drive me on his scooter to Rao sir's house where we would repeat the customary rituals of Vidyarambham followed by a sumptuous breakfast.

with Rao sir and Nandu master

Rao sir inadvertently wanted to live his dreams through me and actually considered me to be like his son. I however, did not in those days fully comprehend the intensity of his desire to make me a good mridangist. Though I loved playing, I somehow knew that I was not cut out to take it up as a profession. I left home after twelfth and adopted a profession that kept me away from classical music. It was only when I went home on leave that I saw him and could always spot a strange sadness whenever our eyes met.

I was on leave a couple of years back when the news of his being at the hospital reached me. He was asleep when we entered the ward ... a frail reflection of his real self. We were told that he was not in a position to recognise or communicate with people. A peculiar emotion .. a mixture of grief and guilt came over me ..... and I mentally requested for forgiveness ... for not being the person he wanted me to be. I almost got instant deliverance as he slowly opened his eyes, gave a weak smile and raised his hand as if to bless. He passed away in a few days.
Today is Vijaydashami ... and I offer this post as Guru Dakshina to the most dedicated teacher one can ever get and the most honest and sincere person I have ever met. May peace be with him.




African Safari III follows ......

8 comments:

Nanditha Prabhu said...

Vinu,
i CAN FEEL THE LUMP IN MY THROAT AS i FINISHED READING THIS POST.I do remember the days when he used to train you , when you were young, when you had puffed up eyes which were over flowing with tears. He was like a family member for us and his demise had left a vacuum which can never be filled.
I remember how he doted on you....the practices we used to have at home for the small concerts ...when i used to play the veena ...his face used to beem with pride as you successfully finished the taniyaavarthanam.

I remember visiting him at his place when he was nearing his last days.... he no more looked the same ..nor did he recognise any one. The only person he recognised when we visited was Amma...when I took kanna and sree near him he blessed them. After one week he passed away!It took a very long time to accept that he was not among us. During every performance I think of him ...Amma will be missing him even more .. I am sure!
I can feel what you have written!I am sure he wil be blessing you on this auspicious day from the higher realm!

Gazal said...

a beautiful and touching tribute.

in the age of online and 'instant'learning,where reverance runs dry,one is lucky to have been part of the guru shishya parampara.

Subramanian said...

Though I was not blessed as you to have such a lengthy association with Raavu sir, I still remember a vijayadashami day where I was at his home for the vidyarambham..I feel now that I had the opportunity but never did the justice to accomplish on this art...
Remembering my mridamgam guru's this occasion

MyVision said...

It was a touching post Vinnu. As you have said, Raavusir is one of the most dedicated person I have come across. I have been seeing Raavusir right from 1960s accompanying mridangam for your Amma's dance, and had very close association with him, as you know. My father and Raavusir were having a brotherly relationship. On seeing Raavusir perform, I desperately wanted to learn mridangam, which never happened. But I have been observing Raavusir play mridangam and attempted to play few things on a ghatam and even made an attempt to perfom a 5 mts solo of ghatam on stage couple of years back, considering Raavusir as guru from within.

It was very apt for you to dedicate the post to Raavusir on Vijayadasami day.

Maddy said...

it is always the right and best thing to remember your teachers some day or when it counts, as you did - some teachers are special, some are the reasons for the path you take - almost always teachers want to realise their aspirations through you - you said it all correctly..just imagine a world without teachers, how empty it would have been!

dharmabum said...

reminds me of the book 'tuesday with morrie'. such a wonderful tribute.

music has the rarest quality of elevating the soul to the highest plains...

Vidya said...

I was reminded of the days when I used to seat myself down for music lessons. I was not blessed with a lengthy association as you have been but your dedication is touching!

Vidya

nandit said...

Sorry for such a late response. Actually, its only now that I have the time to really sit and go through all the blogs- yours and my brothers. Such a wonderful tribute. Naveen, besides having the aptitude for the mridangam, you have a wonderful way with words!(As does your sister!)Do keep it up. Mrs Murali