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Memories of my hero

Memories of my hero
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P Purnachander, former conductor of National Orchestra of All India Radio, is one of the first students of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman and has...

P Purnachander, former conductor of National Orchestra of All India Radio, is one of the first students of violin maestro Lalgudi Jayaraman and has remained true to his baani. He pays a fond and nostalgic tribute to the teacher who passed away last week. "There were three occasions when I got truly emotional in life. The first was when I saw Jawaharlal Nehru, second was when I first made darshan of Lord Venkateswara in Tirumala. And the third was when I had my first glimpse of the violin legend. I just burst into tears.
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August 29, 1959, Friday evening. That was when he first listened to the maestro on radio. Every evening, at Secunderabad clock tower park, the watchman would switch on the public radio with huge speakers and lock up and go away. And people lounged around, listening all through the evening. Until the watchman returned to switch it off. That was where P Purnachander first heard the violin maestro. "To this day, I remember not just the day and time but the strains of music, the order of kritis in the concert and the exact sangatis." It was Dr Mangalampalli Balamurali Krishna's vocal concert, with Lalgudi Jayaraman accompanying him on the violin. "And I was astounded at the way Lalgudi accompanied on his violin. That was the day I decided, that I have to play the violin like him," Purnachander recalls.
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Lalgudi was 32 then and Purnachander just 19. Then began a saga of hero worship. Purnachander studiously followed all the concerts where Lalgudi played accompanying various maestros. "Every time I met someone who met Lalgudi, I would ask what he looked like. Then I scouted for pictures in All India Radio's Vani magazine, cut them out and pasted them in violin box." Three years later, Purnachander had an occasion to go to Madras and went straight to Lalgudi's house and met his idol for the first time in person. "There were three occasions when I got truly emotional in life. The first was when I saw Jawaharlal Nehru, second was when I first made darshan of Lord Venkateswara in Tirumala. And the third was when I had my first glimpse of the violin legend. I just burst into tears." He requested Lalgudi to come to his house when he is next in Hyderabad. And, sure enough, Lalgudi who came to Hyderabad to accompany GNB in a concert, visited Purnachander's house. "I had readied a platter for his padaabhishekam. Lalgudi stepped away in alarm but said 'ok, come to Madras. I'll teach you.''' While he could not go immediately, Purnachander did manage to take leave and visit Madras again. "When I went to his house, Lalgudi was going out and asked his father to listen to my violin. When I started playing, his father laughed out loud and said 'is it all Lalgudi style only? Nothing else?' And I played again when Jayaraman came back and, unlike his father's unmistakable amusement, Lalgudi merely raised his eyebrows whenever I did a perfect imitation of his style. I still remember all this years later that I played Thodi ragam. After all, it was three years of penance, how else could I play?" In 1965, Purnachander applied for a national scholarship and became his full-time student - the closest to the master perhaps - and an avid Lalgudi watcher. "I was there full time, playing with him, watching his unique posture and he taught me. In more than five years I spent with him, he taught me not just sangeetam but also ingitam (common sense). Not all good performers are good teachers and vice versa. But Lalgudi was a matchless combination of both. He studied a student thoroughly before choosing him and for him, sishya sweekaaram was equivalent to putra sweekaaram and he poured his heart and soul into my lessons." "He was unbelievably modest. He would say 'see I practise for so many hours, anyone can play with this kind of practice.' 'When you see the thousand spectators applauding me, it is not my performance but my grasping of the vocalists' notes. So, it means they understood as much as I did. They are all musicologists, it is just that I got an opportunity to perform.'" Lalgudi kept Purnachander on his toes, making him attend all concerts, come back and write a critical review of the concert; he challenged the student to learn a pallavi in the minimum possible repetitions; chided him when the besotted student gazed at his master's face saying 'why are you looking at my face, look at my hand'; he taught the student to be humble so that his mind will open up. "I noted every single thing he said in a diary." In 1970, when Purnachander performed in Madras and The Hindu called him 'Lalgudi II', in a review, the master got upset. When Purnachander decided to add Lalgudi as prefix to his name as a tribute to his Guru, the master's heartburn continued until a couple of years later when things were patched up. "When I had applied for a job in Calicut AIR, they said you are a Telugu, we need someone to read notation in Tamil. And I showed them I could. This was thanks to my great Guru, who said Telugu musicians should learn Tamil and Tamilians Telugu. He was that way responsible for me to become a part of AIR and later retire as the Conductor of National Orchestra, as the last man to occupy that post," Purnachander recalls with pride. "Though he was a contemporary of MS Gopalakrishnan and TN Krishnan, his style was distinct. While the others were masters of the instrument and did acrobatics, Lalgudi made his violin sing. You could hear the lyric as he played. He was in perfect sync with the vocalist and as a solo player too there was a great density and intensity to his music." "Outside of his family, I proudly consider myself his first student who spent so many years with him, with such in-depth learning. And probably the only Telugu." Purnachander is in tears as he pays tribute to his great teacher, the generous professional who created opportunities for others, a musician who dedicated himself to excellence and creativity, a pioneer who set his own 'baani' in a world of musical mastery. Indeed, Lalgudi Jayaraman is a stalwart and legend like none other. -As told to Usha Turaga Revelli
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