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Tribute : A broken promise

Tribute : A broken  promise
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Memories are like roses in December. They glisten under the icicles of crowded thoughts, camouflage the seething pain of their thorns around, but...

Memories are like roses in December. They glisten under the icicles of crowded thoughts, camouflage the seething pain of their thorns around, but promise matchless splendour Gollapudi Subbarao te2I play badminton with a few friends every day in Chennai. My friends come from well-to-do families. One such badminton friend is Ramanathan, son of the legendary singer Late Ramnad Krishnan. Ramanathan whom we affectionately refer to as 'Anna,' is a living encyclopedia of Carnatic music but like me, even he doesn't sing! One fine day, a few years ago, after a couple of games of badminton, all friends decided to go to the Music Academy for breakfast. After savouring idlis and South Indian coffee, I ventured with Ramanathan into the main entrance hall of Music Academy, whose walls adorn the portraits of Sangeeta Kalanidhis of Classical music of the last century- a la Nobel Prize. He proudly pointed to a particular picture in the 'Hall of fame' with a title, 'Musician's musician, and said, 'This is my dad'. After a few minutes, I casually raised my finger, pointing at a photograph of a graceful old man and said 'Well, that happens to be my grandfather.' Ramanathan was flummoxed. His reaction was typical of the man, 'you never told me that you are the grandson of Dr Sripada Pinakapani! How dare you�?' From then on, Anna and I shared mutual respect. From time to time he expressed his desire to travel to Kurnool to meet the musical legend. The desire assumed feverish proportions on the occasion of his 100th birthday in August 2012. Eventually we flew to Hyderabad, en route to Kurnool on September 3 2012. I had informed my uncles that we would like to spend an hour or so with him. We reached the house by noon and grandpa was sleeping. After a while we were ushered into his bedroom. There he was, looking frail, yet radiant in his toothless smile. He continued to lie down and never attempted to get up. A feeling of bliss pervaded the room, and I felt goose bumps all over my body. He had soft almond -shaped eyes that sparkled with pure love. He spoke haltingly, gasping for breath but the words were unmistakably clear and sentences coherent. I took the lead to introduce the guests, Anna and Mohan Ramiah, after my respectful greetings. Yes, he had heard of Ramnad Krishnan but had never met him. Anna took over and naturally the discussion that ensued was on Carnatic music and the various ragas. I just sat and watched the spirited reminiscences of grandpa. Anna thrust his i Pad that had a video recording of his father's rendering of 'Begada Raga' into Grandpa's hands, who clutched it tightly, like a child and was listening to the raga's nuances, nodding his head from time to time, conveying his appreciation. He was fascinated not just with the recording but also with the clarity of sound and picture of the latest innovation; the i Pad. The topic of discussion veered to 'Bhairavi Raga' and Anna asked Grandpa if he can hum a bit. Grandpa excused himself saying, 'These days I am unable to sing as I am short of breath. Sorry gentlemen.' We didn't need his explanation and apologised for asking him to sing in the first place. I got to spend fiveminutes with him in private. He enquired about my mother and family. It was then that I was encouraged to ask him a question. I said hesitatingly, 'Tatagaru, my only regret in life is that I cannot sing.' He shook his head in disapproval cutting me short and asked, 'How old are you?' 'I am 50'. He smiled, 'You are still a kid!' and went to explain, 'Singing requires lot of sadhana and years of practice. It is a hard task. One can enjoy the ocean of music either by singing or just by listening. Why should you struggle to learn the nuances when you can simply enjoy equally by listening? Besides it is always your prerogative to say, I didn't like it!' While saying the last sentence he mischievously winked at me and again flashed a toothless grin. I was pleasantly surprised by his cheekiness.
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A few minutes of silence followed and I then spotted the dazzling jewel on his right hand wrist, studded with stones. I knew that it was presented by the Government of Andhra Pradesh on the occasion of his centenary, a month before. Changing the topic, I said, "Grandpa, this jewel looks gorgeous on you' and fondled it with my hands caressing the loose skin around it on his wrist. He looked at it thoughtfully and after a pause said, 'Come near' signaling me to move closer. I leaned forward and he whispered in my ears, 'Don't tell anyone, I have instructed my sons to go and quietly put it in Tirupati Hundi after I die. What will they do with it? It doesn't belong to anyone but HIM' and pointed to a photo frame of Lord Venkateswara of Tirupati. He concluded rather philosophically, 'I sang only for HIM'. Grandpa's twinkling eyes caught mine as I felt a warm breeze brush against my skin. His innocent gaze penetrated my heart and tears welled up. They weren't tears of sadness. I felt humbled by his shunning of all materialistic things the world was offering him. Mind you, he still belonged to a middle class Brahmin family. But they were no more of any use to him, and he had already travelled far and away from them, ready for his heavenly abode. Soon it was time to take leave. Grandpa looked at Anna and said, 'Normally people come to take something from me but you've come to give me instead' referring to the DVDs Anna gave of his father's recordings. We took leave and stepped out. We were thanking my uncles for facilitating the trip when after some time, Anna suddenly said, 'Quiet'! We strained our ears to catch any sound waves in the vicinity. Coming from Grandpa's room was a gentle humming of 'Bhairavi raga' in a mellifluous voice, with all its nuances. We tip toed to the door and saw Grandpa with his eyes closed, still lying down, singing, perhaps to the Lord. On the return journey Anna and Mohan Ramiah thanked me profusely. It is true that trips like these shape one's personality. I was so glad I took the trip. Last Monday I heard the sad news that Grandpa had passed away. There is nothing discreet about the flamboyant Lord of Seven Hills at Tirupati. Finally HE has had the last word. Soon the rare and precious jewel will be firmly ensconced in HIS Hundi while its erstwhile owner is already by HIS side, belting out the 'Bhairavi'. Sorry Grandpa, for breaking the promise of not telling anyone. My sincere apologies. (Late Dr Sripada Pinakapani is younger brother to writer and actor Gollapudi Maruthi Rao's father-in-law. Gollapudi's son Subba Rao (writer) met his centurion grandfather only six months ago, for the last time. He penned these memories 24 hours after Pinakapani's demise)
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