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A lifetime of pursuit

A lifetime  of pursuit
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Recollecting the memories of Samala Sadasiva, one understands that his life was spent in pursuit of knowledge and his works like ‘Malaya...

Recollecting the memories of Samala Sadasiva, one understands that his life was spent in pursuit of knowledge and his works like ‘Malaya Maruthalu’ and ‘Sangeetha Sikharaalu’ are not just literary experiences but a training to mould oneself into a better human being

Please visit my place, Tirupati” I requested a septuagenarian a decade back. “Why should I come there?”He retorted immediately. As I couldn’t find out a suitable answer I simply mumbled, “I will take you to Tirumala to show you the god.” “Is there a need to travel so far to see the god? Can’t I see him here itself and in everything,” he quizzed. It happened way back in 2004. He came to Warangal from Adilabad along with his son to release Kathavarshika- 2003, a yearly review of the Telugu short stories. He is Samala Sadasiva.

What made it possible that Samala Sadasiva who lived in the border town of Andhra Pradesh nearer to Maharashtra to be friendly with a person like me who lived in the other extreme border of the state closer to Tamil Nadu? It was possible due to the way he introduced me to the nuances of Hindustani music and the way he spread the fragrance of Urdu literature to a place where it was alien until then.

Reading Sadasiva’s ‘Malaya Maruthalu’ and ‘Sangeetha Sikharaalu’ is not merely an extraordinary experience but also a training to mould one self into a better human being. He said that his books don’t contain any essays as they were mere chat (Muchchatlu) with the reader. But what transformed his chat into a distinguished genre of literature? The answer is -His character and personality. His chat is nothing but a medium to transform the reader into his friend and an instrument to elevate his friend to an aesthetic plane in order to encourage him to take up a quest for a beautiful life. The origin of the creation itself is an art and what is more artistic than the creation of the man?

The moment I think of Sadasiva’s ‘Muchchatlu’, the very first name that comes to my mind is that of Anjanibai Malpekar, the famous Hindusthani singer. In his chats he pointed out that she had the beauty of angels, voice of the Kinneras and the singing of the Gandharvas. Ustad Nazeer Khan, a saintly musician, of the Bhendibazaar gharana of Hindustani classical music voluntarily took her as his student and trained her in a rigorous way. It was a terrible Rakshasa sadhana. She had to take up Riyaaz as early as 4 am. It helped her to sing the same Raga in umpteen ways and to sustain the breath on a single Swara for 60 seconds. He taught her a single raga, Yaman for the first three years and then the raga Bhairavi was taught for two years. All the remaining ragas were taught in the next five years.

Thus Anjanibai became adept in Hindusthani singing by her 16th year. As she was extraordinarily beautiful she had to suffer the uncultured advances of the people. So her mother got her married to Seth Wasanji Ved, an employee. Then she attended the concerts along with her husband. Enemities and jealousies are not alien to the realms of fine arts also. She was tricked into drinking drugged milk and then she became dumb. When she tried to speak, she vomited blood. Many doctors tried to cure her problem but in vain. Finally a boy-saint called Narayan Maharaj gave her a medicine and cured her malady with a condition that she would sing for him as long as he lived in Bombay.

She regained her voice but soon she became an ascetic under the influence of the saint. She arranged a concert in Bombay in 1933; sang and then declared that she was renouncing the concerts once and for all. Then she went to Kasi, worshipped Lord Viswanadha with her song and left her Thambura in the Ganges saying, “Sivarpanam.” Her husband passed away four years after this and she lost all the wealth she had earned and was reduced to penury. She lived in a small rented house singing prayers before the idol of the God till her death at the age of 91 in 1974. For her, singing was worship and the god was more than enough for an audience.

An exception or an extension to her penance was her voluntary choice of Kumara Gandharva as her disciple. By the time she asked him to be her student, Kumara Gandharva was not a simpleton as he had already reached the peak as a singer. But he bowed to her, touched her feet and requested, “Mother! Teach me.” When she was teaching him the Raga Bhairavi she found that she was not able to reach the Madhyam. Then she sang the same raga for three days without a halt. Kumara Gandharve realised what was meant by perfection when he heard her divine Madhyam on the fourth day.

What would be more striking than recounting the anecdotes about Anjanibai to discern the relationship between the Art and Artist? What would be a more philosophical discourse than relating her life in a unique and original way as Sadasiva had done in his chats?

After leading us to the majestic edifice called Hindusthani music, Sadasiva introduced many individuals who assert the importance of universal human values. When GN Balasubramaniam, the famous carnatic singer prostrated before Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan, the renowned Hindustani singer, before a concert in Madras, all the Brahmins boycotted the hall as Khan Saab was a non-vegetarian. But when they heard him sing, they returned. When Bade Ghulam Ali Khan could not get an accommodation in a vast city like Madras, Ghantasala Venkateswara Rao, the Telugu cinema singer par excellence, took him to his house and hosted him. Khan saab, in return treated the family to exclusive concerts by cancelling all other concerts on Sundays.

Sadasiva tells you why a Hindustani music concert always concludes with Bhairavi raga. He relates how the efforts of Pandit Vishnu Narayan Bhatkhande to popularise Hindustani music were as great as the revolution of Saint Ramanuja in Hinduism.

The lifestyle of Sadasiva reminds me of Virginia Woolf’s portrayal of the character of Peter Walsh in her novel ‘Mrs Dalloway’. Walsh was not successful from the worldly point of view as he was not rich. But he led an adventurous life and continued the quest for knowledge to become a perfect critic of the world. Sadasiva was born in a lower middle class family, became a teacher and retired as a principal of a college. In his Sahitya Akademi award winning work, ‘Yadi’ he recounts how he stayed in the cheap hotels near Nampalli railway station and was comfortable with a very small amount of money in the pocket and ate at the wayside Irani hotels whenever he went to Hyderabad.

When I met him in his house in Adilabad, I told him, “Your ‘Malaya Maruthalu’ is one of the very few books which transformed me. I want to write an essay on it.” He pensively replied, “Will you really write it? Can I see it with my eyes?” A month before his demise he telephoned me and insisted that I meet him soon. I am guilty of not going there immediately.

“It is not easy for a human being to be a human being,” says the poet Ghalib (Sadasiva wrote a beautiful monograph on Ghalib). But Sadasiva showed that a man can be a better human being through his love for humanity and by procuring refined aesthetic sensibilities.

(The writer is a bilingual short story writer, novelist and poet, who writes in Telugu and English)

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