Friday, June 26, 2009

In Search of a Guru

It was another of those evenings when I was bored with the blogs, that I typed in the name of the guru who taught me Carnatic music when I was in high school and college. The initial word search pulled up miscellaneous references to the Vechoor cow, apparently the world's smallest, and highly efficient at yielding copious amounts of milk, even on a smaller diet than the more common breeds. Amazing what trivia pops up on these searches!

Next, I tried the full name 'Vechoor Harihara subramania Iyer' and struck gold with this affectionate remembrance of Vechoor sir by a descendant of the Travancore kings, prince Rama Varma, an upcoming musician in his own right.

"Then the Maharani set about checking out matters for herself. She invited dozens of musicians of all sorts to the palace and made them sing in front of her, followed by rapid fire question sessions on the various aspects and intricacies of classical music. Finally it turned out that the very Harihara Subramani whom Semmangudi had recommended proved to be satisfactory in all respects. And thus Vechoor Harihara Subramania Iyer – popularly known as "Vechoor Saar" – was fixed up to teach music to the Maharani's great grandson. The two silent visitors in the Maharani's bedroom on February 3, 1982, were Kumara Kerala Varma (then Principal, Music Academy, Thiruvananthapuram) and Vechoor Saar himself. And the terrified 14-year-old great grandson was me."

So that explained Vechoor sir's regular trips to the Kowdiar palace. Vechoor sir had always been kind enough to offer me a lift in the palace car which came for him, for he knew that it would save me the trouble of switching buses for one part of my journey.

We did have a rather funny experience later when I got my own moped and remembering the car rides, offered to take Vechoor sir riding pillion behind me to a nearby store. He was about double my weight and we narrowly escaped falling when I attempted to balance the moped with him behind me. Vechoor sir got off in a hurry and said he would walk to the store, instead.

Funny, how the little details come back to memory about my first lesson with Vechoor sir. My mother had heard our neighbor Bhama maami sing and inquired about her guru, since my lessons had been left dangling with my earlier guru having gone through a bout of ill-health. Bhama maami had given her the information and the first lesson was duly set up.
He listened to my singing a varnam and a favorite keerthanam and nodded.' We will start lessons next week.'

The next week, my father dropped me off and went to run some errands while I was at the lesson. Things were progressing well enough, singingly, except for an excruciating bout of cramps that struck, without warning. I continued to sing, determined to make it through the session, but in the middle of the song, my brain blacked out to shut out the pain and I slumped to the side like a sack of potatoes.

I came to within seconds, with Vechoor sir standing by in great concern, Maami sprinkling water on my face. They had me lie down for a while till my father returned. I went back home in good shape, though wondering if the incident was a harbinger of how things would work out in future with the new guru.

Luckily, that wasn't the case. I proceeded to learn more under Vechoor sir, continuing under his tutelage for about 3 years, till college classes and exam schedule uncertainties made the relationship taper off. The parting was not without angst. Amma declared "I'm sure it started from when he chose to teach you that song in Varali. It has the effect of leading to a termination of the guru-shishya relationship, in short order."

I didn't think so. It seemed more that I had been floundering long enough with the last few songs that I learned that Vechoor sir might have sensed a loss of interest and decided to gently hint that it might be time for me to stop.

No matter, we parted on good terms. The last time I saw him was at my wedding, where I duly paid my obeisance and received his and Maami's blessings. He had heard that I was going to America and reminded me to always keep in touch with music and continue practicing.

Now, I have a couple of young students of my own, whom I'm trying to shepherd through the basics. I haven't had the opportunity to start on any of what Vechoor sir taught me, since they haven't advanced far enough yet for that. But I do remember my Gurus, all of them- first my mother, then Venkatramanan sir, Vechoor sir, Prof. S.R.J., and Bhaama maami, and silently dedicate my lessons to what they have done for me. After all, that's the best Guru dakshina that I can offer them- to pass on what they have taught me to another generation.


bssekhar said...

This takes me to my nostalgic days with Vechoor Saar. I am B S Sekhar, who lived in the same street where Vechoor Saar lived and my recent thirst to find Vechoor Saar's videos brought to this article.
Felt very good after reading your 'In search of Guru'.
B S Sekhar

Sujatha said...

Glad that you enjoyed the blog, Sekhar. Unfortunately, very little video of Vechoor sir singing is to be found. The only video I've seen of him is his felicitating Rama Varma at one of the latter's concerts.
Vechoor sir's voice will just live on in our memories, and the way we learnt to sing from him.

Sujatha said...

Thanks to B.S. Sekhar for this lovely Facebook page on Vechoor sir.

Vechoor N.Harihara Subramania Iyer