Song of Surrender

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

T.M. Krishna and the Magsasay Award

By Rajiv Krishnamurthy
I was quietly browsing the Internet when suddenly my son popped up on Facebook Messenger and informed that T.M. Krishna had been awarded the Ramon Magsaysay award! It was a great surprise and I was quite keen to know under what category he had been honoured. Luckily, the citation was immediately out and it said Krishna was receiving the award under the ‘Emergent Leadership’ category had known T.M. Krishna and his projects for around a decade, and knew it was well deserved. I immediately called another ardent fan of T.M. Krishna and asked him, "Shall we go to Manila for the award function?"
Hariharan Sankaran, the popular `photographer uncle' of the Carnatic music circuit was equally spontaneous in agreeing to my proposal. I have this bad habit of booking my tickets the moment I decide on travelling and this is precisely what happened. Even before we could review our intentions both of us were neck-deep into the trip and the main reason was that no visa was required for Philippines if we had certain other visas!
Hari and I decided that we would land in Manila the day before the award function and stay for three nights there including a day for sightseeing. We met in Singapore and landed in Manila on 30 August 2016 and were booked in the same hotel as our awardee and his family. The travel from the airport to Diamond Hotel took us two hours for 8 kilometres and our conversation with the driver made us realise that we were in for some torrid weather in Manila.
Sangeetha and Krishna, flanked by their family comprising his mother Prema Rangachari, his brother Srikanth, and Krishna's children Arya and Anantha plus the charming young student Madhav Iyengar made the reception committee very lively. God only knows who spoke what and the cacophony was quite tough to manage. On Day 1, Krishna had arranged for a lovely dinner in Intramurous, the Spanish quarter of Manila at Illustrado for the near and dear. The dinner set the pace for the things to unfurl in the next two days.
On the D-day, 31 August 2016 we had some insight into the kind of work the Ramon Masaysay Award Foundation does. Their secretariat was an impressive tower on Roxas Boulevard, a prestigious address in Manila and bang opposite to our hotel. We learnt that all they do is, give away the prestigious award, often called the Nobel Prize of Asia. The Foundation led by the dynamic Ms. Carmecita Abella receives nominations, evaluates them, sends researchers to the nominees arenas, evaluates the reports of the researchers, further sifts the nominations. Then evaluations by various committees takes place and then a short-list is given to the Trustees for the final selection. It takes around 15-18 months for this work to be completed, and I am sure this must put to rest all unwarranted speculations.
Each of the awardees was provided a chaperone! His or her job was to maintain the schedules of the awards function and this starts at 8 am in the morning. Seminars are presented by each of the awardees to students and the public. They are so open that it gives enough opportunity for the students to know about the work done by each of the awardees. The no-holds bar attitude is indeed laudable.
The awards ceremony was scheduled at the Philippines Cultural Centre on Roxas Boulevard for between 4.30 and 6.30 pm. Belonging to the awardee’s camp we had seats in the fourth row, which gave us a vantage view of the proceedings and of course, a lovely spot to place our cameras. The ceremony was already rehearsed on the previous day and Krishna was full of praise for the way it was done. The speeches of all the awardees were already submitted to the Award Foundation.
I went into the market in the morning with Hari and Krishna and bought myself a Barong, the traditional dress of Philippines and wanted to be one amongst the locals! So, when we all arrived at the venue, almost all the men were attired in a Barong and above all the festive atmosphere was very overwhelming. Here we were joined by R.K. Shriramkumar and K. Arun Prakash, too. They had the fortune of staying with an Indian family and enjoying sambar, rasam, and more kuzhambu. The lobby at the cultural centre was amazing—each awardee had a kiosk set up for him. Details of the Awardee were contained in the stall and hence, the ‘CV’ of each awardee was open to all. It was very heartening to watch youngsters in large numbers thronging these stalls and getting to know about each awardee.
The ceremony commenced with the trustees, Awardees, and others marching on to the stage through the audience on both aisles. It was a great sight! Once the stage was set with these persons then we had the Vice President of Philippines marching through the audience and all in the hall paying their respects to her. It was business straight away.
There were no unnecessary speeches. Each of the trustees introduced the awardees and they did it to perfection. Their expression was flawless, no one fumbled even a word! Similarly, the acceptance speeches made by the awardees were equally succinct.
About 70 minutes into the ceremony, when all of us wanted to call it a day, came the speech by the Guest of Honour and Vice President of Philippines, 
Ms. Maria Leonor Robredo. This was worth every penny we spent. Maybe it was a prepared speech and she had a tele-prompter to aid her, but the manner in which she delivered her speech left us speechless. Ms. Robredo was not only eloquent but had taken the trouble of following every awardee’s speech. She made it a point to include a few issues expressed in every one of these speeches. Her involvement and passion won over the every one present in the hall.
Next was meeting the awardees in the lobby and at individual stalls. This was so informal that we could meet almost any of the awardees freely and take photographs them. Krishna was, of course, overwhelmed by the occasion and the affection poured on him by the crowd that included many past awardees, too.
The following day, 1 September 2016 there was a concert for the Indian fraternity with some foreigners at the Hall of the Stock Exchange of Philippines. The audience was basically from the Asian Development Bank. The Embassy of India led by the charming Ambassador Shri Lalduhthlana Ralte had arranged this concert by T.M. Krishna, R.K. Shriramkumar and K. Arunprakash. It was an amazing concert which kept the audience from diverse language regions spellbound. After conclusion the audience asked for some more music and Krishna readily obliged with two more songs. The concert was toppedup by a lovely dinner at Mr. Ramesh and Ms. Radha’s residence. Thus ended a very interesting visit to Manila and gave us an insight into what the Magsaysay Award is all about and the hard-work that goes into the process.

Birthdays & Anniversaries


Monday, 20 February 2017

N. Sigamani

By Anjana Anand

Natarajan Sigamani is a senior violin accompanist for Bharatanatyam. Unassuming and  quietly creative, he is driven by his passion to excel. Rich in musicality, his violin accompaniment is an asset to the dance orchestra. Bharatanatyam is indeed enriched by musicians of his calibre. This versatile violinist believes that Bharatanatyam is as much a part of his life as Carnatic music.
Did music run in your family?
My father Sangeeta Bhushanam  Alandur  S. Natarajan was the brother of Sangita Kalanidhi Dr. S. Ramanathan. He was a  professional violinist and worked at the Music College, Chennai and at Kalakshetra. Even as a child I observed my father’s playing for Bharatanatyam programmes and was attracted to it. He was my first guru and I later learnt violin from K.T. Sivaganesh who exposed me to different fingering and bowing techniques which came in handy as an accompanist for Bharatanatayam.
Which musicians have inspired you?
M.S. Gopalakrishnan, T.N. Krishnan, Lalgudi Jayaraman, N. Rajam and Mangalampalli Balamuralikrishna.
Who were the artists you accompanied early in your career?
In 1985, I started accompanying for Prabha Nagarajan. Some of my early performances were for Udupi Lakshminarayana, S.K. Kameswaran, M. Swaminathan, K.J. Sarasa, Vyjayanthimala Bali and Uma Anand. 
Seetarama Sarma introduced me to Malavika Sarukkai for whom I played the violin for 17 long years. My musical association with Priyadarsini Govind also goes back several years.
I was exposed to the beautiful music of natyacharyas like Tanjavur Kitappa Pillai, S.K. Rajaratnam Pillai and Pandanallur Subbarayya Pillai. These experiences were milestones in my musical journey.
The memorable productions you have been involved in?
In 1994, I was part of the team of Jaya Jaya Devi composed by Lalgudi G. Jayaraman and choreographed by Rhadha. More than the performance opportunity, it was a learning experience for me to work under the guidance of the maestro. Rhadha is also one of the senior artists to have encouraged me.
My interaction with musical giants in Bharatanatyam helped me to cultivate my skills. Dance also afforded freedom for my creativity. All the dancers I have worked with to date have given me this musical space to create and to enhance their performance. For example, when we worked with Malavika Sarukkai on Thimakka (based on the story of inspiring Indian environmentalist from Karnataka), I would watch her movements and improvise on the composition to bring the scene alive. For this, I used different bowing and fingering techniques for musical impact.
You are out of India almost six months of the year! Any interesting experiences during your tours?
Yes, there are many. In Baltimore, U.S.A., as a member of Malavika Sarukkai’s orchestra. I was conferred honorary citizenship by the Mayor. I have had the honour of performing for several visiting dignitaries, as in the case of Hillary Clinton when she came to Delhi. While travelling with Malavika, I learnt much from discussions with her learned mother Saroja Kamakshi.
The performance in Israel with Priyadarsini Govind was also a memorable experience. The local crowd watched in rapt attention. I played a raga prelude before she performed the Kathanakutoohalam tillana, and the audience broke out in full applause.
My concerts with Alarmel Valli were remarkable for her onstage rapport with the musicians.
Besides touring with senior dancers, I also play for many arangetrams in the U.S.A. thanks to Bharagavi Sundararajan of New Jersey.
In Europe and America, I find that sound technicians at performance venues are now used to Indian music and are sensitive to our balancing needs and acoustics.
Can you mention a creative work which you enjoyed composing music for?
Many years ago, I composed music interludes for a 15-minute dance composition in a competition. The theme was the dice game in the Mahabharata. The raga Darbari Kanada was used to represent the Pandavas and Rasikapriya for the Kauravas. We used the ragas alternately like a question and answer session. Many Bharatanatyam musicians were present at  the event, and at the end of the performance, they gave us a standing ovation.
What forms of music inspire you?
I listen to all kinds of music, Carnatic, Hindustani, Western classical, jazz, film music and more. Several music lovers have introduced me to various genres of music over the years. I do not listen to music for pleasure alone. Subconsciously, I analyse the music, its orchestration and the way the artist presents it. In fact, I listen multiple times to every track. It helps me  to create interesting soundscapes, especially while working with thematic pieces.
Do you  enjoy being a  musician for Bharatanatyam?
It has been truly enriching. I entered this field with passion for Carnatic music and Bharatanatyam. As I had exposure to Bharatanatyam from an early age, I was not caught in the dilemma of wanting to be a ‘kutcheri artist’ or settling for Bharatanatyam! Playing for dance was my first choice and I can say with confidence that it has been a most rewarding choice.
After a dance performance at the Vipanchee festival, and hearing me play the violin for the bhajan Thumak chalata Ramachandra, maestro Balamuralikrishna came up to congratulate me. I was so thrilled. The next year, he conferred on me the Nada Kala Vipanchee title, and it was a proud moment for me to receive the award from him with his blessings. All these are moments to cherish.
Every dancer I played for has given me a different insight into music. I learn something new at each performance. I have travelled across India and to several countries abroad, and met some of the most brilliant performers because of my decision to play the violin for classical dance.
I must acknowledge the role of all the dancers I have worked with, my co-artists and most important, the technicians at performance venues who have made  art a complete experience for me.

[Sruti has a policy of  editing out salutations like Sri, Smt, Sir, Ji, Anna, Aunty, Mama, Pandit, Ustad, Saheb and honorifics from all our articles]