lalita larking

An obsession with cryptic crosswords. Everything else falls in place.

Location: Kolkata, India

Friday, October 13, 2006

To Sir, with love

You know, I never ever referred to him by name or said Chittibabu, been so rudely familiar and all that? Before I started blogging? I always referred to him as Guruvugaru. That was what he was to me.

The first year I started learning from him (I started on Ugadi) I went to seek his blessings on Vijaya Dashami and I found I wasn't the only one (auspicious day and all that). Yeah, yawn, Missus Em will tell you about calendars and festivals and rites and rituals later. Let us just stick to the story right now shall we?

We students used to infest the house and trouble our Gurupatni no end. She'd serve coffee, feed us if we were on extended lessons; she took care of us just as much he took care of us.

But Guruvugaru was capricious; he would call at 6:30 in the morning and tell me to come for a lesson. He never considered my other occupations and concerns as worthy of a thought. He felt like teaching, so I should present myself and be taught and that was that. He recognised no other occupations or timetables.

I'd go for my lesson. Sometimes I'd find him reading newspapers or pondering on a chess endgame problem, sipping coffee (Sudha, I need a cup of that brew you used to make, I tell you), and he'd nod at me. That meant 'go up and get warmed up and get ready, and maybe I will come up and teach'.

Then I'd go up to the first floor, take the students' veena out of it's stand (I used to be terrified doing that…what if I dropped it, knocked it against the sides of the cabinet, what if what if), and sit down with it, check the tuning and play the latest lesson he taught. Repetition of lessons is how rote memory works, after all.

Oh, the days he went back to sleep after asking me to come for a lesson, I'd have the pleasure of going through the whole lot of the elementary exercises that are taught to students of Carnatic music. Sarali, Janta and Datu exercises, before I launched into the latest lesson. But heaven forbid I reduce the strength of strike or volume. If he was only reading the newspapers or pondering a chess puzzle, he'd yell up at me asking if I had perished and reached the Pearly Gates already. My fingers used to go numb, recover, go into cramp and recover before he'd deign to come up and sit behind his wondrous veena.

If he did. I used to be superstitious and count as lucky the days he wore a blue shirt.

There used to be days when he abandoned teaching and applied himself to elucidating a Raga for me. I may be the only person who heard him play Viriboni in all the three tempi, just to deliver a lesson on time keeping and multiples. He was generous that way. I had private elucidation of how a Kalyani musing and Alapana should go, and where and when a niraval would work just right in Khamas.

With two veenas between us was but one aspect of our relationship. He read me, the amateur poetry I wrote and decided I was better suited to words than tones. He understood my passion for language and shared it, to an extent. The only other person I can think of who had the complete GBS is my father, good grief.

Some days though, he'd just call up to me and say that he didn’t feel like teaching. He'd invite me to try to figure out the chess problem or tell me about the books he ordered and that would arrive shortly. He could and did used to make atrocious puns; we both loved P G Wodehouse. Ogden Nash, too. K and Guruvugaru got on like a house on fire. Similar minds and musical musings.

Every Diwali, I used to take my offerings to the kids, always reserving two huge clay flowerpots for him to set off, just like my father did back home, when he came back from his club. That used to be the signal to wind down our celebrations.

We students used to throng and greet him, and mingle with the kids. His eldest gave me tips on tackling the Rubik's Cube. The kids were a source of joy whenever I had a moment from being tyrannised by Guruvugaru.

He taught. He taught as he pleased, according to his judgement of the student and he taught with immense dedication to the task and great passion. He loved teaching and moulding his students, by singing and generously playing again and again. You haven't heard the best of Chittibabu if you weren't a student.

And when he taught, the lesson always took. I can't play 'Lambodara Lakumikara' on my veena without hearing him play that baby-song for me.

You live on, Sir. Happy Birthday up there and give Narada et al a good run for their money. You rocked, you rock and you will rock, always and forever. Thank you for teaching me.

Goodnight Sir, but please keep an eye on me as I try to learn Anandabhairavi and the ata tala varnam as it ought to be, you and Syama Sastry both, I beg you.



Blogger anantha said...

I am sure he, among others, is watching over us....
We used to play cricket in front of his house (we lived in the same street in T-Nagar) and he used to stand there watching us. Some days we used hear him play as we played and it used be a source of pride if he played something that the few half knowledgables (some of us had to forego cricket for violin lessons on some days) among us recognized.
Btw his younger son Sundar does jingles and the odd soundtrack these days. He had one of the year's biggest hits a few months ago.

4:35 am  
Blogger abhorigine said...

Good man, wasn't he? I remember running into him at the Shastrinagar bus stop back in the sixties. That is when he had done the music (or played the veena, don't remember which)for a movie called Kalaikkoil, and I, younger by a few years, straightaway engaged him in conversation about it, finding him surprisingly human. No airs about him. The next time was a train journey to Calcutta with my parents and siblings, sharing a compartment with him. By this time, he was a much better known musician. Still no airs about him. Lovely man.

8:39 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Anantha- You might have been one of the street cricketers I used to dodge and duck as I walked to my lesson, then. :-)

You know, the last time I wrote about him Sayee, the eldest, read it and got in touch with me. He told me about Sundar, the baby brother. I was so chuffed that blogging made reconnection possible.

Ram- Good doesn't start to describe the guy, I tell you. He was a wonderful man. So warm and loving, and yes, no airs.

I remember the song. Deviyar iruvar muruganukku, right?

10:00 am  
Anonymous Ash said...

There used to be days when he abandoned teaching and applied himself to elucidating a Raga for me. I may be the only person who heard him play Viriboni in all the three tempi, just to deliver a lesson on time keeping and multiples.

That was teaching, too. You are a privileged lady, Lali.

1:59 pm  
Anonymous ramki said...

Wonderful post, as usual. But, sorry to nitpick (do feel free to delete the comment). Isn't there an unnecessary apostrophe (I am sure Lynne Truss would not approve of it) in the sixth para. "Then I'd... veena out of IT'S stand..."

12:03 am  
Anonymous Hehhh said...


7:38 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ash- :-)

Ramki- You are right. I won't correct it or delete your comment. That's the trouble with posting on impulse without editing and re-reading, I suppose.

Hehhh- Enna, en blog pakkam? Much gratified, I am sure.

7:44 am  
Anonymous Hehhh said...

Ayyo, we lurk n all. Amman na bhayam. Merely dumbstruck.

4:33 pm  
Blogger abhorigine said...

I think the song started with the words 'Thanga ratham' and was in the raga Abhogi. I may be wrong.

4:48 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Hehhh- Heh. :-) Now I am chuffed.

Ram- Thanga ratham was Balamurali, and a lovely example of Abhogi in film music. I am fairly sure it was Deviyar iruvar. I think the shots of veena playing hands were Chittibabu's too. I could be wrong about that, though.

5:51 pm  
Blogger abhorigine said...

I believe you are right. I did wonder if it was Balamurali I was thinking of. I am so much older, you see. Can't trust my memory any more.

But I do remember that bus stop conversation clearly. He was so young and handsome, so genuinely pleased to someone who recognised him as a musician.

Last year, there was some talk of a biography of his being commissioned. Did it happen?

10:16 pm  
Blogger abhorigine said...

'So genuinely pleased to meet someone...' I meant.

10:27 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- Yes, he was so handsome, he played the junior Majnu, did you know that? He had a foray in the films, too. Ask VAK.

Balamurali's forays into films are different. He played himself and Narada and so on. Chittibabu is only chronicled as playing that Majnu as far as I know. But the song Deviyar is a killer. The veena bits are breath-taking and when one considers the age and the level of film technology it becomes marvellous. I have good reason to believe it was his hands doing the high octave stuff in the film, too. Ask VAK, as per. He is the repository of all this sort of trivia, right?

Was there going to be a bio of him? News to me. I am cut off from the hub, and ignorant to boot. Is TVG still singing and drumming?

10:57 pm  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

@ Missus Em:

Didn't know he was a chess afficionado ... Reaffirms the fact that a true genius excels in all spheres !

PS: Please update the link to my page on your blogroll

3:20 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- He was a pretty good chess player. My father used to find him a decent opponent and Daddy was a difficult candidate to impress. He used to give match practice to Manuel Aaron, Daddy that is.

And yes, sir, link updated on the blogroll, sir, three bags full, sir!

6:56 am  
Blogger abhorigine said...

A friend of the family mentioned the bio plan to me. Don't know what came of it. TVG is still active, though perhaps more as a teacher. He also conducts an annual concert festival during the season.

Your comment on private concerts is giving me ideas. A story is brewing and I will probably inflict you with it soon.

9:52 am  
Blogger abhorigine said...

Oops, the message for terrywatlee doesn't belong here. Sorry.

9:55 am  
Anonymous Hehhh said...

Guess 1 dn of the Hindu Sunday says the right word : )

10:04 am  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

@ Missus Em:

"Excellent" is the word to describe your Guru (as far as chess skills are concerned) ... "Pretty good" is a cliched description for the ordinary ones .. And he certainly was above that class ... Thanks for the link update

10:45 am  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Ram- TVG as a teacher rocks, too.

Hehhh- i don't do the Hindu crossword, but I checked it. It is 2 down, tee hee.

Ram-O Nitpicker par excellence, haven't you realised that I talk informally in the comments section? That includes cliches and slang and worse. So there! *stamps foot*

1:40 pm  
Anonymous Hehhh said...

Amman, our cryptic skills are far behind. Wonly a casual glance revealed.... and yes, ONE DOWN. To be precise.. the clue that goes make another appraisal about fools stuck on top of Snowdon (8)

3:16 pm  
Anonymous Hehhh said...

BTW, shouldn't that be Gurugaaru rather than Guruvu ?

3:20 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Hehhh- My mistake. I need to 'reassess' my googling skills. Turned out the crossword I checked was 2004, October, 15th. :D

We are Gults, no? We say pronounce it Guruvu, no?

3:53 pm  
Anonymous Hehhh said...

Ammamma : Spot on@ the crossword. A readin of recent archives tells me I should've known better than to cross swords in that particular field.

As for gults : speakest thou to a true blue one. Gurugaaru twould've been. Though of course, one makes allowances for divinities ex Michael's capital.

6:53 pm  
Anonymous Prophet of Doom said...

@ Missus Em:

Nitpicker par excellence .... I graciously accept thy compliment ! .. Keep stamping away ... *chuckles*

7:53 pm  
Blogger Lalita Mukherjea said...

Hehhh- Tickled, I say. What a gracious exit, especially when I say it was my mistake.

You a Gult? To quote Rimi and Rajesh, zee maind eet baawggles, wonly.

And I don't know the reference, I am sorry to say. But I can tell you the 'va' sound is pronounced, it is not Guru or Guroo or Guruji, but Guruvu. A gesture and address of repect, yes but he deserved it. He was a miraculous human being, I tell you.

Ram-*raised eyebrow* Hm? I blog, I am blogging, I will blog, I blogged; I will be blogging, will very well have blogged when you get tired and click on the next blog link.
:D parse at will, tee hee.

My pleasure, love.

10:32 pm  

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