Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Travelling light: a journey in music

By V Ramnarayan

Chapter 3


By the time Krishnan completed school, he had more or less developed a good ear for music, both classical and film music. Though going to concerts was no longer a regular habit with him--mainly on account of the RR Sabha membership expiring as a result of Appa's frequent transfers across India--he continued to enjoy listening to the music of his choice, thanks to the brilliant fare All India Radio offered.

In Carnatic music, there was this morning concert at 8.30 everyday in a programme entitled Arangisai that the Madras station broadcast. This was something Amma tried not to miss, once she finished her morning chores, but Krishnan himself was rarely at home to listen to. The National Programme on Saturday nights was a huge draw, and all leading musicians tried to reserve their best for it. It was indeed the high point of the weekend for the family, led by Grandfather, when they were all together at Trivandrum, crowding around the noisy Murphy valve radio at home. For Amma, this had been the staple from childhood, as she had rarely been able to attend sabha concerts.

Krishnan became familiar with the interior of All India Radio Madras, as he went there a few times to get the copies of his certificates attested by a Gazetted Officer. His classmate and closest friend Bala took him there to meet his father Mr Rangaswamy, who was an engineer in the radio station. It was an imposing mansion of an office building facing the sea at the beginning of the Beach Road, now known as Kamarajar Salai. This was back in the 1960s, and the AIR building was still in good repair, quite well maintained, unlike the gloomy, smelly premises it has deteriorated to become now. It was barely ten years old when Krishnan visited there, having been constructed in 1954.

Mr Rangaswamy was an interesting character. He was a small, wiry man, who did not smile much, but his somewhat forbidding exterior masked a gentle nature. When he was not very busy, he liked to tell the boys the story of All India Radio, sharing his experiences with them with much enthusiasm. He was a smoker, and had a packet of Wills Filter kept within easy reach on his desk, but that was only for visitors. In private he preferred smoking bidis, and lit one up while talking to Bala and Krishnan.

AIR had moved to Santhome on 11 July 1954, and its first programme was a short alapana in the raga Todi by that genius of a nagaswara vidwan TN Rajaratnam Pillai, he told them. "A truly auspicious beginning", he continued, his eyes taking on a dreamy look. "Can there ever be a better Todi? Only one other musician came close to it--GN Balasubramaniam. Do you know that the great Rajaratnam Pillai himself once acknowledged to GNB that his Todi was second to none. It happened here, in this very building."

"For those great nagaswara vidwans, the raga was supreme, the composition coming second, sometimes a distant second. Mr S Rajam, Veena Balachander's elder brother, who has been Music Supervisor here for so many years, once told me a story involving Rajaratnam. After he played a brilliant piece, someone asked him who the composer was. "Shall we say Tyagaraja?" was his reply. 
Krishnan learnt from Rangaswamy's long lecture that radio had come to Madras as early as 16 May 1924, when the Madras Presidency Radio Club was formed by a band of amateurs led by CV Krishnaswamy Chetty. The Club started daily broadcasts on 31 July 1924 from its premises at Holloways Garden, Egmore. Financial problems led to its early closure in 1827, when the Club donated its 200-watt transmitter to the Corporation of Madras. The Corporation Radio Station that began on 1 April 1930 proved very popular. In addition to daily two-hour entertainment programmes in the evening, it also broadcast music lessons and stories for children. Sundays and holidays featured 'gramophone music' , which was broadcast through speakers installed at different open-air venues in the city including the Marina beach. Éuropean music' was a special treat once a month, and much of all this entertainment was beamed to 14 Corporation schools.

The Corporation Radio's service was taken over by AIR on 16 June 1938. Its station was located on Marshalls Road, Egmore and the service was inaugurated by Lord Erskine, the Madras Governor.  The programme was launched with a nagaswaram concert by Tiruvengadu Subramania Pillai.
When Bala asked his father if Madras was the first broadcasting station in India, Mr Rangaswamy excitedly told him of the early days of radio in India. "You know radio came to India within a couple of years of its debut in the world. The first broadcasting station in the world was set up in Pittsburgh, USA in 1920, and on 23 February  1920, Marconi Co. went on air in England from Chelmsford. In fact, India's first broadcasts were even ahead of the British Broadcasting Corporation's first set of regular programmes in November 1922. The Times of India, in collaboration with the Posts and Telegraphs Department, relayed a special programme of music at the instance of Sir George Lloyd, the Governor of Bombay. A one-off event, it was heard long distance by the governor who was at the time in Poona, 175 kilometres away. An amateur radio club in Bombay started regular programmes in June 1923, followed by Calcutta Radio Club in November the same year.

Rangaswamy also told the boys about the important role played by Dr BV Keskar, Minister for Information and Broadcasting from 1952 to 1961. His several initiatives included the huge impetus AIR gave Indian classical music, the institution of such iconic programmes as the National Programme of Music and the Radio Sangeet Sammelan, and the establishment of Vadya Vrinda, the Indian music orchestra, headed by giants like Pandit Ravi Shankar, and TK Jayarama Iyer. He was also instrumental in slowing the entry of film music and the banning of the harmonium in AIR.


By the way

Vividh Bharati and its loyal band of listeners

Anand Akela from Marwar Mundwa. Allah Rakha from Jhumritalaiya. Sharad Agarwal from Rajnandgaon. And countless others from Yeotmal, Mancherial, Nanded, Karim Nagar, Nepa Nagar, Indore, Rajkot, Beed, Ujjain and Dhanbad. People to whom we should forever be indebted for introducing some of the greatest Hindi film songs to us. If Akashvani’s Aap ki Farmaish in which the names of all these listeners figured regularly brought us so many evergreen melodies, programmes like Sangeet Sarita not only played film songs based on ragas, but also presented classical music renderings of the same ragas, thus adding to the listener’s appreciation of good music.

Some of the most famous songs of all time based on classical music-songs included Man tarpat Hari darsan ko aaj, Poocho na kaise maine rayn bitayi, Jyoti kalash chhalke, Manmohana bade jhoote, Madhuban me Radhika nache re, or Zindagi bhar nahin bhulegi, each one a blockbuster-but also other melodies that did not quite hit the jackpot in box office terms, yet touched a chord with a whole generation of listeners.
Some little gems have stood the test of time, gems that we would probably never have come across but for Vividh Bharati. Of course, O sajna of Parakh belongs to the first category of all-time favourites, but the other Lata Mangeshkar beauty from the same film, Mila hai kisika jhumka, is a typical Salil Chaudhuri charmer whose first acquaintance we owe some anonymous listener from Ajmer or Sriganganagar.
Jaoon kahan bataye dil from Chhoti Bahen is a subtly poignant Mukesh-Shanker Jaikishen number. The haunting Saranga teri yaad mein and Haan deevana hun main, songs from the film Saranga which bring back memories of sleepy afternoons with book in hand and transistor radio by your side, were by Sardar Malik.

Songs heard on radio can be misleading. Kohinoor, a film released in the sixties, had a rich slew of delightful raga-based melodies. From Madhuban mein Radhika nache re, to Do sitaron ka zameen par hai milan aaj ki rat, or Dhal chuki shame gham, everyone of them promises a scene of serious purpose or sentimental romance, but what you saw on screen was a spoof-like treatment by the brilliant comic genius of Dilip Kumar with Meena Kumari, adding to heady music by Team Naushad-Shakeel Badayuni-Mohammed Rafi/ Lata Mangeshkar.

The same musical foursome had been a runaway success in Baiju Bawra, whose cast had Bharat Bhushan and Meen Kumari in the lead. Incredibly--well not so incredibly, for it was almost the norm in Hindi film music--the classic Man tarpat Hari darsan ko aaj was the result of a collaboration among a trio of Muslims in Shakeel Badayuni, Naushad, and Mohammad Rafi, as were the songs in Kohinoor, which offered the additional dimension of both the lead actors belonging to that category.

If Bharat Bhushan was not exactly known for his histrionic ability, he proved a credible Baiju in Baiju Bawra, but gave a relatively wooden performance in Barsaat ki Raat, in which he got to lip-sync for the all-time favourite Zindagi bhar nahin bhulegi. The actor’s portrayal of Mirza Ghalib in the eponymous film was unaffected if touchingly naïve, with at least one moment of delicious nonchalance when the poet swaggers away on hearing a wandering mendicant sing the praise of the incomparable Ghalib, though he does not recognise him:

‘Hai aur bhi duniya men sukhanvar bahut ache
Kahten hain ke Ghalib ka hai andazen bayan aur
(There are doubtless many good poets in this world 
But Ghalib has a unique style all his own, they say)
An extreme case of a complete ham getting to ‘sing’ some of the greatest songs in Hindi cinema was Pradeep Kumar, the star of movies featuring some unforgettable melodies by music director Roshan, with Man re tu kahe na dheer dhare from Chitralekha my personal favourite among that composer’s delightfully original numbers based on classical ragas.

While Naushad’s were probably the creations I most frequently heard on these wonderful broadcasts on Vividh Bharati--not to mention Jai Mala for India’s jawans, and the Urdu programme of Akashvani relayed at 3 pm or so--Sachin Dev Burman was never far behind, while Madan Mohan, C Ramachandra, Jaidev, Roshan, Chitragupt, Ghulam Mohammed, Ravi, and Shanker-Jaikishen kept you in constant supply of delightful compositions, each composer affixing his trademark touches to his songs.

And Khayyam! Was there ever a more completely original music director? Particularly engaging was his use of Punjabi folk, Pahadi dhun and ghazals. It was thanks to Vividh Bharati that I first heard that priceless Rafi-Suman Kalyanpur duet Thahariye hosh men aaloon that Khayyam composed for the film Mohabbat isko kahten hain. His Pahadi delights included Lata Mangeshkar’s Baharon mera jeevan bhi savaaro from Akhri Khat and his wife Jagjit Kaur’s Tum apna ranj-o-gham from Shagun, not to mention the title song from Kabhi Kabhi, written by Harivansh Rai Bacchan and sung by Mukesh. 

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