I remember my violin master as vividly as if I am seeing him today. Decades ago, when I was a secondary school student, the master used to come to my house to teach me the subtle notes of Carnatic music and also instructed me on the strumming of the soulful instrument. The master was a slightly bald, genial-looking middle-aged person with a ready smile on his face. He was under five feet in stature, would wear a dhoti, a loop of which would always be in his hand.
My mother knew that he lived in straitened circumstances and gave him a generous fee. My mother’s love for the violin made me learn how to strum the instrument, although my desire was to hone my skills on the elegant veena. The violin master was a good musician, but a bad teacher. He would never scold me for a missed note. On rare occasions I would request him to play the nagaswara and he would smile and readily oblige. I would get lost in the mesmerising notes and visualise imaginary snakes in my garden leaping and dancing.
Soon after the lesson, the cook would bring a stainless steel tumbler full of steaming coffee along with some snacks. The master’s face would light up and I would bow to him and move away. I wanted him to enjoy his cuppa. As I returned I invariably saw him shaking and rotating the tumbler slowly, and then slurping the last sip with immense satisfaction.
My father was a great lover of music and artists would regularly come for music recitals at my house. The violin master would be a part of it. The bhajan—accompanied by the melodious rhythms of the harmonium of my father, the violin-tabla-mridangam of professionals and the cymbals by many, including me—made every such occasion a memorable one.
The violin master used to organise recitals by students once or twice a year at a local auditorium called Gandhi Bhavan. Once I was trained to sing a kirtana. It was my first recital and I was nervous. I started the song, beating the thala with my fingers with gusto, but soon lost my nerve as I saw the crowd swelling.
Midway my vocal cords suddenly turned mute although my lips were still moving by reflex. And then I spotted my master who gave me an encouraging smile. The lost voice was found again and people assumed that the defect had been in the microphone!