CHENNAI: Seated at his home office in Besant Nagar, R Natraj is surrounded by books neatly stacked on wooden shelves. His desk has a wooden figurine of the State Emblem of India, four USB drives and many papers and files, but to the Mylapore MLA’s right is an electric keyboard, clean and close to his seat.
When Natraj begins to speak about music, the corners of his mouth tilt up, his eyes crinkle, and his excitement creeps into his speech. From Jim Reeves to Sanjay Subrahmanyan and Pitbull to Beethoven, the retired IPS officer’s love for music has no genre.
When he was younger, Natraj used to go to Music Academy and listen to the musicians all day — the demo sessions in the morning and the more eclectic performances at night. “In the 1980s, I was in charge of terrorist-related cases. There was a bomb blast in Chennai, by Sri Lanka and the LTTE. I was under so much pressure, and music was a welcome distraction. It had a soothing effect,” he says.
At the age of 30, he decided to learn the violin, fascinated by the instrument’s musical diversity, as it could be played in Carnatic, Western and orchestral arrangements.
But, music has not only helped him in times of duress but also on stressful days during his service. Natraj explains that police work can be perceived as a harsh profession. “When I wear the uniform, I feel like I should be guttural and on the offence. It’s a job where you cannot compromise on taking action, but music keeps my feet on the ground during it all,” he says.
In 1990, while serving as the SP in Tuticorin, Natraj began learning the guitar. In 2014, he trained to play the keyboard. He claims that he is not professional in playing any instrument, and never hopes to be, as the biggest joy in music is to constantly learn the myriad possibilities that it opens.
During Margazhi masam, Natraj attends the various concerts in town. “During Margazhi, my evenings are reserved for attending kutcheris in Mylapore. Chennai truly is a ‘Cultural City’, as UNESCO said — Mylapore alone has a plethora of sabhas where many kutcheris are held at a time,” he says, adding that he hopes to introduce a hall in Mylapore for people and children with disability, who have an aptitude and dedication for music.
He introduced music into the lives of his two sons when they were young, but they both gravitated towards tennis. His favourite musicians vary based on genre, but MS Subbulakshmi and Jim Reeves hold a place close to his heart. Practicing these three instruments and balancing his work seems difficult, but Natraj goes for classes regularly, and tries to keep an hour every day for his instruments. He usually listens to Carnatic music in his morning commute and Hindustani music on his way back home.
Natraj seems endlessly fond and amazed by the infinite capabilities of music. Half a dozen speakers, old and new, are scattered around his house, indicative of the impact music has made in his life.
(Alter Ego is a series on the lesser-known facet of Chennai’s influencers)