File photo of Vidwan Kunnakudi R. Vaidyanathan performing alongwith Ustad Zakir Hussain at Hotel Ashoka in Bangalore in 2001. The violin maestro died on 8th September night due to cardiac arrest. (Photo: RK)
Those were the days when I was freelancing for a student newspaper, The Student Mail, as a cartoonist cum reporter. The Editor called me to his cabin on a pleasant evening and asked me to make a cartoon for an article on NTR and Chandrababu Naidu. I showed him a few I had made about other stories. He liked them and told me to come up with a ‘sooper’ cartoon for the story.
I headed to my table when I heard him call me again from his cabin. He told me about a Jugalbandhi concert between Vidwan Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan and Ustad Zakir Hussain that evening. The venue was Ashoka Hotel. I jumped up in joy, as I could not only get to hear two amazing musicians, but also hear them talk. I immediately got ready to rush to the venue. Had a quick Coffee at the canteen, and reached Ashoka half an hour early on my red TVS-Champ. I entered an almost packed auditorium, with just a few seats empty. Got to know from the organisers of ‘Spandana’ that the musicians had already arrived. I managed to get a quick tete-a-tete with Vidwan Kunnakkudi Vaidyanathan and Ustad Zakir Hussain.
Dressed in a flashy red and golden yellow top, Kunnakkudi started off in English, most of the time smiling and nodding to my questions and later spoke in Tamil. Adjusting the huge ring on his right ring finger, he told that he never differentiated between the classes and the masses. “I only know to entertain through music. I am what I am because of father’s blessings, mother’s love and most importantly, divine intervention.”, he said.
Ustad Zakir Hussain, who was attired in a hazel coloured kurtha and white pyjama, was animatedly talking about his experiences abroad to other journalists. I asked him how it feels to be one of the top Tabla players, and this was what he had to say: “I am still a student of Indian classical music. I am learning every moment. Every time I play with a classical musician, I learn new aspects of music. There are as many expressions as there are musicians, so it’s always learning time. So, that is what I am—a student driven to make more and more discoveries.”
I took their permission and clicked a few pictures.
A few minutes later, they were on the stage, enthralling the audience with beautiful numbers. Kunnakkudi had given a hundred odd exressions for all of us. After an hour, I decided to take a picture before heading to the office to finish the story. I could see a few flashes go here and there. Kunnakkudi had just then played an amazing raaga and the Ustad had gained rhythm. I went near the stage and adjusted my ‘Canon’ camera. Kunnakkudi even recognised me and kept smiling.
Not even a milli-second had ceased after I clicked, the flash had just disappeared, the Ustad stopped abruptly. And the stage freezed. But for Kunnakkudi’s smile, there were shell-shocked faces all over the stage. The Ustad shouted at me: “Who let you to take pictures? What are the organisers doing? Why don’t you guys enjoy the music? The flow is gone now. This is bad.” Kunnakkudi was still smiling. (See pic)
I felt like hanging myself. No one told me anything though. I saw a couple of organisers behind the stage, and they signalled me to stay cool. There was a hushed silence all around. I slowly went to the side of the stage, and in no time left the hall. As the door closed behind me, I could hear the tabla playing. And the violin maestro began the popular ‘Valliya Nayagane’, in Shanmukhapriya, which brought me again into the auditorium. I stayed on for the whole concert. Just for Kunnakkudi. And his mannerisms.