KV Krishnaswami Aiyar – Part 3
Even though K.V. Krishnaswami Aiyar (KVK) was associated with the Music Academy from its inception, he became fully involved with it only from 1935 when he took over as its President. Several of his juniors and associates, such as G.T. Sastry (who later joined All India Radio and became its Director General), Basheer Ahmed Sayeed, and C.K. Venkatanarasimhan (both eminent lawyers, with the former being elevated to the Bench) were roped into the committee. A new era began.
Punctuality in programmes, a credo for which the Academy is a byword till now, was strictly followed. Musicians who had meandered beyond their allotted time would find the curtains lowering even while they were in the midst of a song. KVK brushed protests aside, stating clearly that a musician exceeding his or her time slot was unfair to whoever came on next. He was also uncompromising on presentation of tickets at the entrance. The Boy Scouts were instructed not to allow entry to anybody, no matter how important that personage was, if a ticket or pass was not shown.
Once, it so happened that KVK forgot his ticket. A Boy Scout, not recognising him, stopped him at the gate. Other office bearers berated him for this, but KVK had only praise. He waited at the entrance till his own ticket was brought by his driver. He was equally clear that requests for free passes could not be entertained. Judges and Government officers were firmly told to buy tickets. Once, Sir Alladi Krishnaswami Aiyar had wandered in in his absent-minded fashion and nobody asked him for his ticket. Next day, a politely worded letter with a debit note for the ticket amount was sent to his office!
In its initial days, the Academy was not the powerful body it now is. Its finances were in a bad way, it having survived for five years thanks to the generosity of its first President, Dr. U. Rama Rau. KVK was clear that the institution had to stand on its own feet. He hit upon the idea of sponsored programmes, with the first such being held courtesy Lord Erskine, the Governor of Madras. KVK also decided that the Academy would bring out a souvenir each year for its annual season. This would carry advertisements from patrons and sponsors, besides including the programme details. This is a practice that continues till now, with the early souvenirs in particular being valuable historic records – in terms of music and corporate entities. With the money that came in, the Academy’s journal, an annual publication dedicated to the theory of music, could be published without any difficulty.
The Academy had till 1935 functioned from Dr. Rama Rau’s clinic and erstwhile residence on Thambu Chetty Street, George Town. Under KVK it began its journey South. The venue of the annual conference, which had till then been a pandal behind Ripon Building, was shifted to General Patter’s Road for a couple of years and, after that, to the Woodlands Hotel on Westcott Road for yet another year. In 1939, thanks to his clout with the Madras University, KVK organised the concerts at the Senate House which was the Academy’s venue for its annual conference till 1941. The acoustics of Senate House proved a challenge and it was KVK’s idea of hanging sack cloth on all the windows that saved the day. The Academy may have functioned from Senate House forever had it not been for the Tamil Isai movement.
KVK, despite his great love for Tamil, did not believe that it was a musical language. In this he was supported by the Academy die-hards such as TTK, T.L. Venkataramana Iyer and others. This led to the Academy taking a tough stance on the Tamil Isai movement, which estranged the institution from M.S. Subbulakshmi for over five years. With the Tamil Isai Sangam (TIS) being dominated by Justice Party members, who also dominated the University Senate, the Academy had to move. It shifted to the R.R. Sabha.
The rivalry with the TIS was taken as a positive challenge. In order to wean away artistes, KVK came up with the idea in 1943 of declaring the Sangita Kalanidhi an annual award for musicians. The medal and the citation were designed by him and proved major attractions. This, he decided, would be given away each year on the last day of the conference in an Oriental convocation which was appropriately called the Sadas. It is a practice that continues. That this award was to be copied by other organisations and would lead to a near farcical situation each year in December is another matter.
With the TIS embarking on a grandiose auditorium, the Academy had to follow suit. Thanks to the persuasive skills of Basheer Ahmed Sayeed, the institution overcame its hesitation to borrow money and invest in a large property. The necessity for funds saw KVK and team building bridges with M.S. The rest is history. A high point was when Prime Minister Nehru came to lay the foundation stone for the new auditorium in 1955.
Over the years, a closely knit group came to handle Academy affairs. KVK was the leader and his Vice-Presidents included Kasturi Srinivasan of The Hindu, the movie moghul S.S. Vasan and TTK. There were three secretaries, C.K. Venkatanarasimhan, Dr. V. Raghavan and K. Soundararajan. Other members, who would later become Presidents, were Justice T.L. Venkatarama Aiyar and the industrialist K.R. Sundaram Iyer.
As KVK steadily weakened physically, some began to wonder whether it was not time for a new President to take over. Feelers were sent to Kasturi Srinivasan. But he made it clear that as long as KVK was alive, none else could take his position. Sadly, it was Kasturi Srinivasan who predeceased in 1959. Sometimes, in pessimistic vein, KVK would wonder as to how much more time he had. He worried that he would die before the Academy’s new auditorium was complete. On hearing of this, TTK wrote to him assuring him that he, TTK, would ensure that the Academy auditorium was complete in time for KVK to see it.
Sure enough it happened. The grahapravesam took place in December 1961, with KVK wheeled in to witness the event. He lived to see Jayachamaraja Wodeyar declaring the auditorium open in December 1962. In a throwback to the Senate House days, the acoustics of the new hall were as bad, and sacking had to be used once more! He had three more years to struggle through physically as a skeletal wreck, though his mind remained as alert as ever. His faithful team kept him updated on progress – the acoustics were rectified, G.D. Birla had sponsored air-conditioning and there were permanent seats.
Rather aptly, KVK passed away while the December Music Season was in progress, on 24th December 1965. He had been President of the Music Academy for thirty years. His portrait now adorns the main auditorium. Opposite his is the portrait of TTK, the man who gave the final impetus to ensure that his dream came true. In 1976, a bust of KVK’s was installed in the lobby of the Music Academy.