“This is Sarangapani from Kumbhakonam,” he would announce each time he called, even though he knew that I had his number saved on my phone.
“I have been expecting your call for the past so many years,” I would retort.”How is Komalavalli? And did you come by Garuda?”
And then we would both laugh. This was a standing gag between us. Now I will not get that call anymore.
Sarangapani was a diminutive man, simply dressed. In the hothouse atmosphere of the Music Academy where exotic species thrived in pashmina, silk, designer clothes and diamonds, he stood out in his simple white and white attire. He often had the stubble of a few days on his face. And as compared to the business barons and top-ranking professionals with incomes in ten digits, he was a man of the masses. He had retired from the postal services. But all this never gave him any complex. He moved with everyone as an equal and with perfect ease. The point was, he knew his music. And to him,at the Music Academy, that was all that mattered.
He had been listening to the best of Carnatic music for over seven decades. He had heard them all – Ariyakkudi downwards. And yet he did not belong to that category that denounces all the music of today as trash. He enjoyed listening to those performing in the junior category as much as he heard those who sang in the evening and for whose concerts the ticket-buying public had to queue up early in the morning. And when he analysed a performance it was always a well thought out, objective exercise.
Somewhere along the way, he had acquired a vast collection of stories and anecdotes about artistes, their foibles and mannerisms. In me he found a ready listener. When I wrote the history of the Music Academy along with Dr Malathi Rangaswami, he was of great use. We became close friends thereafter.
Sarangapani took his Music Academy membership very seriously. It was I think the asset he cherished the most. He became a member sometime in the dim past; at a time when being one was not considered a prestige issue. Those were days when the Music Academy was not on a very sound footing and so solicited memberships from everyone. Sarangapani too joined in and he loved the institution. He would come to attend the AGM each year and when the elections happened every three years, he would be there to cast his vote. During the December Music Season, he made it a point to be at the inauguration and then be present every day for practically every concert and lecture session – morning, afternoon and evening. Making this journey each year from Kumbhakonam was not easy and I am sure staying in Chennai for 15 days was even tougher and yet he did it. At the end of the season, the President and the Secretaries were bound to get some feedback from him, in person, over the phone and sometimes via postcard! He had seen the Music Academy grow from being a nomadic Sabha functioning at various rented places to a powerful body and it mattered to him that it kept growing. In 2009, The Hindu did a profile on Sarangapani and his love for the Music Academy. You can read it here.
This Season, Sarangapani was absent. I was informed that he had had a stroke, lost his ability to speak and was confined to the house. Sometime during the Season, when the Music Academy that he loved was filled with music, Sarangapani passed away in Kumbhakonam. I am sure that on its way out his soul dropped in at a concert at 168/306 TTK Road, Royapettah, Chennai 600014.
I will miss him.