He was easily the oldest person at the Music Academy premises, having been around for so long that nobody precisely recalled since when. Sundaram was never forthcoming, probably not remembering the year himself. I learnt later that it was in 1968, the year MS Subbulakshmi became Sangita Kalanidhi.
He was the proverbial silent presence, an irony in a place that had much to do with music, voice, noise and speeches. When MalathiRangaswami and I wrote Four Score and More, the History of the Music Academy, Sundaram was there – he participated in the process of bringing out the book by helping us identify some people in old photographs, and above all by some uncanny sixth sense knowing when we were flagging in our energies and bringing us coffee at the right time.
Sundaram’s taciturn nature made him an ideal attendant at Academy committee meetings. He would serve coffee and withdraw, not in the least bothered with what was being discussed. He could be entrusted with any secret and he probably knew many from the past but he was not a man to reveal them. There were a couple of duties that Sundaram held sacrosanct – the first was his performing the Ayudha Puja at the office, this being his prerogative as the oldest employee. The other was his always being ready to stay back to be at hand in assisting whichever Committee Member it was on duty in giving the tambulam to the artistes after the concert. Not once did he ever express an opinion on any artiste’s performance. He was a karmayogi – it was his duty to be present and do the needful and he did the same uncomplainingly.
It was Satyavati, our livewire admin assistant who referred to him as Sundaram ‘Anna’ and I too took to calling him the same. He characteristically never indicated to me whether he approved of my calling him that or not and so I continued that way. A bachelor, Sundaram lived with his siblings and from March, given the COVID situation and his age, wisely opted to stay at home. His health deteriorated and he passed away yesterday. His last moments I am told, were full of thoughts about the Academy. Farewell Sundaram Anna, it was nice knowing you and many thanks for the coffee.