It was with a sense of loss that I read in obituary columns of The Hindu last week of the passing of Mr Sanjeeva Rao of Balaji Nagar. It must have been a few years since we last met but I can never forget the help he gave me when I first began researching Carnatic music history.
Mr Sanjeeva Rao was from one of those old South Madras families that did much to encourage the art. It was to him and his forebears a matter of life – you simply took to listening to music at a certain age and carried on from there. If I am not mistaken he was a descendant of the Balaji Rao after whom Balaji Nagar is named and he lived there till the end of his life. He had worked for the State Bank of India.
Till he stepped into his ‘80s Mr Sanjeeva Rao was a regular at all Mylapore Sabhas, driving his Santro car at a sedentary pace. With his sharp features, head full of hair (was I jealous), his twinkling eyes, his ready smile and his characteristic full sleeve shirt hanging loose over his trousers, you could not miss him. He reminded me of Galahad Threepwood – short and dapper. The Sastry Hall was a favourite venue for him where he was usually in the first row. So was the Raga Sudha Hall. He was of that category that I would term the salt of the Carnatic music earth – Sangita Kalanidhi Dr S Ramanathan was another, as was Parimala Srinivasan. They heard the best of music but at the same time, they made it their life’s mission to listen to every youngster. It was a credo – if you don’t attend concerts by youngsters and encourage them, how will they ever become big stars he once asked me. And he found something praiseworthy in every performance.
As I said earlier, he was one of my go to people when I began working on Carnatic music history. A ready font of information on everybody from Ariyakkudi downwards he readily shared this with anyone who wanted to know. The reminiscences were devoid of malice and always related with a gentle smile. The RR Sabha history was something he knew to the last detail.
In the past few years I did not see Mr Rao to the extent I would have liked to. We would chat briefly on the few occasions we did bump into each other. He was growing old in his characteristic graceful fashion and I hope his end was peaceful, with everyone from Ariyakkudi to Ranjani Hebbar descending to take him away to music in the heavens.
I apologise for the poor quality of the pic – not having any of the old man I scanned the one in The Hindu’s obit column.