In the passing of C Ramakrishna, Bar-at-Law and more popularly known as the Chunampet Zamindar, the Music Academy has lost a true friend. A patron member of many years standing, he always made it a point to attend as many concerts as he could during the December Music Season. He also took his role as a member very seriously, ensuring he voted each time there was an election and also making sure he attended the AGMs even during non-election years. A true representative of the old guard, to whom institution memberships were matters of great responsibility.
I pay my tributes to him by remembering a couple of incidents concerning the old man, which took place at the Academy. The first was when I was introduced to him and must have been in the early 2000s. It was a fairly full house for an artiste I don’t recall. The concert was below par but it was still early stages and so the audience stayed put. Seated in a row on the ground floor were my mentor KV Ramanathan, his daughter Jayshree (alas both now departed) and Mr Ramakrishna. I was just a row behind. Just before the concert started, we were introduced by KVR. Anyway, as the performance progressed, Mr Ramakrishna, not held in thrall by the musician, opened a copy of The Economist and began reading it. After a while he got up and made his way down the row, the canteen being his destination. He was a man of impressive bulk and so his exit involved considerable manoeuvring by those seated alongside and it was only when he was near the door that he realised that he had left the magazine on his seat. He signalled to KVR that he would be back and was gone.
The Economist is a staid magazine but on the page which was lying open was a depiction of Adam and Eve. That prompted some titters from those in the seats around. KVR opted to leave the page as it was and pretended to be engrossed in the music. Mr Ramakrishna eventually returned and as before nudged and prodded those in his row before reaching his seat. KVR whispered to him that in his absence the magazine had caused considerable interest. Whereupon Mr Ramakrishna in a powerful voice said, “Well at least there was something to hold audience attention.”
Even after he grew frail and moved with great difficulty, Mr Ramakrishna never missed the December season. On three separate occasions he suffered something of a blackout when he was in the Academy. On the first, he just stood up, forgetting where he was, and those around him had to rally round. Dr Pappu Venugopala Rao and I helped him with his footwear and took him to the exit from where an attendant took charge of him. On the remaining two occasions he was walking in the corridor and suddenly lost balance. In what was a remarkable coincidence, my friend VK Shankar was around and helped him each time. I once gently suggested to Mr Ramakrishna that he ought to have his attendant with him at all times. He agreed and a man came along after that. “Don’t worry,” he beamed at me. “I am not going to die in row B of the Academy.”
Mr Ramakrishna never hesitated to ask people around about the raga being performed or the song being sung. His view on music was simple – he liked to listen. In my view people of this kind are the best rasikas. When I got the news of his passing I messaged Shankar who lives in the US. “What a pity,” he replied. “Had I been around maybe he would have survived.” But then Mr Ramakrishna did not pass away in his seat at the Academy. These are sad times when we see old friends whom we took for granted vanishing one by one.