- By Padma Varadan

Being the offspring of a towering figure is indeed a mixed blessing; the standards of excellence are predefined, goals of achievement are laid out and the atmosphere is charged with the right vibrations to ensure motivation. Chances are that one's own inadequacies to make the grade can also be demoralising. Yet, in my case, opportunities have been countless to observe, emulate and learn from the great master, a stern disciplinarian and a fond parent. Down the memory lane are firmly etched impressions gathering over four decades and more of close association.

Born way back in 1901 on 2nd February in Mannargudi, a small town tucked away in the then culturally advanced Tanjavur district, my father Rangaramanuja Ayyangar seemed to epitomise the dictum of 'simple living and high thinking', both by chance and by choice. His father, an acknowledged Vedic scholar, was too other-worldly to be swayed by pecuniary considerations and the family barely managed to survive in the perpetual struggle to make both ends meet. And life took on urgency in everything he did, obsessed as he was with the belief that life is a one-time unfoldment not to be frittered away in inconsequential pursuits.

On the academic side, he came under the influence of titans, the foremost among them being T B Ratnachalam Iyer of Finlay College in Mannargudi, who literally willed him into the intrepid scholar in English and Sanskrit, that he eventually became and continued to be, throughout his long life of four score years.

In was again father's Vedic upbringing that pushed him early in life into the vortex of cultural exposure that went with temple worship in those days. And music became the ruling passion of his life before long, and he devoted hours and hours to listening during the most impressionable years of his youth. He used to recount in the later years how he would track down musical events in and around Mannargudi, covering miles and miles on foot across stubby paddy fields. A nagaswara recital of Chinna Pakkiri, a wedding concert of Konerirajapuram Vaidyanatha Iyer, a musical bonanza from Kanchipuram Naina Pillai with Konnakkol Pakkiri as a sideman, a concert of Poochi Srinivasa Iyengar, a sumptuous treat of sheer melody from Madurai Pushpavanam, or religious discourses by veterans were enough to send him on their trail; music in fact took precedence over even his academic obligations. The latter was somehow satisfactorily managed in due time.

Father must have had an intuitive perception of his future mission; editing the various conflicting versions of compositions that were to dog the scenario by and by, and rendering them scrutiny-worthy by posterity and thus contributing to the preservation of hallowed traditions in Carnatic music. For, he went about perfecting the art of notation writing quite early in life even while acquiring a formidable repertoire of compositions. This was not achieved without sweat or copious tears, to be sure. There were occasions when he was hounded out of hearing distance but there was no let up in his undaunted pursuit of his prime preoccupation. The hardships only strengthened his resolve to throw open on his own the treasure in his possession, to whosoever sought it.

In keeping with the mood of the youth of his times, Father got involved in the Gandhian politics even as he entered the portals of college. The star pupil of Ratnachalam Iyer belied his mentor's expectations of a bright academic career and a coveted post in some government office of his protégé! His peers had done well by themselves. Why not Rangaramanujam, bemoaned his well-wishers. Father did stints in the various ashrams including Sabarmati, Wardha and Tiruchengode, but in the event he returned home beckoned by the call of duty towards his indigent parents and child-wife. He later moved to Madras, a haven of opportunities then for livelihood and more pertinently for cultural advancement.

After an exciting assignment with The Hindu as a proof-reader, which gave him access to what some of the best brains had to say about the momentous developments that were overtaking the Indian polity, he settled for a not-so-lucrative teaching career, partly as a fitting tribute to his master but partly also because it would give him free time to pursue his other passion, music.

A good 37 years of service at Muthaiah Chettair High School, Purasawalkam, saw him through his own graduation and qualifying for a teacher's training degree to continue as a committed teacher of English and History. He left an indelible impression on his wards, some prominent journalists, doctors, and administrators of later years among them. Notwithstanding the frequent good-humoured references to his fits of temper and unrelenting disciplinarian stances, his dedication to his calling was such that students had free access to his time and energy even during recesses, usually reserved for social palaver. His students were always welcome at home when the interaction assumed a more comprehensive dimension, targeted towards the all-round cultural awakening of the individual. His penchant for sparkling, dramatic interpretation of the most prosaic events was no less an attraction for the youngsters. Withal in order to preserve the dignity of the teaching profession and a reasonable degree of impartiality in dealing with students, he scrupulously avoided taking private tuition assignments although he certainly could have done with some additional income to augment his never so comfortable financial resources.

The role of Dhanammal in Rangaramanuja Ayyangar's life - Part  2

The Publishing career begins - Part 3


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