Fingers weave magic on strings

Musical journey

It is so apt to see the motif of peacock, its plumage spread like a halo decorating the wall. The maestro sits below this work of art and starts strumming the majestic instrument which looks almost intimidating to a layman’s eyes.

He fondly wipes the dirt which is not there and plays for a few minutes and even to the untrained ear, the music which is mystical and devotional rends the air.

“He is ready to play the veena at any time of the day or night. It is like tapas for him. All he needs is somebody to ask him to play,” affectionately tells his diminutive wife Usha Viswesaran to City Herald as she points at the lovely paintings of the great devotional saints adorning the drawing room, which she herself has painted.

“All I need is a listener. It does not matter if he does not understand music. The photographer who is clicking the photographs might not understand what I am playing. But it is very important for me to play what I want to play and make him understand it,” said R Visweswaran.

The eighty-plus years sit very lightly on him. There is not a trace of a line or a wrinkle on his calm visage dotted with a red kumkum. The moment he holds the veena on his lap he is transported to a different world.

“It was when I was 15, my tryst with veena began. My elder brother R Seetaram (who passed away recently) would come and practice veena after learning it from his master. I strongly felt he was not playing it properly. I told him one day that he should play the instrument like one is singing. He did not pay heed to my comment. Then again I made the same remark. Irritated, he asked me how one could play like one is singing when it is a string instrument. Logically he was correct,” reminisced Visweswaran.

“However the thought kept haunting and torturing me. Being the big brother he was, he tried to snub me by throwing a challenge at me. If you know so much about veena come and play,” he recalled of that life turning event.

“I took up the gauntlet. I just did not know what overcame me. I went and sat in front of the veena and looked at the instrument which I had never touched in my life till then. I was just 15. As I was a vocalist who had already given a few performances from the age of nine, I knew a little about music.

I played the Shankarabharana raga ‘Sami Ninne’. What I was doing was not under my control at all. I just did not know what was happening. I was stunned beyond belief. The revelation and the explanation of what I had done came a few months later,” he said.
He had played for seven to eight minutes. “My brother Seetaram called my mother Varalakshamma who was in the kitchen. ‘Akka look what he has done.’ My mother’s heart rose. With a mild smile she came near me and said, ‘You have Goddess Sarwasathi’s anugraha (grace)’,” he said.

It was the most profound discovery of his life.  He had discovered himself. Did he start practicing after this elevating experience? “I was not a believer in practice. I just played and played. In three months I had played all the music I was singing as a vocalist. I used to play six hours. How I used to sing I would play. What I was telling my brother all these days that a veena should sing, I was able to achieve that effortlessly.”

It was a few months later that Visweswaran had the experience of a lifetime, an electrifying one. “I was playing the veena. Suddenly an idol of Saraswathi, in a dazzling light shape appeared before me and vanished. I just stopped playing. Tears were streaming down my face,” he said.

His mother, who was in the earshot distance, could understand the significance of the whole experience. She came close to him and whispered in his ears softly. He shared with her his unique experience. She like a true mother told him, “You are truly blessed my son. You have had the Darshan of amma.” It was a breathtaking feeling.

This gave him the strength and courage to perform at the Ramanavami concert at T Narasipura at the age of 16 where the accompanying mridangam artiste Chowdaiah was stunned to hear the teenager play the instrument as though he was already a master.

What do awards mean to Visweswaran? Has he achieved everything in life? “I have dedicated all my awards to my guru Saraswathi. I do not want moksha (salvation) in this life. I want one more life to understand the veena better and to do justice to it. My only desire is to play the veena till my last breath even as I am leaving this mundane world.”
His regret is that he has not been recognised as a vocalist. “My vocal concerts are as good as my veena concerts are.”

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