Ear for soul-stirring music

While the diplomats were put up at swanky buildings, a cultural agenda ran parallelly.

Cut back to 1986 and the cold November days, Bangalore was abuzz with preparation for the Saarc summit.

The streets decked, the greenery pruned and the stones dressed, displayed a grand façade of Bengaluru to welcome the leaders. A galaxy of reputed artistes, too, descended onto our beautiful garden city. While the diplomats were cooped up in swanky buildings, a cultural agenda ran a parallel stream. A committee screened youth applicants for volunteering work.

I was then studied engineering at BMS College and would not let go of this opportunity. It was easy to convince my parents, given their passion for various forms of arts including music. I stood in a long line for several hours as the interviews progressed, and when my turn came, I put my best foot forward. My joy knew no bounds when I got selected.

On our first day, the new friends I made and the ensuing social interactions (not the social-media exchanges of today) were music to the ears, literally. We were told to meet the legendary Chitti Babu’s entourage and coordinate their settling-in activities. We sat at an arm’s distance from one of the greatest veena players to strike a conversation.

We were dumbfounded by his simplicity, and the fact that he inquired about our student life and goaded us to develop an interest in the arts. We listened to him tuning the veena and running his magical fingers through the strings. Albeit backstage, we enjoyed the maestro’s concert.

Our next guest was Kadri Gopalnath, the Carnatic music genius who played the saxophone. We received him from the parking lot. Matching our steps to his, we helped him and his team settle down in their room. As youngsters, we were in awe at the way he wore his hair and the tilakam on his forehead, accentuated by the sheer proximity to this simple man. He did not have any asks, instead there was a genuineness in his questions. We were once again showered with a magical play of tunes on his instrument, that is otherwise so western. 

Next day, at another hotel, we helped Pandit Jasraj, the Hindustani classical vocalist par excellence. Rather than we being hosts, it was he who hosted us in his expansive room — we all squatted as we experienced a few gharana tidbits that transported us to a magical world.  His voice, in the absence of a microphone but within the precincts of the room, touched the pinnacle of melody and rings in my ears even today. It was a mystical experience being treated to his concert!

Ustad Bismilla Khan was housed at a special quarters in a hotel complex, and we could not get close to him. So, to make up for the same, some of us decided to abscond from our duties and witness his shehnai nadam from the front rows at  Lalbagh Glass House. Divine is an under­statement to the music he treated us to.

Thirty years later, I write this to thank whoever gave me the opportunity to serve these masters. If any regrets, there were no smartphones to click selfies then. A huge plus though, it exposed the ear in me to enjoy soul-stirring music!

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