India celebrates 150 years of Rabindranath Tagore.
And I am reminded of another great man – VV Sadagopan, who too was a polymath,and also like Tagore, had a flowing beard, and was aflame with the ‘other’ – radiance “le spirituelle” – a mystic passion and joy that is at the heart of nature and creation…
I met him for the first time sometime in the mid 1960s. I had accompanied my father to Sri Sadagopan’s house in Delhi. I was maybe 7 years old. And he was singing a small tukda, a bit of a carnatic alapana. And being drawn to music, I just sang that right back, imitating him, and he set his eyes on me, and his face flowered into a most delightful smile. I was inducted there and then. He was at that time in the midst of composing songs for children in Tamil and Hindi – and in me, he found a member for his troupe.
He started a children’s chorus group, naming it Tyaga Bharati, and I was in it. He used to take us to Children’s Park, New Delhi – in the evenings. We would stand under a tree and sing his songs. When the group began, I was the leader, and so had the privilege of standing in the centre, with the other kids standing in a semi-circle around me. I would lead and they would follow. What joy! The songs were many – “Anand ho”, “Vaathey vaa vaa”, “Maanai Paarthiya”, “Paatti Nalla Paatti” , and the signature tune of the group “Teru Varudu”…
I vaguely knew that he was a Professor of music in Delhi University, and brought out a magazine called the “Indian Music Journal” (Postman always brought magic those days).. I had no idea that he was a very famous actor in his earlier days… To me, he was a mystic straight out of our mythology – Ramayana or Bharata or Bhagavatam, some person who belonged to the world of Narada and Tumburu. Oh yes, to me he was a Rshi, his eyes always sparkling with divine radiance, his smile displaying complete joy, and his enthusiasm boundless… He was my first Master.
He was usually dressed in a white jibba-pancakacham, and drove a black (or was it dark blue) Landmaster car. In his jibba pocket were a pair of chaplakattai. And he was always bubbling with music. I remember a day when we were in Pandara Road, he came in, whipped out his chaplakattai and sang his new song Dimikki-dimikki, his face blooming in mischievous joy!
My stint with the group was during the formative years, maybe a couple of years. He was a family friend and music-mentor for my father, and so we met not infrequently. He graciously accepted to sing a carnatic music concert during my elder sister’s wedding. Below is a picture of that concert…
Sri Sadagopan is the lead artiste. Lalgudi Jayaraman is accompanying him on the violin. The Mridangam was played by an artiste who was visually impaired. The kid seen behind the mridangam, sitting next to Sri Sadagopan and looking at him, is yours truly… This picture is from1970.
A decade or so later, I came to know that Sri Sadagopan had disappeared. Gotten off a train and walked away. Never traced.
Rumors had it that he had renounced all, taken a life of Sanyas… I do not know about that. But this I know. He danced to the tune of a different drummer. And that drummer was God.