R.K.Shriramkumar remembers D.K.Pattammal

She plants a kiss on the tender palms of Tanujashri, her year-old great granddaughter and bestows a beaming smile on the child. Ajay, her college going great grandson runs into the living room and vents his grievances over his latest arguments with his sister, and she listens to him with caring concern. At coffee time, she spends a light moment with Gayatri and Nitya, her beloved granddaughters, to whom she has bequeathed so much of her music. The phone rings and she answers in a raised tone, enquiring about the health of her grandson Charan, the weather in Adelaide, Australia where he lives. Her nonagenarian better half, Iswaran Mama, clad in shorts and shoes, announces his schedule for the evening at the tennis court. And, as he is on his way to his favourite game, she calls out to long-time family cook Krishnamurthy to give him his usual serving of fruit juice. In comes the vegetable vendor lady who dumps her huge basket right in front of her and the grand lady meticulously checks for fresh ladies’ fingers by breaking the tips off a few and ultimately makes her selection after an interesting bargaining session and a patient hearing of all the stories of Kotturpuram that the vendor woman provides!

D.K. Pattammal entered into many such activities in her busy household with utmost passion just as she was immersed in the great art of Carnatic music. Much is known of how she stormed into the field of Carnatic music, her defiance of what was then a male preserve, her redefinition of orthodoxy, her dedication towards singing for the freedom of India and, not to forget, her meridian contribution to the showcasing of the colossal compositions of Muthuswami Dikshitar. Her eyes would sparkle when she reminisced how the inimitable Naina Pillai would sing a sprightly niraval at ‘Tapamu pogada’ of the kriti Ne morabettite of Tyagaraja. Many a time did she speak of how doyens such as Tiger Varadachariar, Chembai Vaidyanatha Bhagavatar.

Maharajapuram Viswanatha Iyer and Ariyakudi Ramanuja Iyengar showered accolades on her for her strict and highly dignified adherence to sampradaya. Violin maestro, Papa Venkataramiah – her neighbour when she lived in the suburb of T. Nagar for a while – invited her often to his home, to listen to her soulful rendition of several monumental kriti-s. A new leaf was turned when the mridanga genius Palghat Mani Iyer offered to play for Pattamma, breaking the long time bane of the male-female divide. Pattamma’s special affinity towards the Dhanammal family and their music was intense. She had sung for numerous important occasions in their household and was so enamoured of Balasaraswati’s abhinaya, that she would reenact a few of her sanchari-s for some of the padam-s; one suchm memorable exposition was for Aduvum solluval in Saurashtram. She would choke with emotion each time she recounted how Ambi Dikshitar wholeheartedly offered to teach her after listening to her Sree Subrahmanyaya namaste and how T.L. Venkatarama Iyer literally held his last breath, eagerly awaiting the news of her being awarded the prestigious Sangita Kalanidhi.

Nobody was dearer to her than her illustrious brother D.K. Jayaraman. Having raised him in her arms and been much more than an elder sister and a guru to him, Pattamma would always recall with motherly pride and love, his unparalleled intelligence, his supreme sense of aesthetics and the manner in which he scaled the heights by his untiring efforts. Not a day passed without her chatting with him for at least a while on the telephone, be it a hilarious conversation or even a heated argument. Tears would roll down her wrinkled cheeks when the thought passed that she had lost him to the gods. Nevertheless she would always console herself by quoting an adage from vedantic literature about the temporal nature of all creation. DKJ too regarded his sister as more than precious. He would at times instruct a few of us to fetch either a recording or a notation of a kriti from Pattamma and it was always a great pleasure to visit her. The caring guru that DKJ was, he kept Pattamma posted of concert schedules, achievements and progress of all his sishya-s.

It was at his recommendation that I played my first concert for Pattamma in 1988, one that still lingers fresh in memory and is undoubtedly one of my most cherished. Since then, it has been my great fortune to have the gracious guidance, support and encouragement of the Iswaran couple. Accompanying Pattamma was always a very enjoyable experience. All her concerts were immense sources of knowledge. Many a time would she sing rare compositions, unheard by many, and present them with an exquisite touch of class. Her concerts were always powerful incentives to learn more and they really helped in upgrading my repertoire. The values of tradition, authenticity and pathantara reigned supreme in each of her highly dignified concert presentations. Learning from her was a joy. She would revel in the musical bliss of the kriti and would often go down memory lane, taking us along with her on to the golden era of Carnatic music and musicians. Much as it was an enlightening experience to listen to her talk about the greatness of our music, it was also great fun to listen to her narrations of numerous anecdotes in her characteristic North Arcot accent. To anybody who came to learn her music, the doors of her home were always open. She was endearingly generous in passing on her hard earned treasure of this great art form. She had the art of initiating with ease, even a complex sangati, to her students even from China or Japan!! Above all, it was her abundant and unconditional affection for everyone that made Pattamma very special.

She had utmost concern for the welfare of her dear ones. Wishing always for the best of things, Pattamma, braved her age and health with her tremendous will power, going out of the way many a time to fulfil a task. Be it arranging a concert for a deserving youngster or recommending a bright student for a scholarship or arranging admission for a tiny tot into kindergarten at a prestigious school or even offering matrimonial counsel. Pattamma always took wholehearted care to see that the outcome was always fruitful. When Pattamma held a trivial gift of a pack of ‘Pringles’ or a strand of jade or a swirl of violet silk equally close to her heart, her unblemished child-like innocence touched the heart and inspired the soul. And as I listened to the long list of blessings she voiced every time I fell at her feet, and as she held my hand for a while, a feeling of bliss pervaded, never to be forgotten.