I knew he hadn’t been well for the past few months. Although my interactions with the veteran rasika and organizer had not been very frequent, we nevertheless used to speak to one another on a fairly consistent basis. He ALWAYS made it a point to attend at least one concert of mine every year during the December in Chennai without fail – something that I will always cherish.
On the occasions that I spoke to Safe Ramabadran Mama, these were interactions that I enjoyed very much. He used to speak at length with regards to the various vidwans and vidushis he hosted in Bombay particularly with regards to my Guru Shri T.R.Subramanyam (TRS), the brilliant but completely unassuming Voleti Venkateswarulu and several others. He also used to recount with gusto the surging crowds for concerts in Bombay, how they would have uniformed attendants and volunteers to check the tickets and the feverish excitement in the air before concerts.
As an organizer, he had an unerring eye for new talent and at the same time took care equally to feature respected seniors as well. As was pointed out last Monday by the speakers, he was meticulous to feature new names not by references alone but always went the extra mile to ensure that he personally *listened* to a concert of the artist in question and if it was impressive enough he would ensure slots in his organization. This slot would be not only in his brain child Safe, but he literally ensured a ticket to Music Triangle and various other organizations in Bombay. The number of beneficiaries including me would be several without doubt.
Ramabadran’s association with my guru Shri TRS continued well after the latter had stopped performing due to ill-health. As K.S.Kalidas asserted in his tribute speech for the condolence at the Raga Sudha Hall with a lot of affection and regard, he said, “That first corner seat in the first row where Shri T.K.Ramakrishnan is sitting now – that used to be Ramabadran’s seat – always! The seat next to that would be mine and the next would always be TRS and next to him would be Pitchay (P.S.Narayanaswamy)!”
Thus this quartet of Kalidas, Ramabadran, TRS and PSN formed an unusual bond centred around the concerts in Raga Sudha Hall. As I have pointed out elsewhere in another blog, there is nothing like listening to a concert *live* and the camaraderie shared amongst the audience plays a major role in the involvement in listening and appreciation, and ultimately also in some intangible way influences the success of a concert. This particular quartet was the coming together of an accomplished torch-bearer of the Pazhani School of mridangam, veteran rasika and organizer Ramabadran and iconic vidwans like my Guru and PSN sir. And this was not just restricted to one or two concerts but several, spread over several years. I’m quite sure that each of the quartet may have actually looked forward to just sitting alongside one another in anticipation of whichever concert was to follow!
K.S.Kalidas also pointed out that while Ramabadran sat at his anointed seat, his wife, who almost always accompanied him, would be sitting at her anointed seat which would be a few rows behind! Without doubt Ramabadran’s formidable back-bone was his wife Ponnammal Mami and it was heartwarming to see them always attending concerts together particularly at their age!
He also recalled Ramabadran’s phenomenal ability to remember and associate now-forgotten musicians – Honnappa Bhagavathar and Madurai Mariappan being two of them.
The other highlight of the evening’s meeting on Ramabadran was V.V.Sundaram’s tribute speech. He recalled his association with the veteran organizer that had begun in the 1970s.
“Everyone talks about the Nagaswaram Bani and how G.N.B. used to incorporate it into his singing with great success,” Ramabadran is said to have said many times to various people. “The point is, how exactly is this Bani incorporated into vocal music, is not very clear.”
Sundaram then said, “And that was how we got into detailed discussions and renowned nagaswaram exponent Injikudi Subramanian was invited to the Cleveland Aradhana during the centenary year of GNB.” He went on to explain just how Injikudi Subramanian demonstrated typical nagaswara pidis, and how GNB used to sing it. Various artists were invited to demonstrate and include this transition from the nagaswaram to the gayaki bani as part of their concerts for the Cleveland Aradhana that year.
Veteran musicians P.S.Narayanaswamy and Suguna Varadachari spoke about their musical association with him. Writer Charukesi Viswanathan, Nadopasana Srinivasan and longtime Mumbai associate Shri Shekhar also offered tributes. Shri Shekhar’s impassionate account of Ramabadran’s absolute and unquestionable straightforwardness, honesty and decisiveness made for fascinating listening.
Without doubt Safe Ramabadran will be remembered and cherished in the Carnatic music ecosystem. Despite his advanced years, one cannot help wishing he had lived longer – such were his energy levels, enthusiasm and complete commitment to the cause of Carnatic music.
Rest in peace Ramabadran Mama, we will miss you…