To me, Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer is one of the finest exponents of Carnatic music. Over the years, I must have attended a handful of his live performances and listened to perhaps 50 of his concert recordings. Each one is unique, a veritable gem.
In a small way, even I can claim to be a part of the Semmangudi lineage, having learnt music from two of his prime disciples VR Krishnan and V Subrahmaniam. And one day, I got to meet the maestro in person. I had wanted to get his autograph on a book titled Semmangudi 80, which had been released in 1989. Our meeting happened in 2002 and was arranged by my guru, V Subrahmaniam. I was all excited till I reached the door of his house in Lloyds Lane. And then a thought struck me like a thunderbolt. “What if he asks me to sing?” Knowing his sense of humour it was just the kind of thing he would ask. I was therefore happy to get his signature and rush out.
In the event, I need not have worried. He asked no such thing and having signed the book asked about my ancestry. I mentioned my grandfather’s name and said that he had been in the railways. That was enough. He immediately recollected having sung for the weddings of two of my aunts, one in 1936 and the other in 1942! The autographed book is something I treasure.
When my guru called me and suggested that I co-author with him a book on Semmangudi, I jumped at it. It was great fun collecting photographs and anecdotes. I consider a great honour to have been asked to write it and hope that all those who like Semmangudi’s music will read it.