Now that it is official that this great maestro will not be performing at the Narada Gana Sabha, I am posting a tribute I have written some time back:

A Bhojana Brahmam at Work


Come December Season and the NGS hosts not only a music, dance and drama festival, but also a food festival. The foyer of the Sabha is transformed into an outlet by Sri Krishna Sweets. The décor is always pleasing to the eye and the crowds that throng the front steps of the building stand testimony to the sweets being offered.


But it was in the rear of the building that the main action happened. Cordoning off a part of the car-parking area at the rear, came up one of the greatest attractions of the Music Season- the canteen of Gnanambika Caterers, run by Jayaraman, a master chef, a Nala and Ballala rolled into one. Many were the informal encomiums showered on this Lord of the Ladle, the Monarch of the Wok. If the NGS confered Nada Brahmam on senior musicians, its catering angel ought to have got the Bhojana Brahmam.


Ochre was the dominant theme of this canteen. Jayaraman himself was always clad in ochre and with his beard and benign looks he appeared to be the very patron saint of all gourmands and gourmets alike. He sat near the exit, watching his devotees leave the place, their stomachs full, and their minds in peace. That was the only offering this High Priest of the palate expected, apart from the payment for food of course. To some of the lucky ones, the people truly blessed as it were, he would offer a tissue or a rolled up pan. But that was a benediction only a few could aspire to.


As for Jayaraman’s brood of sons, all of them roly poly as standing testimonies to their father’s prowess, they were there in strength. Clad in cream shirts and ochre dhoties, the latter usually tucked up at the knees, they darted hither and thither, now chivvying the waiters, now becoming waiters themselves and now and then pausing to chinwag with old friends and acquaintances. Many of the regulars at this canteen knew the Jayaraman boys by name and the gossip of an entire year was packed into a few intense minutes of power conversation.


During this networking session, catering contracts for weddings, poonals and other events were struck and sensational weddings of the previous year discussed. All the while, like the proverbial needle being pushed into a plantain, Jayaraman Juniors would be interspersing the conversation with suggestions of what the patrons ought to try out that day. If it was not vazhappoo vadai it was some sweet. If not that, then the curd rice, which was made entirely as per the formula suggested by Adi Sankara in his Mrityunjayamanasikapuja Stotram. Thick and white, with just a suggestion of the sourness of curd, mixed with ginger and all kinds of other spices, it flowed down your throat and immediately added a few inches to your waist. When you came to Gnanambika you had to leave all thoughts of calories behind. After all it was only once in a year.


The quality of music may have varied from day to day, but not the food at Gnanambikas. There was something on offer for every stomach. Tired of eating out during the season? Then the boys would ask you to try something light, like small helping of curd rice without spices, but garnished by some powder with medicinal values. Just as people wondered as to what new item an artiste may present in a season, there were fans who thronged Jayaraman’s kutcheri asking for the latest dish. There were households in Madras which did not light their stoves during the entire season. Jayaraman was their provider.


Noise, din, hustle and bustle were the order of the day and over all of this, the voice of Swami Haridoss Giri would be heard, serenading the divine. The presiding Goddess of this shrine as it were, was Jayaraman’s daughter (also roly-poly) who handled the take-away counter. There she held court of a parallel kind and though the conversation there was even more hurried, the quality of gossip remained the same. Coffee at the Gnanambika, like the one at Kalki Gardens was famous and for musicians who were performing, Jayaraman himself would take the beverage to the stage. His stately presence there added dignity to the proceedings though one could not always agree with his timing, arriving as he often did with a clatter of tumblers and davaras just as the musician struck an inspired patch.


Afternoon lunches at Gnanambika were famous. Served in an upper floor of the NGS complex, it was the traditional elai sappadu, with three full courses and many side varieties or to borrow a phrase from the Music Academy souvenir -“Itara vagaigal”. 


Come 1st January, a feeling of desolation gripped the regulars. The service wound down with breakfast and the pots and pans were taken away for the scores of weddings for which Jayaraman and his family had been booked. But then, there was always the next year and the next season to look forward to.

But now alas! Adi okka yugamu?