That at least was what I understood to be the topic of the second lec dem today at the Music Academy. That it did not touch upon this except perhaps in the most indirect manner should come as no surprise, considering that the speaker, SRD Vaidyanathan, is one of the oldest practitioners alive and given his age, it was a wonder that he even sat and spoke. And it should also come as no surprise that even though he managed to make it a talk on his experiences with the nagaswaram, he held everyone spellbound and also managed to take us to an era when the nagaswaram was truly appreciated.

I did not make it to the first presentation which was on the role of the Tavil, presented by BM Sundaram and Tanjai Govindarajan. By the time I went it, it was nearing the end and everyone was complimenting everyone else, with the usual expressions of fraternity and sorority. BMS, whose knowledge is ever expanding (there really are no limits to this man), quoted a verse from the Natya Sastra.

SRD took centre stage thereafter and his speech was read out in part from a prepared text by a lady. Sanjay Subrahmanyan was also on stage, mainly I assume as moral support to his guru. SRD began with his favourite subject – the Mallari. Though it was traditionally always performed in gambIra nATTai, he said he had made bold in his time to perform ragamalikas in it. He sang one set in gambhIra nATTai, Ananda bhairavi and kalyANi, set to misra jAti aTa tALam.

After the mallAri he said it was customary to perform a raga in 3 kAlas. He played a recording of his in which shankarAbharaNam was done this way. In the old days he said it was the practice to perform a raga at least for an hour and a half.

He then took up rakti mELam which he said was like the pallavi in vocal music with two important differences – It had only the pUrvAngam and when doing trikAla, it was necessary for the starting pointing to be at different places for each kAla and only the concluding point has to be the same. He said there have been performances up to 6 kAlams. He sang three. It was the practice earlier to do only khaNDa naDai rakti but he had done it in the others – mishra, tishra, catushra and sankIrNa. He played a recording of a performance of his at the AIR Pondicherry.

He then took up a pallavi in a rare tALa that he had himself created. He spoke of how while training on the nagaswaram, youngsters would have to spend hours in strengthening themselves in laya aspects. This was known as kartALapoDi which he later came to know was a corruption of kai tALa piDi. He sang the pallavi in vAcaspati and also did rAgamAlika in Ananda bhairavi and balahamsa.

His voice may be now feeble, but none could question his evident scholarship. His simple manner of presenting was most appealing. When Pappu attempted to apply the guillotine, he simply waved it off by saying that he was sure none minded if he went on for some more time. It took quite some convincing to get him to finish which incidentally none wanted him to. But then, the Academy is known for its punctuality.

His parting shot was the best. “I never bye,” he said. “For I am sure I will be back next year.” I must say I salute his spirit.