Today is Semmangudi’s birthday. Early this morning I happened to chance on a commemorative volume brought out by the Sri Semmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Golden Jubilee Trust when he turned 80. It is a treasured possession of mine, as the book was personally autographed by the maestro for me.


It happened this way. Between 1995 and 2002 I learnt music from V Subrahmaniam, one of Semmangudi’s senior disciples. One year, I was asked by him to help him sell off the surplus stock of the book, Semmangudi 80. I offered to put it up on sale on, the site I was then running with Sanjay Subrahmanyan. I also offered to buy the first copy. “In that case why don’t you get Semmangudi Mama’s autograph on it?” asked VS Sir. I was inwardly thrilled but there was one prospect that terrified me – what if he asked me to sing? I mentioned this to VS Sir who was tickled pink at my discomfort. “Who knows? He has lived long enough to suffer many things,” was his answer.

The appointment was duly fixed and I went, quaking with fear, to Semmangudi’s house on Lloyd Lane. He was seated in his easy chair and looked me up and down. I did my namaskaram (shAShTangam) and then extended my copy of Semmangudi 80, reflecting on how if he had been younger, the maestro would have asked for a fee of Re 1 for his autograph, to be donated to the Tyagaraja Aradhana!

Having signed the book he returned it to me and then asked about my ‘pUrvIkam’. I said my grandfather was V Ramaiya, a senior official of the South Indian Railway.

“Was he not in Trichy?” asked Semmangudi.

“Yes,” I replied.

“I have sung for his daughters’ weddings,” he pronounced. “One was in 1936 and the other sometime in the 1940s.”

I was speechless, at his amazing memory.

“The second daughter used to sing very well.”

Now this was veering rather too close to music for my comfort. But I said yes. (This aunt by the way was the grandmother of Amrita Murali and we were very close to each other.)

“Rajamani (that is how VS Sir was known at home) said you learn music from him…”

I held my breath. But the Gods had willed that Semmangudi was to be spared that punishment. The telephone rang and someone came to give him the instrument. I made good my escape.

VS was not happy that I evaded the opportunity this way but we soon exhausted all stocks of Semmangudi 80. We got the maestro to sign some more copies and sold those off at a higher price! VS sir was delighted and he informed me that Semmangudi was thrilled that he had so many fans ‘after so many years’. That group is probably increasing even now!

The Sri Senmangudi Srinivasa Iyer Golden Jubilee Trust is awarding a purse today to Tavil vidwAn Poraiyaru Venugopala Pillai. This will be followed by a concert by Ramakrishnan Murthy accompanied  by RK Shriram Kumar and K Arun Prakash. Venue: Music Academy Mini Hall, 6.00 pm.


All are welcome