Surprisingly, though I can vividly remember the incident, I am somewhat vague as to where it happened. My mind tell me it was Narada Gana Sabha but I am not so sure. I think it was at a venue with greater propinquity between audience and artiste.

The singer was P Unnikrishnan, my dear friend. In the whole of the Carnatic music world you cannot find a gentler soul. This concert was in the early 2000s. The hall was packed to the rafters. The main piece was coming to an end and soon the tani Avartanam would begin. The tambura artiste was fidgeting considerably as though in anticipation. When the percussion interlude began he indicated to Unni that he had to go offstage. RK Shriramkumar the violinist, who is another close friend, offered to take over the tambura and strum it. The tambura man waddled off and RKS kept the drone.

All this was very well but even the longest of tanis have to come to a close sometime and sure enough this one too was showing signs of getting over. Soon it would be time for RKS to pick up the violin. Of the tambura man however there was no sign. The tani was building up to tne usual crescendo before ending and both RKS and Unni began looking beseechingly at the audience to see if someone could help out. Fortunately, the mother of violinist Charumati Raghuraman was in the audience and she gamely stepped forward. She took the tambura from RKS who in turn got on with the fiddle just as Unni resumed singing.

The tambura man never did come back. There was much speculation over what happened to him. Many days later I mentioned this episode to a senior lady artiste. She asked for a description of the tambura man and when I did she simply smiled and made the sign of drinking from a bottle. That was a man you never paid before a concert she said. Only after. But Unni being the gentleman that he is, would have forked out upfront.

This is part of an irregular series on some December Music Season stories recalled from personal experience or heard from seniors in the field. The earlier episodes can be read here:

The Mridangist has a malady

A Hairy Tale

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