Dr CV Krishnaswami, pic courtesy The Hindu

Among the many losses that this world has sustained in the past 15 months or so is the passing of the eminent diabetologist Dr CV Krishnaswami. He was a good friend of Madras Musings and so in our latest issue we have tributes to him from RV Rajan and also G Ram Mohan who knew Dr CVK from childhood. You can read those tributes here. I added my story on the Carnatic side of the good doctor. I am reproducing it here –

“I feel that a good human being has gone away forever,” said a friend on hearing of Dr. C.V. Krishnaswami’s passing. And I could not agree more. There are many who have penned their tributes to this noble doctor, and we feature two alongside. But there was a less well-known facet to him which was his close involvement with Carnatic musicians. 

CVK’s father C.K. Venkatanarasimham (the ‘m’ at the end became n in keeping with Madras traditions) was a prominent lawyer of the Madras Bar, specialising in criminal law. If memory serves me right, he was a junior under K.S. Jayarama Iyer and later branched off into independent practice. The family lived at Pelathope, the street that runs parallel to and just north of North Mada Street, Mylapore. In the very old days it was almost entirely populated by lawyers and some of them became very prominent practitioners. C.K. Venkatanarasimham was one. He was also a close associate of Rao Bahadur K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer (see MM, Vol. XXII No. 20, February 1-15, 2013) who lived on North Mada Street, in a vast house named Swaminatha Vilas that later made way for Saravana Bhavan. 

Being a part of K.V. Krishnaswami Iyer’s friend’s circle meant you would at some time be drafted into all his pet schemes and Venkatanarasimham became involved with the Music Academy, where he rose to be Secretary, a responsibility he fulfilled with his customary grace and more importantly good cheer. CVK would inherit both these traits from his father. His bright eyes, his effusive welcome on meeting you and his infectious laugh were his abiding characteristics. Given his affability, Venkatanarasimham’s house became a home away from home for many prominent musicians, G.N. Balasubramaniam being perhaps the closest friend. Other regulars included T. Chowdiah, Palghat Mani Iyer and Alathur Sivasubramania Iyer. CVK grew up in front of their eyes and when he graduated in medicine, most of them became his patients. “I don’t know if they were correct in trusting a novice like me,” he once laughed. “But there was no convincing them to go to other practitioners.”

In time, CVK became doctor to M.S. Subbulakshmi and M.L. Vasanthakumari. And if memory serves me right, they both sang together at one of the events in CVK’s family. What I do know for sure is that a terminally ill M.L. Vasanthakumari made it a point to perform a full concert at CVK’s daughter’s wedding. It was her last concert. 

Being a part of Carnatic Music’s inner circle also meant he was privy to many personal details of several artistes. In keeping with his being a medical practitioner of the highest ethical standards, he never ever divulged the health or other confidential matters concerning these musicians to anyone. While as a biographer of several artistes I was naturally disappointed, my respect for CVK went up even further because of this integrity of his. Likewise, he never spoke or even acknowledged the several acts of kindness he extended to musicians, which included not only free consultation but also hospitalisation, surgery and treatment at his expense. I came to know of these from others and when I asked CVK about it he just waved me off from that track. 

On the other hand, he opened up readily when it came to his reminiscences of the Music Academy. It was he who filled me in on the canteen history, going to the extent of listing out the names of the contractors. I can still recall his laughter as he described the way the Academy was troubled no end by T. Sadasivam’s Mylapore Sangeetha Sabha in the 1940s. 

CVK and his wife Prema were very friendly people and generous as well. A software marketing professional in my office was a chronic diabetic at a very young age. He was introduced to CVK by me and became his patient. Realising that financial anxieties were very much part of the reason for the disease remaining uncontrolled, CVK treated him free of cost. Later CVK set up this person in business, asking him to maintain a portal on diabetes for him The man remained CVK’s protégé but sadly did not live too long. 

The departure of Prema from this world a few years ago made CVK a lonely man. And now he too is gone. I am sure a whole host of Carnatic musicians are waiting up there for him, refusing to be treated by anyone else.