The group at the summit of Thiruvatpokki. Raji, Vijay and Shyam are standing to my right at the rear row.

It was very saddening to know that my dear friend Dr KG Vijayakrishnan passed away last night. I first got to know him through Sanjay Subrahmanyan. The two of us were running and sometime in 2007 or so, Sanjay sent me Vijayakrishnan’s book The Grammar of Carnatic Music. If I recall correctly, we reviewed the book on the site and then also sold a few copies of it through our online shop. Anyway, that was how I first met Vijayakrishnan and we became friends thereafter.

I slowly got to know more about his skills – he was not a man who ever spoke of himself. His childhood was in Delhi and he and his older brothers were the children of Karpagavalli and Gopalakrishnan. The father was a very senior man with the P&T, Govt of India. The mother was an exponent of the Veena, having learnt under the acerbic R Rangaramanuja Iyengar and therefore a torchbearer of the Dhanammal tradition. I of course knew by then that Dhanammal’s descendants hotly contested any claim R Rangaramanuja Iyengar made to being her disciple but as Vijayakrishnan and I agreed, there were many sides to such claims and counterclaims, all with a kernel of truth. Anyway, having heard Vijayakrishnan play, I came to like his sensitive approach to the instrument and his playing of many pieces from the Dhanam repertoire. He himself learnt later from Rangaramanuja Iyengar and in keeping with that school, held Dhanammal in veneration.

There was a softness to Vijayakrishnan’s approach to the Veena, which is something of a rarity these days. I have experienced the same nuanced handling in the music of another vainika, also now dead – P Vasanthkumar. Their performances were invariably exploratory exercises on the Veena, mostly a personal journey of discovery, with audiences if any, being incidental. Regrettably though, both very rarely had concert opportunities. It did not matter to them perhaps but it was nevertheless a loss to posterity that very little of their music has been recorded. Vijayakrishnan structured his performances very much on the Dhanam tradition – the repertoire was strictly that school’s and as for ragas, he remained firmly within what we have heard from artistes such as Brinda and Mukta. There would be a padam of course and javalis as well. I particularly liked his Kanthimathi (Kalyani), Sankaracharyam (Shankarabharanam)and Karunananda (Nilambari).

I was destined to get closer to Vijayakrishnan in many ways. When I began doing regular outstation tours, especially those themed around music, he, his wife Raji, and his brother KG Shyamkrishnan (a cardiologist who had worked at the Sri Chitra Tirunal Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram) and his wife Vijayalakshmi, joined in. It was great fun to be with them, Vijay would chip in at opportune moments in his soft voice especially during the conversations in the bus. He was truly a representative of the Dhanam tradition at such moments. Shyam was and is the more talkative – equally soft voiced but with detailed analysis of artistes and their music. He in my view has a personal idol – and that was the late T Balasaraswathi. You could listen enraptured for hours at his description of the way she danced.

One unforgettable moment was Shyam and Vijay spontaneously singing Saranu Saranu Saranu Saranu Sarada of Anai Ayya, set in Chenjurutti, at the Sringeri Math at Rajapalayam, which we visited as part of our Srivilliputtur Tour. A few years ago, I organised a tour of the three Shiva temples on the Akhanda Cauveri – Kulithalai, Thiruvatpokki and Thiruingoimalai. Vijayakrishnan was not in the best of health but he decided to come along, undaunted about the 1000 steps to climb to the second temple and the 300 in the third. We organised a dholi for him, borne on the shoulders of four bearers and he gamely made it to the top. He even made it a point to get off the dholi in between and allow others in need for a break to get on it and go further. That was typical of his kind heart. Shyam manfully climbed up, taking breaks as and when needed.

Vijayakrishnan worked as Professor of English at the English and Foreign Languages University at Hyderabad and so his English was as that language should be – impeccable. Post retirement he spent his time making a small documentary on the Dhanammal bhani, much against my advice. He laughingly therefore invited me to be a part of its premiere! Later he offered to teach those wishing to learn his specialised style of Veena playing but as he himself said, there were not many takers. That instrument has, as I mentioned before, become a victim of loud performance styles. His last call to me was a month or so ago, when he said he had written a novel and was looking for a publisher. I recommended him to one, only for that company to shut down a week later. He laughingly said that he did not think his book was THAT bad.

Anyway, now he is gone, leaving behind is lively wife Raji and their daughters. I spoke to Shyam this morning and as I write this I realise that Vijay must be smiling down at me, commenting, “Ennallaamo EzhuditteL Enna pathi. What did you have against me?” His retiring nature shunned all publicity. Why, it had required all of Shyam and Raji’s cajoling to get him to perform after the release of his Dhanam documentary. He was that type of a person. A rare human being indeed. May he now spend all his time with Goddess Saraswati, discussing the Veena. I am not sure if he will find Her performing to be in accordance with the style of Dhanam.